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BELL v. WOODWARD GOVERNOR COMPANY

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division


September 8, 2005.

DEMETRIC BELL, MARILYN BERRY, CATHERINE BROWN, KIMBERLY BUCHANAN, GILBERTO GONZALEZ, DELLA JARRETT, TIMMY LINK, EDDIE MANNING, JR., KIM NACHAMPASSACK, DUANE PARKS, BRENDA RILEY, DARNEL ROYAL, ROBIN SALLIS, VELMA SANDERS, BARBARA SMITH, TONY TRIPLETT, JANET WILKINS and FRED WYNNE, individually and on behalf of similarly situated persons, Plaintiffs,
v.
WOODWARD GOVERNOR COMPANY, Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. MICHAEL MAHONEY, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the court on Defendant's August 24, 2005 Motion to Compel Plaintiffs to Provide Full and Complete Responses to its December 31, 2004 Interrogatories. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. History

  On December 31, 2004, Defendant served six written interrogatories on Plaintiffs. On May 12, 2005, this court granted Defendant's Motion to Compel answers to the interrogatories and ordered production by June 27, 2005. Plaintiffs' answers were served in accordance with the court's order, but Defendant now maintains the "answers are grossly inadequate, incomplete, and duplicative of each other." Def.'s Mtn., at 3. Plaintiffs maintain their "answers are a diligent attempt to respond to defendant's interrogatories that far exceeds in detail the sort of interrogatory responses served by defendant." Pl.'s Resp., at 2.

  II. Analysis

  The court turns to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for guidance in deciding a motion to compel more complete answers to interrogatories. Under Rule 33, which governs the use of interrogatories, interrogatories are intended to allow parties to prepare for trial, narrow the scope of the issues at hand, and to minimize the possibility of surprise at trial. According to Rule 33, every interrogatory must be "answered separately and fully in writing under oath, unless it is objected to, in which event the objecting party shall state the reasons for objection and shall answer to the extent the interrogatory is not objectionable." Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(1). There is a duty to provide full answers to interrogatories — i.e., answers should include all the information within the responding party's knowledge and control. See Bell v. Woodward Governor Co, No. 03 C 50190, 2005 WL 289963, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2005) (requiring Defendant to more fully respond to discovery requests).

  Although as a general matter, parties "may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim of defense of any party," discovery must have practical limits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26. Under Rule 26(b)(2), courts have the discretion to limit the use of otherwise permissible discovery methods if the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or unduly burdensome or expensive. See Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp., 281 F.3d 676, 681-82 (7th Cir. 2002). In a motion to compel, the burden is on the responding party, here Plaintiffs, to convince the court that an interrogatory is objectionable. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37. In this case, the interrogatories at issue are contention interrogatories. Contention interrogatories, distinct from the identification interrogatories largely completed in this case, inquire into a party's opinions or "contentions" about a particular fact or application of the law to a fact. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(c). A contention interrogatory may, under the rules, ask for the material or facts that support a party's contentions in a case. Id. Answers to such interrogatories are useful because they, amongst other things, aid the propounding party in "pinning down" a party's position and determining the proof required to rebut the party's position. However, as with identification interrogatories, courts have the discretion to limit the use of otherwise permissible contention interrogatories if the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or unduly burdensome or expensive. Patterson, 281 F.3d at 681-82; Steil v. Humana Kansas City, Inc., 197 F.R.D. 445, 447 (D. Kan. 2000) (holding that an interrogatory requesting "each and every" fact and application of law to fact was overly broad and unduly burdensome because it would require "a laborious, time-consuming analysis, search, and description of incidental, secondary, and perhaps irrelevant and trivial details").

  The guidepost on the proper scope of contention interrogatories is to allow parties to prepare for trial by narrowing the scope of the issues and minimizing the possibility of surprise at trial. In order to accomplish this purpose, this court expects to find, at least, in answers to contention interrogatories those facts that a party intends to offer to prove their case-in-chief or intends to offer in defense. Anything less would frustrate the purpose of having contention interrogatories.

  Here, Defendant's interrogatories seek information regarding the following: (1) Plaintiffs' and charging parties' contentions that they were placed in a job, job code, job level, or salary range as a result of unlawful race and/or sex discrimination; (2) Plaintiffs' and charging parties' contentions that their wage rate is/was a result of race and/or sex discrimination; (3) Plaintiffs' assertions that other current or former minority employees were placed in a job, job code, job level, or salary range as a result of unlawful race and/or sex discrimination; (4) Plaintiffs' assertions that other current or former minority employees' wage rates were a result of unlawful race and/or sex discrimination; (5) all alleged discriminatory acts and/or omissions by Woodward that Plaintiffs believe were acts of discrimination or evidence of discrimination; and (6) the identification of all documents that Plaintiffs believe material to each paragraph of the Complaint and the reasons why Plaintiffs consider the documents material.

  At this point, the court does not intend to reject as overly broad or unduly burdensome all of Defendant's contention interrogatories that seek the underlying facts and supporting materials of Plaintiffs' case. However, the court also does not choose to charge Plaintiffs with the task of providing, in essence, a running narrative of their entire case, together with identifications of all knowledgeable persons and all supporting documents. There is no reason nor justification for this kind of indiscriminate discovery in this class action employment discrimination case with well over 200 class members and 18 named Plaintiffs.

  It is fairly clear, after reviewing and organizing Defendant's Interrogatories and Plaintiffs' Answers, where Plaintiffs' response lacks the clarity and completeness required by the Federal Rules.*fn1 While the court will not strike all the responses as "grossly inadequate" as requested by Defendant, the court finds that Defendant is entitled to some additional detail from Plaintiffs.

  The court will address the adequacy and inadequacy of each individual Answer below. Applicable to all Interrogatories, the court finds that Plaintiffs properly limited its answers to "Plaintiffs" excluding "Charging Parties" and to "race discrimination" excluding "sex discrimination."

  A. Interrogatory #1

  With regard to Interrogatory #1, Defendant states Plaintiffs have failed to list any single contention regarding what job levels or salary ranges are discriminatory, why certain job levels or salary ranges are discriminatory, who made discriminatory decisions, and the reasons they contend they are discriminatory. As a result, Defendant claims it is unable to discern what employment decisions Plaintiffs consider unlawful. Plaintiffs do not address Interrogatory #1 individually, but do state that their responses are detailed and any further response would be burdensome, duplicative of other discovery, and inappropriate in light of the Defendant's own discovery responses.

  Here, it appears to the court that Plaintiffs have avoided Defendant's actual question about specific contentions of job, job code, job level, or salary range determination discrimination by focusing their answer on their disparate impact claims. The court and Defendant are not blind to Plaintiffs' allegation that a pattern and practice of discrimination has adversely impacted the Plaintiffs and other members of the advancement class, but Plaintiffs' general statement that "the basic evidence supporting these claims is contained in defendant's work force data base as well as the personnel files produced by defendant" does not pass muster. Defendant is not asking Plaintiffs about their case in a general matter. Defendant is after specifics. Where Plaintiffs have identified specific material or principal facts to support their prima facie case, Plaintiffs must provide this information to Defendant. Thus, in accordance with the above, and the attached breakdown of Interrogatory #1, Plaintiffs are ordered to supplement their Answer #1 within twenty-one days of receipt of this Order.

  B. Interrogatory #2

  Defendant incorporates its objections to Interrogatory #1 into its objections to Interrogatory #2, maintaining it cannot ascertain the contentions of Plaintiffs regarding wage rates. Plaintiffs, likewise, state that their responses are detailed and any further response would be burdensome and duplicative of other discovery.

  Plaintiffs again appear to be hiding behind their disparate impact claims. Plaintiffs' more specific answer to Interrogatory #5 reveals that Plaintiffs compiled large amounts of detailed information concerning specific allegations of discrimination. Nonetheless, reviewing Plaintiffs' Interrogatory #2 Answer, it appears that not one Plaintiff contends their specific wage rate was discriminatory. Plaintiffs' general statement contending that they should have been paid in a manner "comparable to white employees" avoids more issues than it elucidates. Without identification of "comparable white employees," Plaintiffs' contention is useless. Where Plaintiffs have identified specific material or principal facts to support their contentions, Plaintiffs must provide this information to Defendant. Consequently, in accordance with the above, and the attached breakdown of Interrogatory #2, Plaintiffs are ordered to supplement their Answer #2 within twenty-one days of receipt of this Order.

  C. Interrogatory #3

  If Plaintiffs' response to Interrogatory #3 was really their full and complete answer containing all the information within their knowledge and control as required by the rules, it would be safe to assume that not one Plaintiff can identify another minority employee whom they contend were placed in a job, job code, job level, or salary range as a result of unlawful race discrimination. Plaintiffs' Interrogatory #5 Answer belies this statement. Thus, in accordance with the above, and the attached breakdown of Interrogatory #3, Plaintiffs' Answer to Interrogatory #3 is struck as inadequate and off-point. Plaintiffs are ordered to respond to Interrogatory #3 within twenty-one days of receipt of this Order.

  D. Interrogatory #4

  Plaintiffs' response to Interrogatory #4 is as woefully inadequate as their response to Interrogatory #3. Not one specific contention that other current or former minority employees' wage rates were a result of unlawful race discrimination could be parsed from Answer #4, which is really a regurgitation of Answer #2. As held above, where Plaintiffs have identified specific material or principal facts to support their prima facie case, Plaintiffs must provide this information to Defendant. Thus, in conformance with the above, and the attached breakdown of Interrogatory #4, Plaintiffs' Answer to Interrogatory #4 is struck. Plaintiffs are ordered to respond to Interrogatory #4 within twenty-one days of receipt of this Order.

  E. Interrogatory #5

  By far, Plaintiffs' most complete answer to Defendant's contention interrogatories is found in Answer #5. Spanning approximately 50 single-spaced pages, Plaintiffs lay out a list of specific acts or omissions that Plaintiffs contend are incidents of discrimination. The Answer is organized by individual Plaintiff and contains detailed descriptions of each alleged event of discrimination. Plaintiffs, however, note in their response that the list is not all inclusive. Defendant maintains that it is entitled to all of Plaintiffs' contentions of discrimination, not just Plaintiffs' "choice bits."

  This court finds that Defendant is entitled to the information that Plaintiffs have identified as specific material or principal facts supporting their prima facie case. Description of incidental, secondary, or trivial details, though responsive to Defendant's Interrogatory, need not be included. Thus, in conformance with the above, and the attached breakdown of Interrogatories, Plaintiffs are ordered to supplement Answer #5 within twenty-one days of receipt of this Order.

  F. Interrogatory #6

  Here, common sense must come into play. Defendant has asked Plaintiff to identify each document material to each paragraph of Plaintiffs' Complaint by paragraph number. There are 142 paragraphs in the Complaint, and well over 100,000 documents produced. The request is overly burdensome. In fact, the request violates the court's case management order as Interrogatory #6 is actually 142 separate and discrete inquiries, while the case management order allows only 75 interrogatories. The court, therefore, strikes Interrogatory #6.

  III. Conclusion

  In conclusion, and for the reasons stated above and in the attached breakdown of interrogatories and responses, Defendant's Motion to Compel Plaintiffs to Provide Full and Complete Responses is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs are ordered to supplement Interrogatories # 1, 2, and 5, and to respond anew to Interrogatories # 3 and 4 within twenty-one days of receipt of this Order. The court strikes Interrogatory #6 as overly burdensome.

20050908

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