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BELL v. WOODWARD GOVERNOR COMPANY

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


November 9, 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. MAHONEY, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion to Compel Answers to its December 31, 2004 Interrogatories, or alternatively, for Reconsideration of the court's September 8, 2005 Order. On October 12, 2005, the court reserved ruling on Defendant's Motion pending a seven day supplemental response period. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is denied.

I. History

  On September 8, 2005, the court issued an Order granting in part Defendant's August 24, 2005 Motion to Compel Plaintiffs to Provide Full and Complete Responses to its December 31, 2004 Contention Interrogatories. In that Opinion and Order, the court found that Plaintiffs needed to supplement their answers, but stated as an aside that Plaintiffs properly limited their answers to "Plaintiffs" excluding "Charging Parties." Now Defendant urges the court to. reconsider this limitation, arguing that the scope of discovery has included the charging parties from the beginning, and that the "class certification makes the `charging parties' parties to the lawsuit." (Def.'s Mtn., at 2). Defendant maintains that it is entitled to know what both the Plaintiffs and the charging parties have to say in response to the December 31, 2004 Interrogatories.

  Plaintiffs object to Defendant's Motion, arguing that their interrogatory answers already provide detailed information regarding the claims of the charging party class members. In fact, Plaintiffs state the information provided in the court ordered supplemental answers (which cover 424 single spaced pages) extends beyond the named Plaintiffs to include detailed information regarding the charging parties. Purportedly, Plaintiffs' answers include each charging party's description of their compensation claim, a description of their advancement claim, and a description of various pertinent anecdotal facts.

  In Reply, Defendant does not dispute that the interrogatory answers contains some information regarding the charging parties, but rather complains that the "interrogatories per se are not answered as to the charging parties." (Def.'s Mtn., at 4).

  II. Analysis

  The above positions stated by the parties leave the court with two issues to resolve. First, the court must address the status of the charging parties. Second, the court must address the sufficiency of Plaintiffs' interrogatory answers regarding charging parties. The court will discuss each issue in turn. A. The Charging Parties Are Not Parties To This Lawsuit

  Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 requires that all class actions be represented by class counsel and class representatives. When a class is certified, the court selects class counsel and the class representative or representatives. In this case, Bell, Berry, Buchanan, Gonzales, Link, and Triplett were certified as class representatives by the district court on January 3, 2005. These parties are the class representatives that the district court has determined to have claims typical of the class, and they have been charged with adequately representing the class throughout the lawsuit. In addition, these class representatives are considered to be active participants in the lawsuit. They have the duty to make decisions for the entire class, and they are subject to discovery. Current counsel was selected as class counsel.

  Not all of the named Plaintiffs in this case were selected as class representatives by the. district court. In fact, only nine of the named Plaintiffs moved for certification, and only six of those nine were certified. Nachampassack, Manning, and Brown were not certified; and Jarrett, Parks, Riley, Royal, Sallis, Sanders, and Smith did not move for certification.*fn1 Nonetheless, these named Plaintiffs may also be subject to discovery as parties to the class action lawsuit. See In re Folding Carton Antitrust Litigation, 83 F.R.D. 260 (N.D. Ill. 1979).

  Those class members who are not named Plaintiffs, and who were not selected as class representatives by the court, are considered absent class members. These persons may opt out of the lawsuit; or do nothing and remain in the lawsuit, allowing the class representatives and class counsel to handle the case. Post-certification discovery directed at absent class members is generally only permitted to the extent necessary. See Brennan v. Midwestern United Life Ins. Co., 450 F.2d 999, 1005 (7th Cir. 1971); Clark v. Universal Builders, Inc., 501 F.2d 324, 340-41 (7th Cir. 1974). This court will not allow discovery to be served on absent class members without a strong showing of necessity for obtaining information for trial preparation. The burden is on Defendant to show that absent class member discovery is necessary and not a method of harassment. Clark, 501 F.2d at 340.

  In this case, Defendant has not only sought discovery from class representatives, named plaintiffs, and absent class members; but also a fourth category of individuals — charging parties. The term charging parties has been used by counsel and the court since the beginning of this case. The court used the term when referring to class members who were not named Plaintiffs or class representatives, but who had filed charges against Defendant with the EEOC. Though the court used the term charging "parties," the court never intended the term to denote that charging parties were "parties" of this lawsuit in the formal sense of the word; i.e. one by or against whom a lawsuit is brought. Likewise, the court never intended the charging parties to be subject to interrogatories under Fed.R.Civ.P. 33 as if they were named Plaintiffs or the class representatives.

  The charging parties do not have a special status separate from being absent class members when it comes to responding to discovery in this case. Defendant's unsupported statement that the "class certification makes the `charging parties' parties to the lawsuit" does not hold water. (Def.'s Mtn., at 2). This court finds no such statement in the January 3, 2005 class certification Order. Accordingly, the court will not handle Defendant's December 31, 2004 contention Interrogatories to charging parties any differently than it would handle contention interrogatories propounded on the absent class members. B. Interrogatories Do Not Have To Be Answered By The Charging Parties, But Plaintiffs Must Set Forth Facts Regarding Charging Parties That Plaintiffs Intend To Offer To Prove Their Case-in Chief

  Contention interrogatories, distinct from the identification interrogatories, 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). 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. Defendant's attempt to stretch discovery by requiring the charging parties to answer contention interrogatories is beyond the stretch of imagination.

  The court finds that Defendant's December 31, 2004 Interrogatories do not have to be answered per se by the charging parties. The court also finds it is unnecessary for the answers to be organized by charging party. The answers put forward by the Plaintiffs and class counsel should adequately represent the interests of any member of the class, including the charging parties who are simply absent class members.

  Admittedly, the court's failure to fully discuss and define its position on charging parties may have added to Defendant's confusion about the court's September 8, 2005 Order. When the court found that Plaintiffs properly limited their answers to "Plaintiffs" excluding "Charging Parties," Defendant apparently interpreted the court's ruling as denying Defendant discovery on the charging parties. As the court's brevity likely led to this confusion, the court restates its holding here in clarification, and reiterates that it expects Plaintiffs' answers to Defendant's December 31, 2004 Interrogatories to contain at a minimum those facts that Plaintiffs intend to offer to prove their case-in-chief. The court further expects timely updates under the Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(e). While organization by charging party is unnecessary and duplicative, the court does intend for Plaintiffs' answers to contain those facts regarding charging parties that support Plaintiffs' case and are responsive to the particular interrogatories.

  As the Plaintiffs contend that their interrogatory answers already provide the detailed information regarding the charging parties that Defendant is entitled to receive, the court intends to hold Plaintiffs to their word. Plaintiffs are bound to their contention interrogatory answers and supplements at trial, and so bear the risk of being barred from offering evidence if they have not properly disclosed information under the court's Orders.

  III. Conclusion

  For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's Motion to Compel Answers to its December 31, 2004 Interrogatories, or alternatively, for Reconsideration of the court's September 8, 2005 Order is denied.

20051109

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