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Whitlow v. Martin

July 22, 2009

STEVE WHITLOW, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TIMOTHY MARTIN, MICHAEL R. STOUT, AND SCOTT DOUBET, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Byron G. Cudmore United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION

BYRON G. CUDMORE, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Renewed Motion to Compel Complete Discovery Responses from Plaintiffs or in the Alternative, to Strike Allegations (d/e 247) (Renewed Motion to Compel). Plaintiffs are former employees of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). Defendants are IDOT officials. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants terminated Plaintiffs' employment as part of a state-wide scheme with the Office of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to terminate employees who were perceived to be political opponents of the Blagojevich administration and to create patronage employment opportunities for Blagojevich's political supporters. As part of discovery, Defendants served Plaintiffs with a Third Set of Interrogatories and a Third Request for Production of Documents on February 19, 2009. In the Renewed Motion to Compel, Defendants seek an order compelling Plaintiffs to provide a full response to these proffered discovery requests. Alternatively, Defendants ask the Court to strike Plaintiffs' allegations of a common scheme set out in ¶¶ 18 and 19 of the Complaint (d/e 1). As set forth below, the Renewed Motion to Compel is allowed, in part, and denied, in part.

Background

Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges in relevant part that a common scheme existed among Defendants, Governor Blagojevich, and other staff of the Office of the Governor to terminate the employment of State employees perceived to be political opponents of the Blagojevich administration and to create employment opportunities for Blagojevich's political supporters. Complaint, ¶ 18. Plaintiffs assert that their employment was terminated in furtherance of this scheme under the pretense of an agency material reorganization. Id., ¶ 19.

On February 19, 2009, Defendants served Plaintiffs with a Third Set of Interrogatories and a Third Request for Production of Documents. Due to the exchange of voluminous discovery from the Third Party Office of the Governor that was occurring at the time, Defendants advised Plaintiffs that they could respond to the Third Set of Interrogatories and Third Request for Production of Documents on or before April 3, 2009. Responses were served by U.S. Mail on April 3, 2009. Corrected versions were provided on April 10, 2009. According to Defendants, the responses which have been received from the Plaintiffs relating to Third Interrogatory No. 3 and Third Request for Production of Documents No. 3 are inadequate. Additionally, Defendants assert that Plaintiffs Brad Jones, Catherine Kennedy, and Anthony Saputo failed to respond at all to the discovery requests. Renewed Motion to Compel, ¶ 9.

Defendants initially filed a Motion to Compel (d/e 239) relating to this discovery on April 10, 2009. In a Text Order, dated May 6, 2009, the Court denied d/e 239 without prejudice after determining that the "meet and confer" requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(1) had not been fulfilled. The Court also extended the fact discovery deadline to October 1, 2009, but directed that all written discovery be concluded by September 1, 2009. Defendants filed the Renewed Motion to Compel on June 2, 2009. The record reveals that the parties have now satisfied the "meet and confer" requirement. Renewed Motion to Compel, ¶ 4 & Ex. B & C. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for determination.

Analysis

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) allows parties to obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the claim or defense of any party. Relevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears to be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33 allows parties to serve interrogatories inquiring into any matter within the scope of Rule 26(b). Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(a). Similarly, Fed. R. Civ. P. 34 allows a party to serve requests for the production of documents that are within the scope of Rule 26. Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a). A party may seek an order compelling disclosure when an opposing party fails to respond to discovery requests or has provided evasive or incomplete responses. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iii), (iv) & (a)(4). The Court has broad discretion when reviewing a discovery dispute and "should independently determine the proper course of discovery based upon the arguments of the parties." Gile v. United Airlines Inc., 95 F.3d 492, 496 (7th Cir.1996). With these principles in mind, the Court turns its attention to the contested discovery requests.

A. Plaintiffs Jones, Kennedy, and Saputo

As previously noted, Defendants assert that Plaintiffs Jones, Kennedy, and Saputo have not responded to the Third Set of Interrogatories and Third Request for Production of Documents. Renewed Motion to Compel, ¶ 9. Defendants ask the Court to compel response or to strike the claims of these plaintiffs in their entirety. Plaintiffs do not respond to Defendants' assertion in their Response to Defendants' Renewed Motion to Compel or to Strike Allegations (d/e 248) (Plaintiffs' Response). Therefore, the Renewed Motion to Compel is allowed with respect to Plaintiffs Jones, Kennedy, and Saputo. Plaintiffs Jones, Kennedy, and Saputo are ordered to respond to the Third Set of Interrogatories and Third Request for Production of Documents on or before August 14, 2009. Defendants and Plaintiffs Jones, Kennedy, and Saputo are also directed to submit briefs on or before August 14, 2009, addressing the propriety of sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(5)(A) against these three plaintiffs. Because discovery is on-going, the Court does not deem it appropriate to strike the claims of Plaintiffs Jones, Kennedy, and Saputo at this point.

B. Plaintiff Lori Coonen

Defendants have provided the Court with copies of Plaintiff Coonen's responses to the Third Set of Interrogatories and Third Request for Production of Documents. Renewed Motion to Compel, Ex. A. The instant Motion pertains to Third Interrogatory No. 3 and Third Request for Production of Documents No. 3. Third Interrogatory No. 3 relates to the allegations of a "common scheme" contained in ¶¶ 18-19 of the Complaint. It seeks the following information:

a. The name and address of each person with knowledge or information regarding the facts alleged I [sic] those paragraphs and as to each person, ...


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