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Jenkins v. White Castle Management Co.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 17, 2013

JIMMY JENKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
WHITE CASTLE MANAGEMENT CO., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jimmy Jenkins brings a complaint against White Castle Management Company ("White Castle") for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL"), 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 105/1, et seq., and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act ("IWPCA"), 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 115/1, et seq., on behalf of himself and others similarly situated. Jenkins alleges that White Castle improperly reduced his wages and failed to pay him for overtime work. Jenkins also alleges that White Castle retaliated against him for protesting these violations. Jenkins seeks to bring his FLSA claims as a collective action and seeks class-action treatment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 for his Illinois state-law claims. Jenkins now moves to compel White Castle to answer his discovery requests. As explained below, the court grants the motion in large part.

I. BACKGROUND

The court begins with a summary of Jenkins's allegations. Jenkins was an employee of the Dolton, Illinois White Castle restaurant.[1] He claims that he was not paid for all of the time he worked because he was required to work off the clock at the end of his shift, his overtime was improperly "rolled" into his subsequent week's hours, and he was required to "repay" White Castle for "drawer shortages." He also claims that he suffered retaliation, including suspension, when he protested these practices.

Jenkins further claims that the Dolton, Illinois White Castle had a practice of requiring its employees to pay for business expenses such as drawer shortages, which reduced the employees' wages to such a degree that they failed to meet Illinois wage law or FLSA requirements. On behalf of a class, Jenkins asserts claims pursuant to the IMWL (Count I), and the IWPCA (Count II), based on the alleged requirement that employees "repay" expenses such as drawer shortages. Jenkins also brings a collective action under the FLSA (Count III) to recover unpaid wages for overtime work, work performed "off the clock, " and wages lost due to repayment of drawer shortages. Jenkins asserts additional claims on behalf of the class under the doctrines of quantum meruit (Count IV) and unjust enrichment (Count V). Jenkins states in the complaint that his "[c]laims are limited to the Dolton White Castle location, as it appears that the policy and procedure of repayment is the unwritten policy and procedure of only one manager at this one location." (Compl. ¶ 26.) He alleges that the practice affected all Dolton employees. ( Id. at ¶ 45.) He estimates that there are "at least 200 persons in the class." ( Id. at ¶ 30.)

The court scheduled discovery to close on July 31, 2013. (ECF No. 12.) Because the parties expressed an interest in pursuing settlement discussions (which did not prove fruitful), the discovery deadline was extended to August 30, 2013 (ECF No. 25), and then to September 30, 2013 (ECF No. 28). Jenkins filed this motion to compel on September 5, 2013. He argues that in answering his document requests and interrogatories, White Castle limited its responses to information pertaining only to Jenkins himself, refusing to answer requests for documents pertaining to the putative Rule 23 and FLSA opt-in classes of Dolton employees.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The federal rules permit liberal discovery in an effort to facilitate the trial or settlement of legal disputes. Bond v. Utreras, 585 F.3d 1061, 1075 (7th Cir. 2009). "Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.... Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). A district court exercises substantial discretion in ruling on a motion to compel, and may fashion a ruling appropriate in light of the circumstances of the case and the arguments of the parties. Gile v. United Airlines, Inc., 95 F.3d 492, 495-96 (7th Cir. 1996). The court thus endeavors to strike a balance between protecting a party from unduly burdensome discovery and ensuring that the opposing party has all available documents likely to lead to relevant evidence.

III. ANALYSIS

A. General Objections

The court will first address White Castle's broad arguments about the appropriate scope of discovery, then examine Jenkins's actual requests. White Castle argues that Jenkins seeks to embark on "a virtually unlimited fishing expedition" that goes beyond the scope of his complaint. As Judge Schenkier has aptly noted, the "fishing expedition" argument is unhelpful:

It is part and parcel of the discovery process for parties to make discovery requests without knowing what they will get, or indeed, whether they will get anything at all. In that sense, most discovery involves an element of "fishing." Thus, to conclusorily label a discovery request as a "fishing expedition" does little to advance the discussion; the more appropriate inquiry (to continue with the fishing metaphor) is how big a pond is the requesting party allowed to fish in, and what may the requesting party fish for.

Whiteamire Clinic, P.A., Inc. v. Quill Corp., No. 12 C 5490, 2013 WL 5348377, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 24, 2013). The pond at issue here is White Castle's Dolton location. White Castle argues that because Jenkins's claims are limited to the Dolton location and the conduct of one manager there, Jenkins is not entitled to seek documents that originate outside of the Dolton location.

The scope of a claim, however, is not necessarily identical to the scope of relevant discovery. See Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) ("[D]iscovery is not limited to issues raised by the pleadings, for discovery itself is designed to help define and clarify the issues."). Even if Jenkins's allegations are limited to the Dolton facility, there may be managers outside of the Dolton location (area or regional supervisors, for example) with documents relevant to conduct that occurred at the Dolton location. Jenkins is not barred from seeking documents relevant to the alleged conduct at Dolton merely because the issues were discussed by higher-level management or with ...


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