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Brandt v. Fitzpatrick

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 1, 2017

CHRISTOPHER O. BRANDT, Plaintiff
v.
JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' JOINT MOTION TO QUASH OR MODIFY SUBPOENA

          JOHN H. RICH III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this employment discrimination and retaliation case, the defendants move pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(d)(3) to quash or modify a subpoena commanding defendant Lisa Nash to produce to the plaintiff certain contents of a Maine Human Rights Commission (“MHRC”) file generated as a result of a gender discrimination and retaliation complaint by Nash against the Maine Department of Corrections (“MDOC”), her co-defendant in this case. See Defendants' Joint Motion To Quash or Modify Subpoena (“Motion”) (ECF No. 56) at 1. I agree with the defendants that the relevance of the materials sought to the plaintiff's claims of discrimination and retaliation is too attenuated to render those materials discoverable. See Motion at 5. Therefore, I grant the motion.

         I. Applicable Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 provides, in relevant part, “On timely motion, the court for the district where compliance is required must quash or modify a subpoena that . . . requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matter, if no exception or waiver applies[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(3)(A)(iii).

         “A Rule 45 subpoena must fall within the scope of proper discovery under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).” Green v. Cosby, 152 F.Supp.3d 31, 34 (D. Mass. 2015), modified on other grounds on recon., 160 F.Supp.3d 431 (D. Mass. 2016) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Pursuant to Rule 26(b)(1), unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

         II. Factual Background

         The plaintiff alleges that he was improperly denied promotions within the MDOC because of, inter alia, his race and age, and that the MDOC retaliated against him for filing his own complaint with the MHRC by denying him promotions for which he was qualified, and later, by not rehiring him. See Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) (ECF No. 29) ¶¶ 1, 7-16, 22, 24, 26. He names Lisa Nash, a white female, as a defendant, for her role as the MDOC employee in charge of employee interviews in Portland, see Id. ¶ 10, and for engaging in offensive behavior toward the plaintiff during one interview, see Id. ¶ 13. Before filing his lawsuit, the plaintiff addressed his complaints in a letter to then-MDOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte. See Id. ¶ 12. The plaintiff was employed by the MDOC for approximately two years before resigning in 2014. See Id. ¶¶ 4, 7.

         Nash filed her own complaint with the MHRC, claiming that she was the subject of gender discrimination and retaliation at the hands of officials at the MDOC in 2015 and 2016. See Motion at 5. On April 26, 2017, the plaintiff's counsel served Nash, c/o of Jeffrey N. Young, Esq., her counsel in the MHRC matter, with a subpoena requesting the following: “1. in the matter of Lisa Nash - a copy of the Maine Human Rights Commission Charge of Discrimination form; 2. a copy of the dated and signed Nondisclosure Agreement by Lisa Nash; & 3. complete position statements, with exhibits, of the parties[.]” Subpoena To Produce Documents, Information, or Objects or To Permit Inspection of Premises in a Civil Action (“Subpoena”), Exh. A (ECF No. 56-1) to Motion, at Page ID # 287. On May 3, 2017, Attorney Young provided the plaintiff's counsel with an unredacted copy of the Nondisclosure Agreement and redacted copies of the other requested documents. See Motion at 1-2. During an earlier teleconference with the parties, I ordered the defendants to submit an unredacted version of the file for my in camera review. See Report of Hearing and Order Re: Discovery Dispute (ECF No. 50) at 3. I have reviewed the unredacted portions, and incorporate my findings into my ruling, as noted below.

         III. Discussion

         A. The Plaintiff's Discrimination Claim

         The plaintiff seeks information from a different legal proceeding to aid in establishing the facts in his own case. Specifically, he contends that evidence from Nash's MHRC complaint against the MDOC is discoverable because it is relevant as “circumstantial evidence of a discriminatory atmosphere at the Department, where employees who complain about what they reasonably believe to be discrimination are punished.” Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Joint Motion To Quash or Modify Subpoena (“Response”) (ECF No. 57) at 1. It is undisputed that the records of the MHRC are confidential.[1]

         The defendants argue that their motion to quash should be granted because none of the information the plaintiff seeks is relevant to his claim, as the facts, actors, timeline, and form of alleged discrimination differ from those described in Nash's charge before the MHRC. See Motion at 5-6. The plaintiff's case involves a charge of race and age discrimination and retaliation, while Nash's case before the MHRC involves gender discrimination and retaliation. The plaintiff applied for positions as a probation officer and probation officer assistant within the Community Corrections section of the MDOC, the hiring panel for which included Nash, see Complaint ΒΆΒΆ 8, 10, while Nash's MHRC complaint alleges discriminatory behavior by an MDOC deputy commissioner and associate commissioner and a director from the Central Office in Augusta in ...


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