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Hoffman v. City of Royal Oak

United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division

April 24, 2015

CITY OF ROYAL OAK, a Municipal Corporation and DONALD SCHER, in his Individual Capacity, Defendants.




Before the Court are Defendants’ Motion to Limit Initial Discovery (docket no. 12), Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel (docket no. 18), and Plaintiff’s Motion to Extend Scheduling Order Dates (docket no. 23.). Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendants’ Motion (docket no. 15), Defendants filed a Reply (docket no. 16), and the Parties filed a Joint Statement (docket no. 17) indicating that none of their issues had been resolved with regard to Defendants’ Motion. Defendant filed a Response to Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel (docket no. 21), and the Parties filed a Joint Statement (docket no. 22) indicating that one of Plaintiff’s issues had been resolved through an agreed-upon protective order, which has already been entered by the Court (docket no. 24). The Motions were referred to the undersigned for consideration. (Docket nos. 13, 19, and 25.) The Court dispenses with oral argument pursuant to E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(e). The Motions are now ready for ruling.

I. Background

Plaintiff Adrienne Hoffman filed her Complaint on June 5, 2014, under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendant Donald Scher, a Royal Oak police officer, violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when he sprayed her with pepper spray outside of a Royal Oak bar at 1:40 a.m. on June 6, 2012. (Docket no 1. at 1-2.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Scher was “detaining her son” at the time of the incident and that when she approached Defendant to “inquiry why, ” he sprayed her in the eyes at close range. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff alleges through her Count I, Deprivation of Civil Rights, that Defendant Scher’s use of the pepper spray amounted to excessive force under the Fourth Amendment and that Defendant Royal Oak is liable under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Svcs, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), for having “a policy or practice of engaging in the systematic deprivation of civil rights of citizens . . . by, among other things, a failure to train or supervise officers in the proper use of force including . . . use of pepper spray on unthreatening citizens.” (Id. at 4.) Through her Count II, Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Scher is liable for assault and battery.” (Id. at 5-6.)

On October 13, 2014, Defendants filed their instant Motion to Limit Initial Discovery, arguing that the Court should limit initial discovery in this matter to whether Defendant Scher committed a constitutional violation because, if he did not, there can be no Monell claim against Defendant Royal Oak. (Docket no. 12.) Thus, any Monell-related discovery would be a waste of time and resources. (Id.) Plaintiff disagrees, and in the time since Defendants filed their Motion, Plaintiff served Defendants with her Request for Production of Documents. (See docket no. 15; docket no. 18-1.) Defendants objected and relied, in part, on their pending Motion to Limit Initial Discovery.) (See docket no. 18-1.) Plaintiff then filed her instant Motion to Compel. (Docket no. 18.)

II. Governing Law

The scope of discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is traditionally quite broad. Lewis v. ACB Bus. Servs., 135 F.3d 389, 402 (6th Cir. 1998). Parties may obtain discovery on any matter that is not privileged and is relevant to any party’s claim or defense if it is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). “Relevant evidence” is “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. But the scope of discovery is not unlimited. “District courts have discretion to limit the scope of discovery where the information sought is overly broad or would prove unduly burdensome to produce.” Surles ex rel. Johnson v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 474 F.3d 288, 305 (6th Cir. 2007).

Rule 34 allows a party to serve requests for production of documents on an opposing party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34. A party receiving such a request has thirty days to respond with answers or objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(A). If the party receiving discovery requests under Rule 34 fails to respond properly, Rule 37 provides the party who sent the discovery with the means to file a motion to compel. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B). If a court grants a Rule 37 motion to compel, then the court must award reasonable expenses and attorney’s fees to the successful party, unless the successful party did not confer in good faith before the motion, the opposing party’s position was substantially justified, or other circumstances would make an award unjust. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(A)(5)(a).

III. Analysis

A. Defendants’ Motion to Limit Initial Discovery

Through their Motion, Defendants seek to initially limit Plaintiff’s discovery in this matter to “the facts necessary to determine whether Defendant Scher is entitled to qualified immunity.” (Docket no. 12 at 11.) Specifically, Defendants assert that this matter turns on whether Defendant Scher violated Plaintiff’s Constitutional rights. (See Id. at 14.) And contrary to Plaintiff’s assertion that Defendants “seek[] to peremptorily limit plaintiff’s ability to undertake full discovery on the Monell claim” (docket no. 15 at 3), Defendants only seek to limit discovery until the qualified-immunity issue is resolved, at which time Plaintiff would be free to seek additional discovery (see docket no. 16 at 4).

In support of their Motion, Defendants assert that a claim of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment can only arise when such force is used during the course of a seizure. (Docket no. 12 at 15.) That is, “the Fourth Amendment protects against only unreasonable seizures, it is not a guarantee against unreasonable or outrageous official conduct generally. Therefore, to assert a successful Fourth Amendment claim, the plaintiffs must first show that there was a seizure.” Ewolski v. City of Brunswick, 287 F.3d 492, 505-06 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing Galas v. McKee, 801 F.2d 200, 202 (6th Cir. 1986)). Defendants allege that because Plaintiff was never seized, no Constitutional violation occurred, which means that Defendant Scher is entitled to qualified immunity and Plaintiff’s Monell claim fails. (Docket no. 12 at 3 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001); City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986)).)

In response, Plaintiff argues the merits of her excessive-force claim by asserting that she was seized during the confrontation with Defendant Scher, and she contends that she is entitled to full discovery before Defendants can file a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket no. 15.) But Plaintiff misinterprets Defendants’ Motion. Defendants have neither moved for Summary Judgment on the Monell claim nor have they asked the Court to bar Plaintiff from any discovery related thereto. The question of Defendant Scher’s liability is not currently before the Court, and Plaintiff will have a full opportunity to argue whether she was “seized” and whether Defendant Scher’s actions were unreasonable.[1] And if, at that time, the Court determines that Defendant Scher committed a constitutional violation, or if a question of fact remains with regard to the same, Plaintiff will have an opportunity to conduct discovery related to her Monell claim. Any Monell-related discovery before that determination is made would be unnecessary and unduly burdensome in light of qualified-immunity principles. Se ...

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