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Chopra v. Physicians Medical Center, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 9, 2017

VARUN CHOPRA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PHYSICIANS MEDICAL CENTER, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO COMPEL AND DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SANCTIONS

          ROBERT H. CLELAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Discovery and for Sanctions. (Dkt. #36.) Defendants have filed a response, (Dkt. #37), and Plaintiffs have filed their reply, (Dkt. #38). Also pending before the court is Defendants' Motion for Sanctions. (Dkt. #40.) This court held a hearing on both motions on May 9, 2017. For the following reasons, the court will grant Plaintiffs' motion to compel and deny Defendants' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The instant case involves allegations that one of the Plaintiffs was admitted to Defendants' hospital residency program on the condition that his parents, also Plaintiffs, make a sizeable donation to the hospital. They allege that not long after they made their donations, the hospital ejected their son from the residency program and refused to return any of the donated money. Defendants argue that Plaintiff left the residency program willingly, and that the donation was made separately without any understanding that it would guarantee the Plaintiff a spot in the residency program.

         The parties have struggled to conduct discovery in this case, resulting in several status conferences and direction by the court to conduct depositions on certain dates. Prior to the filing of either of the instant motions, the court issued an order detailing the history of the discovery issues and offering guidance on applicable law in the hopes that the parties might resolve their dispute informally. (Dkt. #35.) The following day, Plaintiffs filed their motion to compel.

         Plaintiffs now allege that Defendants have refused to produce their three deponents despite having earlier agreed to do so. They argue that Defendants' decision to inform Plaintiffs of this fact for the first time on the morning of the scheduled depositions resulted in wasted attorney time and expenses, which the court should award as a sanction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. They also allege that Defendants have failed to provide substantive responses to formal discovery requests despite their earlier agreements.

         Defendants respond that their decision to cancel the depositions was not done in bad faith, but instead was a response to the realization that Plaintiffs might pursue steps to initiate a criminal action against Defendants. They argue that they first became aware of this possibility during the deposition of one of the Plaintiffs the day prior, and they needed time to research the applicability of Fifth Amendment privileges to sufficiently advise their clients during the next day's deposition consistent with their ethical obligations of competence. Counsel argues that they also reached out to Plaintiffs prior to the filing of the instant motion to propose new dates for the remaining depositions to commence. Plaintiffs were not receptive to this suggestion.

         In reply, Plaintiffs argue that the court should not reward Defendants' gamesmanship with extra time to prepare for a deposition. Moreover, they argue that Defendants completely failed to respond to their arguments regarding the responses to written discovery which remain outstanding.

         After briefing on Plaintiffs' motion concluded, Defendants filed their own motion for sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, alleging various misstatements or mischaracterizations of law and fact contained across a number of Plaintiffs' pleadings and calling for attorney's fees and costs incurred in responding.

         II. STANDARD

         A. Rule 37

         “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 regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). “Relevant evidence” is evidence that “has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence” where “the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. Information need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). “However, 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).

         Rules 33 and 34 allow a party to serve interrogatories and requests for production of documents on an opposing party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33, 34. A respondent has thirty days to respond with answers or objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(2), 34(b)(2)(A). Where a party fails to respond to these requests properly, Federal Rule 37 allows the requesting party to file a motion to compel. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B). “If a court grants a Rule 37 motion to compel, or if discovery is received after a Rule 37 motion is filed, 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.” Jessica Frye, v. CSX Transportation, Inc., et al., No. 14-11996, 2016 WL 2758268, at *1 (E.D. Mich. May 12, 2016) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(5)(A)).

         B. ...


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