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Wynes v. City of Royal Oak

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

May 22, 2017



          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jeffrey Wynes brings this section 1983 action against police officer Michael Paramo and Paramo's current employer, the City of Royal Oak. Wynes served Royal Oak, as well some of Paramo's previous employers, with subpoenas for production of documents related to Wynes. Defendant Royal Oak objects to providing the requested documents and filed the instant motion. For the reasons below, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.


         The case arises out of Wynes's arrest on Halloween night 2015. Wynes alleges that Michael Paramo, a police officer for the City of Royal Oak, mistreated him in making the arrest. Six of the seven counts in Wynes's complaint are solely against Paramo. One of the counts is against Royal Oak and claims that the City "knew, or should have known, of Defendant Paramo's propensity to violate the rights of individuals in the manner alleged" because "[p]rior to the date of this incident Defendant Paramo had been sued in his capacity as police officer on at least one prior occasion for allegations including excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, in Oakland County Circuit Court[.]" ECF 1, ¶¶ 46-47. Wynes alleges that Royal Oak failed to properly screen its police officers. Id. at ¶ 51.

         The instant motion concerns Wynes's subpoenas, which command Paramo's former employers-the City of Pontiac, the City of Sylvan Lake, and Washtenaw County-to produce personnel files concerning Paramo. The files are to include "all citizen complaints" made against Paramo and "all materials pertaining to any discipline imposed" against him. Subpoenas, ECF 14-2, 14-3, 14-4. The Pontiac subpoena additionally seeks "a copy of any settlement agreement in Ortiz v. City of Pontiac, et al., " the case mentioned in the complaint and in which Paramo had allegedly been sued. ECF 14-2, PgID 79.

         Defendants now move for a protective order to prevent the release of personnel files and the settlement agreement on the grounds that they are privileged and irrelevant.


         In general, the scope of discovery is broad, Lewis v. ACB Bus. Servs., Inc., 135 F.3d 389, 402 (6th Cir. 1998). Materials that would not admissible at trial may nevertheless be discoverable under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) if they are "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Id. But discovery is not boundless; the Court may limit or regulate the disclosure of materials "to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). Accordingly, the Court may quash or modify a subpoena under certain circumstances. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(d)(3).


         I. Relevance

         To begin, Defendants argue that the material sought is not relevant. Wynes alleges that Royal Oak inadequately screened, trained, and supervised its officers, including Paramo. He argues that Royal Oak "may be held liable if it knew about Defendant Paramo's prior instances of misconduct and . . . nonetheless hired him" or if it failed to uncover such instances due to an inadequate screening process. Resp., ECF 17, PgID 102. But Defendants argue that the personnel files of the other municipalities are irrelevant to what Royal Oak knew or did in its own hiring and training of Paramo.

         The Court disagrees. When Royal Oak hired Paramo, it hired a career police officer. Paramo had worked for three other municipalities before joining the ranks of Royal Oak's police force. It stands to reason that Royal Oak, like many other employers, may have reached out to Paramo's former employers to check references or otherwise inquire about him. If Paramo left a trail of misdeeds behind him, the particulars of those deeds-and the ease of their discovery-is relevant to the claim against Royal Oak. Thus, what matters is not just "what Royal Oak knew upon hiring him, " Mot., ECF 14, PgID 75, but what Royal Oak should have known through appropriate diligence. Paramo's personnel files are therefore relevant.

         The settlement agreement, on the other hand, is not. Generally, a settlement agreement is inadmissible to "either to prove or disprove the validity or amount of a disputed claim, " yet may be admissible "for another purpose, such as proving a witness's bias or prejudice, negating a contention of undue delay, or proving an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation or prosecution." Fed.R.Evid. 408. An inadmissible agreement may nevertheless be discoverable, however, if the party seeking it makes a showing that his request is "reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence." Doe v. Aramark Educ. Res., Inc., 206 F.R.D. 459, 461 (M.D. Tenn. 2002). The Court finds that the information contained in the settlement agreement would not tend to make a fact of consequence more or less probable, and further finds that Wynes has not shown that his pursuit of the agreement is reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence. The agreement is therefore not discoverable.

         II. Rig ...

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