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Rugo v. Hardwick

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

June 16, 2017

SHANNA RUGO and BELINDA DUNN, Plaintiffs,
v.
ROB HARDWICK DDS, a sole proprietorship; ROBERT W. HARDWICK, JR., DDS, a sole proprietorship; ROBERT W. HARDWICK, JR. and MICHELLE HARDWICK, and their marital community comprised thereof, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR A PROTECTIVE ORDER

          SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court, without oral argument, are Plaintiffs Shanna Rugo and Belinda Dunn's Motion for a Protective Order Quashing Subpoenas and Prohibiting Defendant Contact with Plaintiffs' Employers, ECF No. 28, and related motion to expedite, ECF No. 33. Through these motions Plaintiffs seek a protective order quashing Defendants' Rob Hardwick DDS, Robert W. Hardwick, Jr., DDS, Robert W. Hardwick, Jr., and Michelle Hardwick's (collectively “Defendants”) proposed third-party subpoenas to Plaintiffs' current and other former employers seeking Plaintiffs' employment records. Plaintiffs also seek to prohibit Defendants from contacting the third-parties at issue here. Defendants oppose the motions. Having reviewed the pleadings and the file in this matter, the Court is fully informed and denies in part and grants in part the present motion. As explained in detail below, Defendants are entitled to the discovery they seek and Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the requested relief is appropriate under these circumstances. However, because Plaintiffs have raised reasonable privacy concerns that constitute good cause, a limited protective order restricting who can view and have access to Plaintiffs' employment records is appropriate. Lastly, because the motion to expedite is now moot since the Plaintiffs' depositions have been postposed, it is denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On December 22, 2016, Plaintiffs Rugo and Dunn filed the instant lawsuit alleging that Defendants-collectively constituting Plaintiffs' former employer- retaliated against them for opposing sexual harassment in the workplace in violation of state and federal law. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs bring claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq, and RCW 49.60.210. Id. at 7-9. They seek, among other things, injunctive and monetary relief, including damages for past and future lost income and benefits and emotional distress and harm. Id. at 9-10.

         The instant motion concerns a discovery dispute between the parties. In short, after Defendants informed Plaintiffs on May 11, 2017, that they intended to seek employment records directly from Plaintiffs' employers, Plaintiffs asserted their opposition to such requests; the parties attempted and failed resolve their disagreement. ECF No. 31 at 2-3. Defendants first sought to obtain a release from Plaintiffs that would allow Plaintiffs' current and other former employers to release their employee files to Defendants. Id. at 2. After Plaintiffs refused, Defendants informed Plaintiffs that they would seek to obtain this information through third-party subpoenas. Id. at 2-3. The parties have exchanged several letters on the matter and discussed the issue via phone but have not come to a resolution. Though there appears to have been some confusion as to whether Defendants had already served the third-party subpoenas, they have yet to do so. Id. at 3. However, Plaintiffs' employers have received letters of intent to serve subpoenas from Defendants. Id.

         Plaintiffs filed the instant motion and related motion to expedite on May 26, 2017. ECF Nos. 28 and 33.

         Plaintiffs maintain that Defendants intend to issue third-party subpoenas seeking the following information:

Any and all employment and payroll records, including, but not limited to, each personnel file, each departmental file, each formal or informal supervisor's file, all records relating to any reference check completed, all payroll records, all records identifying employee benefits, each records relating to the reason for termination, all records relating to complaints about work performance and investigation into such complaints, records reflecting complaints of discrimination to any agency, and a job description regarding [Shanna Rugo and Belinda Dunn].

See, e.g., ECF No. 31-1 at 74 and 91. Defendants assert that this indeed is the information they seek from Plaintiffs' other employers. However, they state that “unbeknownst” to them the phrase “[a]ny and all employment and payroll records, including, but not limited to” was somehow erroneously added to the notice letters and draft subpoenas that Plaintiffs cite. ECF No. 35 at 2-3. Defendants clarify that should the Court deny the instant motion and the third-party subpoenas are issued, the phrase “[a]ny and all employment and payroll records, including, but not limited to” will be stricken. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiffs possess the requisite standing to seek relief.

         “A party lacks standing to challenge a subpoena issued to a third party unless the party making the challenge claims a personal right or privilege with respect to the discovery sought in the subpoena.” Emara v. Multicare Health Sys., No. 3:11-CV-6055-RBL, 2012 WL 5205950 at *2 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 22, 2012) (citations omitted); see also Crispin v. Christina Audigier, Inc., 717 F.Supp.2d 965, 973 (C.D. Cal. May 26, 2010) (citations omitted). In general, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit relatively broad yet tailored and proportional discovery of relevant material. See generally Rule 26(b). Indeed, the Rules expressly allow the discovery of matter that may ultimately be inadmissible as evidence. Id. Subpoenas are but one method for procuring relevant information that parties can employ. See generally Rule 45. However, language within Rule 45 explicitly provides a mechanism for quashing or modifying overly burdensome and unnecessary discovery requests made through subpoenas. See Rule 45(d). Additionally, parties can seek protective orders under Rule 26(c) to guard against discovery abuses. See generally Rule 26(c).

         Here, Defendants have yet to issue third-party subpoenas. They have, however, made it clear that they will serve them unless Plaintiffs agree to the release of the information Defendants seek from Plaintiffs' employers. Since Defendants are pursuing Plaintiffs employee and payroll information-Plaintiffs' employment records-from several current and past employers, there is no question that Plaintiffs have a “personal right or privilege” in the requested discovery. Accordingly, Plaintiffs have standing to ...


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