United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL
DISCOVERY (DOC. 352)
William K. Sessions, III District Court Judge.
Janet Jenkins, for herself and as next friend of her daughter
Isabella Miller-Jenkins, has brought suit against several
individuals and organizations, alleging that they kidnapped
and conspired to kidnap Isabella. Plaintiffs assert claims of
commission of, and conspiracy to, commit an intentional tort
of kidnapping and conspiracy to violate civil rights under 42
U.S.C. § 1985(3).
20, 2019, Defendants filed a motion to compel discovery and
provide complete, responsive answers to interrogatories
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 and 37(a). Specifically,
Defendants request that Ms. Jenkins supplement
Interrogatories 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 14, 19, and 25, as well as
Document Requests 1-19. ECF 352 at 3.
reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion to compel
discovery is granted in part and
denied in part.
request for costs and fees is denied.
Additionally, the Court will grant a protective
order surrounding Plaintiffs' medical, mental
health, financial, and other personal records, as well as
around information pertaining to minor Isabella
Jenkins-Miller. Plaintiffs must submit a protective order to
the Court within ten days.
February 25, 2019, Defendants served a first set of
interrogatories and discovery requests on Plaintiff Janet
Jenkins. ECF 352-1 at 1. Ms. Jenkins served her responses on
May 3, 2019. Id. Defendants aver that these
responses were incomplete and did not include any responsive
documents. Id. at 2. On April 10, 2019,
Plaintiffs' counsel delivered to all opposing counsel a
proposed stipulated two-tier blanket protective order to keep
certain documents, information, and other items produced or
obtained in the course of discovery confidential. ECF 358 at
3. Defendants did not agree to this proposed protective
order. Id. On May 23, 2019, counsel for both parties
met and conferred, and Plaintiffs' counsel agreed to
supplement seven interrogatories and clarify several
objections. ECF 352-1 at 2. Defendants contend that they
never received these responses. Id.
26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure defines the
scope of discovery as including “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.” The Supreme Court has broadly construed the
scope of discovery “to encompass any matter that bears
on, or that reasonably could lead to another matter that
could bear on” the claims or defenses, and that is
proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
26(b)(1); Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437
U.S. 340, 351 (1978). Discovery is neither limited to the
issues raised by the pleadings, nor to the merits of a case.
Oppenheimer, 431 U.S. at 351.
determining whether a discovery request is proportional to
the disputed issues, Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1) directs trial
courts to consider “the importance of the issue at
stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the
parties' 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
26(b)(1). Rule 26 vests the trial judge with broad discretion
over making these determinations. Crawford-El v.
Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 598 (1998). “A party
claiming that a request is important to resolve the issues
should be able to explain the ways in which the underlying
information bears on the issues as that party understands
them.” Id; see N. Shore-Long Island Jewish Health
Sys., Inc. v. MultiPlan, Inc., 325 F.R.D. 36, 47-48
(E.D.N.Y. 2018), John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Book Dog
Books, LLC, 298 F.R.D. 184, 186 (S.D.N.Y 2014). Once a
party requesting discovery has satisfied this threshold
burden, the party resisting discovery must show specific
facts demonstrating that the discovery is irrelevant or
disproportional under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). See
McKissick v. Three Deer Ass'n Ltd. P'ship, 265
F.R.D. 55, 56-57 (D. Conn. 2010).
interrogatories, Fed.R.Civ.P. 33 states that, “[a]n
interrogatory may relate to any matter that may be inquired
into under Rule 26(b). An interrogatory is not objectionable
merely because it asks for an opinion or contention that
relates to fact or the application of law to fact, but the
court may order that the interrogatory need not be answered
until designated discovery is complete, or until a pretrial
conference or some other time . . . The grounds for objecting
to an interrogatory must be stated with specificity.”
2 requests Ms. Jenkins “[i]identify each job, including
the annual gross income of that job [Ms. Jenkins has], held
from 2004 to the present.” ECF 352-2 at 5. Plaintiff
objects to this inquiry as irrelevant, causing embarrassment
and annoyance, and that it is unduly intrusive. Id.
In her response to the interrogatory, Ms. Jenkins has
answered that “since 2004, Plaintiff has been
self-employed and operated a child care and preschool, or has
been a stay-at-home parent.” Id. Defendants
claim that this is an insufficiently thorough response to the
have met their burden of showing that the information sought
is relevant to an issue in this case, and proportional to its
needs. As they argue, Ms. Jenkins seeks compensatory damages
for lost business as a result of having to close her daycare
center in order to attend court hearings and meetings with
law enforcement surrounding her daughter's disappearance.
ECF 168 at 11. Ms. Jenkins' overall financial situation,
and specifically her income before and after the events at
issue in this case, is a relevant inquiry to determine how
Defendants' alleged actions impacted her finances and led
her to close the daycare center. Given the importance of such
an assessment to this case, this discovery is proportional to
its needs. Besides relevance, Plaintiffs' main objection
to this request appears to lie in the confidential nature of
the information sought. ECF 358 at 11. However, the entrance
of a protective order that would limit the dissemination of
this information (discussed below) should mitigate these
concerns. Defendants' motion on this request is granted.
Interrogatories 4 and 25
4 and 25 request information regarding Ms. Jenkins'
mental health and mental health treatment. ECF 352.
Defendants argue that this information directly bears on Ms.
Jenkins' claims of emotional distress, and is thus
relevant and proportional to the case. Id. at 6-7.
Plaintiff objects to the interrogatory as irrelevant, causing
embarrassment and annoyance, and unduly intrusive.
have properly shown that the information sought bears on key
issues in the case. Id. In a matter concerning
tortious infliction of emotional distress, the claimant's
mental health records directly bear on the key issue of
damages. The information sought could contain helpful
evidence as to the effects of Isabella's disappearance on
Ms. Jenkins. Plaintiffs do not provide specific facts
demonstrating that this information would be irrelevant or
disproportionate to the inquiries in the case. ECF 358. While
Ms. Jenkins does raise appreciable concerns regarding the
sensitivity of this information, the enactment of a
protective order should mitigate their seriousness. Hence,
Defendants' motion to compel Interrogatories 4 and 25 is
6 requests information regarding Jenkins' dating history
upon separation from Lisa Miller. ECF 352 at 5. Defendants
aver that this information is relevant to evaluate
Plaintiffs' emotional distress claim. Id.
Plaintiffs object to this request as irrelevant to the case,
and as causing embarrassment and annoyance. Id.
relevant inquiry here is whether information as to Ms.
Jenkins' romantic history is relevant to determining
whether she incurred emotional distress as a result of
Isabella's disappearance. “If the evidence sought
is not relevant, and thus inadmissible, and it does not
appear that the evidence sought will lead to evidence that is
admissible, then the court can properly limit
discovery.” Mitchell v. Hutchings, 116 F.R.D.
481 (D. Utah 1987). Pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 401,
“evidence is relevant if it has any tendency ...