United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
C. CACHERIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Tawana Jean
Cooper's Objections under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
72 regarding orders entered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa
Buchanan [Dkts. 32, 54, 68, 75, 76]. Also before the Court is
Judge Buchanan's Report and Recommendations [Dkt. 74],
which recommends that the Court dismiss this case due to
Plaintiff's failure to meet her discovery obligations.
For the reasons that follow, the Court will overrule
Plaintiff's Objections, adopt Judge Buchanan's Report
and Recommendations, and dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint
is a former employee of Defendant FedEx Ground Package
System, Inc. The chain of events giving rise to this suit
began when one of Plaintiff's coworkers criticized her
work performance in a manner that she deemed
“intentionally hurtful, spiteful, and cruel, and
extremely disrespectful and indecorous.” Compl. [Dkt.
1] ¶ 16. This ultimately led to Plaintiff lodging a
series of complaints that she believed were not taken
seriously due to her gender. After a number of confrontations
with her superiors regarding her complaints and a complaint
lodged by a coworker against her, Plaintiff was terminated.
On May 17, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit pro se against
Defendant alleging violations of Title VII.
Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) authorizes magistrate judges to
enter final orders on non-dispositive pretrial matters. If a
party objects to a magistrate judge's ruling on a
non-dispositive matter, a district court judge may set it
aside if it is “clearly erroneous or contrary to
law.” Id.; FEC v. Christian
Coalition, 178 F.R.D. 456, 459 (E.D. Va. 1998). This
standard is deferential, and the magistrate judge's
ruling will be affirmed unless the entire record leaves the
Court with “the definite and firm conviction that a
mistake has been committed.” Harman v. Levin,
772 F.2d 1150, 1153 (4th Cir. 1985). Pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 72(b), when a magistrate judge issues a
Report and Recommendations on a dispositive matter, the
district court reviews it de novo.
evaluating Plaintiff's Objections, the Court is mindful
that Plaintiff is proceeding in this matter pro se.
Be that as it may, “[a]lthough pro se
litigants are given liberal treatment by courts, even pro
se litigants are expected to comply with time
requirements and other procedural rules ‘without which
effective judicial administration would be
impossible.'” Dancy v. Univ. of N. Carolina at
Charlotte, No. 3:08-CV-166-RJC-DCK, 2009 WL 2424039, at
*2 (W.D. N.C. Aug. 3, 2009) (quoting Ballard v.
Carlson, 882 F .2d 93, 96 (4th Cir.1989)).
objects to virtually every Order entered by Judge Buchanan in
the course of these proceedings, as well as Judge
Buchanan's Report and Recommendations. As the merits of
Plaintiff's various Rule 72 Objections turn on the
procedural history of this case, the Court discusses both
Defendant's First Motion to Compel and Plaintiff's
saga began in earnest on October 21, 2016, when Defendant
filed a Motion for Protective Order and to Compel [Dkt. 18].
At the time, both parties had propounded discovery requests,
and Defendant had asked that a protective order be entered
before turning over proprietary business information.
Plaintiff refused to consent to a protective order, claiming
that she intended to publicize materials received in
discovery through a book and blog. Plaintiff further refused
to provide any responses to Defendant's discovery
requests or schedule her own deposition until Defendant
turned over its sensitive materials “[a]nd not a moment
sooner.” Opp. [Dkt. 24] at 6. Defendant's Motion
sought the entry of what, in most cases, would have been a
stipulated protective order, and to compel Plaintiff's
October 28, 2016, Judge Buchanan held a hearing and granted
Defendant's Motion. Judge Buchanan thereafter entered an
Order [Dkt. 27] instating Defendant's requested
protective order, requiring Plaintiff to submit her discovery
responses within a week, and further requiring Plaintiff to
cooperate with Defendant to schedule her own deposition.
filed a Rule 72(a) Objection [Dkt. 32] to Judge
Buchanan's Order on November 7, 2016. In it, Plaintiff
argues first that Defendant did not show good cause for a
protective order. In light of the sensitive business
documents requested by Plaintiff, see Mem. in Supp.
of Mot. [Dkt. 19] at 4, the Court concurs with Judge
Buchanan's finding that good cause existed for the
protective order. See, e.g., Sheets v. Caliber
Home Loans, Inc., No. 3:15-CV-72 (GROH), 2015 WL
7756156, at *5 (N.D. W.Va. Dec. 1, 2015). As Judge Buchanan
noted, Plaintiff remained free to contest the designation of
specific documents she believed to be improperly designated
argues further that the protective order violated her rights
under the First Amendment. As Plaintiff acknowledges in her
Objection, however, “a protective order [that is]
entered on a showing of good cause as required by Rule 26(c),
is limited to the context of pretrial civil discovery, and
does not restrict the dissemination of the information if
gained from other sources, . . . does not offend the First
Amendment.” Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart,
467 U.S. 20, 37 (1984). Such is the case here.
further objects to Judge Buchanan's Order insofar as it
required that she provide discovery responses and schedule
her own deposition. Plaintiff argues that she should not have
been required to do so until Defendant provided its own
discovery responses. Plaintiff, however, is incorrect that
her own discovery obligations are or have at any point been
contingent upon Defendant's performance of its
discovery obligations. Moreover, as Judge Buchanan noted,
Defendant had reasonably withheld sensitive materials pending
the entry of a protective order and agreed to turn them over
once the order was entered. Plaintiff, on the other hand, had
no comparable reason to withhold discovery responses. Judge
Buchanan therefore rightly ordered Plaintiff to abide by her
own discovery obligations.
Plaintiff argues that Judge Buchanan's Order should be
set aside because Judge Buchanan “discriminated against
Plaintiff” and struck a “disrespectful, hostile,
aggressive, and authoritarian” tone during the hearing
on this matter. Having reviewed the recording of the hearing,
however, the Court finds that it was in fact Plaintiff who
acted in a disrespectful, hostile, and aggressive manner:
Judge Buchanan: What about your answers?
Plaintiff: I will give them my responses
when they give me their responses.
Judge Buchanan: That's not the way it
works. If their responses - their responses are going to be
given to you now. But yours are overdue.
Plaintiff: Theirs is overdue.
Judge Buchanan: I understand that, but you
wouldn't sign a protective order. They're I'm
sure going to file their responses or give you their
responses promptly. When are they going to be provided?
Defendant's Counsel: Oh yeah, definitely
within a week your honor.
Judge Buchan: OK. So I assume that you can
provide your responses within a week as well, not waiting for
them, but by next Friday.
Plaintiff: Absolutely not.
Judge Buchanan: Why?
Plaintiff: Because, I gave them my -
Judge Buchanan: Ma'am, OK, I'm not
going to repeat this -
Plaintiff: OK, OK.
Judge Buchanan: You have to produce your
Plaintiff: Well I'm not going to do it.
Judge Buchanan: - responses. You did not
bring a motion to ...