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Minke v. Page County

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

June 7, 2019

LYNDA L. MINKE, Plaintiff,


          Joel C. Hoppe United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court are three discovery motions: Third Party Amity Moler's and Defendant Page County, Virginia's motion to quash subpoena (“Motion to Quash”), ECF No. 37, and Plaintiff Lynda L. Minke's motion to compel production of personnel records, ECF No. 46, and motion to compel interrogatory responses, ECF No. 47. The Court held a hearing on the record by conference call, and the parties appeared by counsel.

         As brief background, Minke worked for many years as the solid waste manager and landfill director for Page County. In 2016, Minke's supervisory duties were removed. On June 20, 2017, the Page County Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate Minke's position, and she was terminated. Minke alleges that her termination was impermissibly based on gender discrimination and retaliation. Page County asserts that Minke was a poor supervisor and manager and that she had mistreated numerous subordinates, causing them to quit their jobs.

         I. Moler's and Page County's Motion to Quash

         Moler is the County Administrator for Page County. Minke issued a third-party subpoena to Moler for various documents. ECF No. 39-1. Moler and Page County moved to quash the subpoena under Rules 26 and 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that the subpoena seeks irrelevant, privileged, or nonexistent information. Mot. to Quash 1.

         Rule 26 provides that “[p]arties 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). Under Rule 45(a), a party may serve on a non-party to the litigation a subpoena for the production of discoverable material in the non-party's possession, custody, or control. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(a)(1)(A)(iii); In re Subpoena of Am. Nurses Ass'n, 643 Fed.Appx. 310, 314 (4th Cir. 2016) (per curiam). The scope of discovery from a non-party is “‘the same as the scope of a discovery request made upon a party to the action,' and ‘a party is entitled to information that is relevant to a claim or defense in the matter' at issue.” Bell, Inc. v. GE Lighting, LLC, No. 6:14cv12, 2014 WL 1630754, at *6 (W.D. Va. Apr. 23, 2014) (quoting Smith v. United Salt Corp., No. 1:08cv53, 2009 WL 2929343, at *5 (W.D. Va. Sept. 9, 2009)); see also Brown v. Mountainview Cutters, LLC, No. 7:15cv204, 2016 WL 3045349, at *3 (W.D. Va. May 27, 2016) (“The scope of discovery allowed under a [Rule 45] subpoena is the same as the scope of discovery allowed under Rule 26.”).

         A. Topics 1 through 4

         Minke requests that Moler produce the job application, cover letter, and résumé that Moler submitted in January 2015 for the County Administrator position as well as her résumé from her personal computer. Counsel for Moler and Page County represents that she and her clients conducted a reasonable search, that they produced some documents, and that no additional responsive documents exist. This response is sufficient, but, as Minke requests, Moler must provide a response in writing stating that no additional documents exist.

         B. Topics 5 and 6

         Minke requests all documents and communications, including electronically stored information, created since January 1, 2016, related to Minke, her employment by Page County, her work performance, her lawsuit against Page County, and the elimination of her position. Moler and Page County respond that Moler's work computer and email account have been searched and responsive documents provided. They object, however, to searching Moler's personal cell phone and computer. Counsel for Moler and Page County represented that Moler did not use her personal computer for any work-related matters, but she did use her personal cell phone. Thus, it is likely that Moler's cell phone contains work-related communications and information that may be relevant to the issues in this case. Indeed, Moler and Page County concede that Moler communicated by text message with Pamela Emmons, who was not employed by Page County, about Minke's job performance and matters at the landfills. Accordingly, Moler must produce responsive documents, as discussed below, that are stored on applications or accounts on her personal cell phone.

         Moler and Page County also object to the scope of the requests as overbroad in time and that they cover all events at the landfills. Minke's requests are somewhat overbroad. She has offered a reasonable approximation of the beginning date--January 1, 2016--for the events at issue in this lawsuit. The problem with her date range is the indefinite end date. Minke has not offered a persuasive reason to show that events at the landfills occurring after she was terminated have any bearing on this case, and I can find no reason to support the expansive timeframe she proposes. Thus, to be relevant, documents or communications must relate to actions that occurred on or before Minke's termination on June 21, 2017. Relevant documents may have been created after June 21, 2017, but they must discuss actions that occurred during the period from January 1, 2016, to June 21, 2017.

         The subject matter of Minke's requests is, for the most part, tailored to obtain relevant information. Documents about Minke, her job performance, and the elimination of her position are plainly relevant. Not every document or communication about the operation of the landfill, however, is relevant. That subject must be limited to documents or communications related to the management of the landfills and overall performance of operations at the landfills, i.e. whether there were problems or whether things at the landfills were going well. As a manager of the landfills, Minke's individual performance would have some correlation to the overall operational performance of the landfills.

         Thus, as to Topics 5 and 6, Moler must produce all documents and communications relating to Minke's employment by Page County and her job performance, the performance of landfill operations, and the elimination of Minke's position from January 1, 2016, to June 21, 2017. Such documents related to significant issues in the case, and their importance to Minke outweighs the burden placed on Moler and Page County in producing them. Moreover, the search for electronically stored information is common in litigation and not ...

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