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Archer v. City of Winter Haven

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

November 7, 2017

DARRELL ARCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WINTER HAVEN, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          AMANDA ARNOLD SANSONE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on: Plaintiff's Amended Motion to Compel Answers to Interrogatories from Defendant, Kristina Wood (Doc. 92); Amended Motion to Compel Answers to Interrogatories from Defendant, Walmart (Doc. 93); Amended Motion to Compel Responses and to Compel Production from Defendant, Kristina Wood (Doc. 94); and Amended Motion to Compel Responses and to Compel Production from Defendant, Walmart (Doc. 95).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 7, 2017, pro se Plaintiff Darrell Archer filed his First Amended Complaint against Defendants City of Winter Haven, Winter Haven Police Department, Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, Sgt. Dan Gaskin, Sgt. Ken Nicols, Sgt. Brad Webster, Edward Camp, Charles Caraway, and Kristine Wood.[1] (Doc. 32). Plaintiff alleges that on November 26, 2015, he purchased a television at a Walmart store and, as he was leaving the store, a Walmart employee requested to see a receipt for the purchase. (Id. at p. 3). Plaintiff refused to produce the receipt. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants subsequently prevented him from leaving the store for 10 to 15 minutes, threatened him with theft charges, and told him to leave without his television and not to come back or else would be charged with trespass. (Id. at pp. 3-4).

         On September 25, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant four amended motions to compel, seeking the production of documents and interrogatory answers from Defendants Wood and Walmart.[2](Docs. 92, 93, 94, 95). On October 6, 2017, Defendants filed responses in opposition to Plaintiff's amended motions. (Docs. 98, 99). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for review.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Motions to compel discovery are committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. See Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Westrope, 730 F.2d 729, 731 (11th Cir. 1984). Rule 26(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the scope of discovery. That rule provides, in relevant part, 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, 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. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

         Here, Plaintiff seeks to compel better responses to Interrogatories to Defendant Walmart Nos. 5-11, 15, and 16, Interrogatories to Defendant Wood Nos. 3-9, and 12-15, Request for Production of Documents to Defendant Walmart Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17, and 18, and Request for Production of Documents to Defendant Wood Nos. 2-7, 9, 10, and 14-21.[3]

         Defendants stated the boilerplate objections of vague, overbroad, seeks information protected by attorney client or work product privileges, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and often a combination of these boilerplate objections. (Docs. 82-1, 83-1, 84-1, 85-1). As made clear by the 2015 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the use of boilerplate objections is improper. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 34. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34(b)(2)(B) now requires that the responding party “state with specificity the grounds for objection to the request, including the reasons.” Further, in addition to being boilerplate, Defendants' objections that the requested documents are “not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” are a restatement of the former language from Rule 26(b)(1). That language was removed when Rule 26 was amended in 2015. In light of the foregoing, Defendants' boilerplate objections are overruled, and the Court will address the other objections raised, if any.

         In addition, some of Defendants' responses include the phrase “without waiving [its objections].” Responding to discovery “subject to, ” or “notwithstanding” objections “preserves nothing and wastes the time and resources of the parties and the court.” Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Kelt, Inc., No. 6:14-cv-749-ORL-41, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 31, 2015) (quoting Martin v. Zale Del., Inc., No. 8:08-cv-47-T-27EAJ, 2008 WL 5255555, *2 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 15, 2008)).

         Further, the Court's handbook titled Middle District Discovery (2015) (“Discovery Handbook”) provides guidance for interpreting requests for production and interrogatories. The Discovery Handbook instructs that “[a]n attorney receiving a request for documents or a subpoena duces tecum shall reasonably and naturally interpret it, recognizing that the attorney serving it generally does not have specific knowledge of the documents sought[.]” Discovery Handbook at 11. “Interrogatories should be interpreted reasonably, in good faith, and according to the meaning the plain language of the interrogatory would naturally import.” Id. at 16. Here, a pro se litigant propounded the interrogatories and document requests to Defendants. Many of Defendant's objections (and the resulting motion practice) could have been avoided if Defendants simply heeded the Discovery Handbook's guidance.

         A. Interrogatories to Defendant Walmart

Interrogatory No. 5: Based upon any investigation conducted by Walmart or known to Walmart personnel, who made the initial stop of the plaintiff at Walmart during any time of the incident?
Response: Objection, this interrogatory is vague, overbroad, potentially seeks information protected by the attorney client or work product privileges and is not reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence. The interrogatory is also vague as to the term “stop” and assumes that plaintiff was stopped.

(Doc. 84-1, p. 5). Defendant Walmart argues that this interrogatory is vague because Plaintiff was never stopped but, instead, was asked to show his purchase receipt. (Doc. 98, pp. 2-3). In addition, Defendant contends that it is unclear what Plaintiff is referencing by the term “investigation, ” and that the interrogatory is not limited in time. (Id.). To cure the alleged vagueness of the interrogatory, the phrase “made the initial stop” shall be replaced with “requested the purchase receipt.” The term investigation is not vague, [4] and the interrogatory is clearly referring to the time period of the subject incident on November 26, 2015, to the present. Defendant Walmart shall provide an amended response to this interrogatory no later than November 28, 2017.

Interrogatory No. 6: How and for what purpose were any police officers called upon to assist in the stop or further processing or confrontation with the plaintiff?
Response: Objection, this interrogatory is vague as to the terms “stop”, “further processing” and “confrontation”, and assumes that there was any “stop”, “processing” and/or “confrontation” with plaintiff. However, without waiving the foregoing, officers of the Winter Haven Police Department were in the store on the day of the incident and believed to be acting within the policies and procedures of their department. Questions regarding how and why any of these officers had any conversations with plaintiff is better directed at those officers.

(Doc. 84-1, p. 5). This answer is not responsive. To cure the alleged vagueness of the interrogatory, the term “stop” shall be replaced with “request for the purchase receipt.” The terms processing and confrontation are not vague.[5] Defendant Walmart shall provide an amended response to this interrogatory no later than November 28, 2017.

         Interrogatory No. 7: What was the purpose of the initial stop of the plaintiff at Walmart at the time of the incident and what was the legal authority or basis for such stop?

Response: Objection, this interrogatory is vague as to the phrase “initial stop” and assumes there was a “stop.” Without waiving the foregoing, plaintiff was asked to produce a copy of the receipt for the television in his possession and plaintiff refused to provide this receipt. Further, Walmart and its employees complied with Fla. Stat. § 812.015(3).

Id.). This response sufficiently answers the question posed. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion to compel as to this interrogatory is denied.

Interrogatory No. 8: Please describe the basis, whether it be pursuant to some statute, ordinance, regulation or other legal authority, or pursuant to some other unwritten authority or custom, that justifies or authorizes Walmart or police officers to stop the plaintiff in this case for the purpose of requesting to see his receipt of purchase at Walmart in connection with this incident.
Response: Objection, this interrogatory is vague and overbroad, and specifically is overbroad as to the phrase “stop.” Further, this interrogatory assumes there was a “stop.” Without waiving the foregoing, Walmart and its employees complied with Fla. Stat. § 812.015(3).

(Id. at pp. 5-6). This response sufficiently answers the question posed. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion to compel as to this interrogatory is denied.

Interrogatory No. 9: Please describe in detail the investigation conducted by Walmart employees to determine the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the plaintiff's possession of the television found in his possession at the time of the stop before any decision or determination was made to take the television from the plaintiff.
Response: Objection, this interrogatory is vague, overbroad, and assumes that there was a “stop” or that this defendant made a “decision” or “determination” to “take the television from the plaintiff.” Without waiving the foregoing, plaintiff was asked to produce a copy of the receipt for the television in his possession and plaintiff refused to provide this receipt.

(Id. at p. 6). This response sufficiently answers the question posed. Therefore, the motion to compel as to this interrogatory is denied.

Interrogatory No. 10: Did the police officers conduct any independent investigation to determine if the plaintiff had in fact purchased the television in his possession before it was taken from him at the time of the incident? And if so, please detail such investigation.
Response: Objection, this interrogatory is vague, overbroad, potentially seeks information protected by the attorney client and/or work product privileges, and is not reasonably calculated to lead the discovery of admissible evidence. Without waiving the foregoing, this defendant is not affiliated with the Winter Haven Police Department and any information regarding any “investigation” conducted by the Winter Haven Police Department is not in the possession of this defendant.

(Id.). This response sufficiently answers the question posed. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion to compel as to this interrogatory is denied.

Interrogatory No. 11: Was the television in the possession of the plaintiff at the time he was stopped attempting to leave Walmart determined to be lawfully possessed by plaintiff or unlawfully possessed by plaintiff at the time it was taken from him at Walmart?
Response: Objection, this interrogatory is vague, assumes plaintiff was “stopped”, and further assumes that defendant took a television from him. Without waiving the foregoing, plaintiff was asked to produce a copy of the receipt for the television in his possession and plaintiff refused to produce this receipt.

(Id.). This answer is not responsive, and does not answer the question posed. To cure the alleged vagueness of the interrogatory, the term “stopped” shall be replaced with the phrase “asked for his receipt.” Defendant Walmart shall provide an amended response to this interrogatory no later than November 28, 2017.

Interrogatory No. 15: Please state in detail the store policy of Walmart and the Walmart store where the incident took place that incorporates the concept that Walmart customers should be stopped or otherwise asked to display their receipt of purchase as they complete their checkout or otherwise begin to exit the Walmart store. Please include the description of the manner in which Walmart employees are instructed to make such stop or inquiry and what direction or instructions Walmart employees are given when such customer fails or refuses to show or display their receipt.
Response: Objection, this request [sic] is vague, over broad, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Further, the request [sic] is vague as to the term “stopped.” Without waiving the foregoing, policies and procedure believed to be responsive to this request [sic] will be forwarded to counsel upon the entering of a joint stipulation as to confidentiality of documents produced via discovery.

(Id. at pp. 7-8). This answer is not responsive. This interrogatory is not vague as it specifically states, “stopped or otherwise asked to display their receipt of purchase.” (Id. at p. 7) (emphasis added). In addition, Defendant Walmart cannot condition its duty to participate in discovery on Plaintiff executing a confidentiality agreement. If Defendant Walmart believes certain discovery is subject to special protection, it may move the Court for entry of a protective order upon making the appropriate showing under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26.[6] To date, no such order has been entered. Further, the Court notes that the response states that documents will be “forwarded to counsel” upon entering a joint stipulation as to confidentiality. Under the circumstances, this is nonsensical to the extent that the “counsel” referenced is Plaintiff's counsel because Plaintiff is currently proceeding pro se. Therefore, Defendant Walmart shall provide an amended response to this interrogatory no later than November 28, 2017.

Interrogatory No. 16: What instructions or directions are Walmart employees given as to the manner and circumstances of detaining customers who refuse or fail to show their receipt of purchase and what, if any, investigation does Walmart expect or instruct their employees to conduct at such times?
Response: Objection, this interrogatory is vague, overbroad, and not reasonably calculated to lead the discovery of admissible evidence. Further, the request [sic] is vague as to the term “detaining.” Without waiving the foregoing, policies and procedure believed to be responsive to this request [sic] will be forwarded to counsel upon the entering of a joint stipulation as to confidentiality of documents produced via discovery.

(Doc. 84-1, p. 8). This answer is not responsive. The term “detaining” is not vague.[7] In addition, as stated above, Defendant Walmart cannot condition its duty to participate in discovery on Plaintiff executing a confidentiality agreement. If Defendant Walmart believes certain discovery the appropriate showing. Again, the Court notes that the response states that documents will be “forwarded to counsel” upon entering a joint stipulation as to confidentiality. Under the circumstances, this is nonsensical to the extent that the “counsel” referenced is Plaintiff's ...


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