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Stevenson v. Johnson Bros Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

March 7, 2019

ALBERT STEVENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHNSON BROS CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on Plaintiff's Amended Motion to Quash Defendant's Subpoenas. (Doc. # 14).[1] The Motion is fully briefed (see Docs. # 16, 18), and it is ripe for decision. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, the court concludes that Plaintiff's Motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Albert Stevenson, an African-American male, was employed by Defendant Johnson Bros. as a Project Engineer from approximately May 2017 to August 18, 2017, when he was fired. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 15, 47). He now brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 to remedy Defendant's alleged unlawful employment practices and acts of intentional discrimination. Plaintiff asserts claims of race discrimination and retaliation. (See generally Doc. # 1).

         On January 15, 2019, Defendant sent Plaintiff's counsel an email informing Plaintiff of its intent to serve subpoenas on seven of Plaintiff's former employers[2]-both before and after his employment with Defendant.[3] (Doc. # 14-1). The non-party subpoenas requested the following information from Plaintiff's former employers:

A certified copy of your entire personnel file, including but not limited to, any and all employment records, applications, correspondence, notes, absentee records, payroll records, evaluations, disciplinary actions, worker's compensation records, or any other document of whatever nature and type relating to Albert Stevenson.

(Doc. # 14 at 2). Plaintiff responded two days later, objecting to the request in its entirety on the grounds that the information requested from Plaintiff's former employers (1) was not proportional to the needs of the case, (2) was overly broad and unreasonable, and (3) could have been discoverable through other reasonable means like deposition or written discovery. (Doc. # 14-2). Later than afternoon, Defendant asked Plaintiff to be more specific in his objections. (Doc. # 14-3).

         Plaintiff replied on January 18, 2019 that he objected to Defendant's request for the “entire personnel file, ” which included, but was not limited to, “employment records, applications, correspondence, notes, absentee records, payroll records, evaluations, disciplinary actions, worker's compensation records, or any other document of whatever nature and type relating to Albert Stevenson.” (Doc. # 14-4) (emphasis added). In Plaintiff's view, such a request was far too broad and violated his right to privacy in his personnel files from former employers. Id.

         Although it did not acquiesce in Plaintiff's characterization of the request, Defendant agreed to limit the documents requested to “a certified copy of Albert Stevenson's application for employment and any documents showing Albert Stevenson's dates of employment, compensation earned and reasons for his termination and any disciplinary actions.” (Doc. # 14-5). Defendant also agreed to wait to serve the revised subpoenas until Plaintiff's counsel had a chance to review the new language the following week. (Doc. # 14-6).

         On January 30, 2019, Plaintiff responded that he objected to the requests for any “application for employment, ” “reasons for his termination, ” and “any disciplinary actions” from former employers. (Doc. # 14-7). Plaintiff asserted that such information was not relevant to the needs of the case and would not prove or disprove any material fact in the case. (Id.). However, Plaintiff did not object to Defendant asking his former employers (after his employment with Defendant) to produce “documents showing [his] dates of employment” or “compensation earned.” Plaintiff acknowledged that this information could be used “for the purposes of determining [his] interim earnings.” Id.

         Defendant did not agree to so limit the subpoenas. (Doc. # 14-8). Instead, Defendant notified Plaintiff that it intended to serve the subpoenas on February 1, 2019. (Id.). After warning Defendant of his opposition, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to Quash on February 5, 2019. (Doc. # 14). As of February 11, 2019 (the date on which Defendant filed its response), the subpoenas still had not been served on the non-party former employers. (Doc. # 16 at n. 1).

         II. Analysis

         The parties' disagreement revolves around three categories of information in the possession of Plaintiff's former employers: (1) Plaintiff's prior employment applications, (2) his previous dates of employment and the amount of compensation earned, and (3) his earlier disciplinary record and reasons for termination. Specifically, Plaintiff objects to the issuance of the subpoenas pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(d)(3)(A)(iii)-(iv). (Doc. # 18 at 1). These provisions mandate that a court quash or modify a subpoena that either “requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matter, if no exception or waiver applies” or “subjects a person to undue burden.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(d)(3)(A)(iii)-(iv). The scope of discovery that may be sought through a Rule 45 non-party subpoena is the same permissible scope under Federal Rule of Civil procedure 26(b):[4]

Parties 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 ...

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