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Johnson v. Solara, LLC

United States District Court, D. Alaska

November 11, 2019

EILEEN JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SOLARA, LLC d/b/a SOLARA SKIN AND LASER CENTER, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION [RE: MOTIONS AT DOCS. 21, 26]

          JOHN W. SEDWICK SENIOR JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         I. MOTION PRESENTED

         At docket 21 Plaintiff Eileen Johnson ("Plaintiff") filed a motion to compel discovery from Defendant Solara, LLC (“Solara”) arguing that Solara has refused to cooperate with her discovery requests by making generalized objections. Solara responded at docket 25. Plaintiff replied at docket 27. Oral argument was requested at docket 26 but would not be of assistance to the court.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff had been employed by Solara for over ten years before her termination in February of 2018. During the relevant time period, Plaintiff held the position of Solara's “Practice Manager” and was paid a salary plus commission. After her termination, she filed this lawsuit against Solara alleging labor law violations and age discrimination. She alleges that “she was improperly classified as an exempt employee, even though her primary duties were clearly not supervisory” and consequently she was never paid for her overtime work in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act[1] and the Alaska Wage and Hour Act.[2] She also alleges that her supervisor “treated her [in] a disparate manner based on her age” in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.[3] Specifically, she alleges that her supervisor, Joe Saunders, treated new employee Trisha Torborg, who unlike Plaintiff was under 40, more favorably.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) “[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 . . . .”[4] Proportionality is determined by "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."[5] Relevant information does not need to be admissible to be discoverable.[6] The court must limit the requested discovery if it is shown to be “unreasonably cumulative or duplicative”; if “the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information”; or if needed to enforce the appropriate scope of discovery.[7]

         On a motion to compel, the party seeking to compel discovery has the initial burden of establishing that her request satisfies the relevancy requirements of Rule 26(b).[8] In turn, the party opposing discovery has the burden to demonstrate that discovery should not be allowed and must explain and support its objections with competent evidence.[9]

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff propounded nine interrogatories and forty-three requests for production to Solara. Solara responded by objecting to most all of the requested discovery based on a boilerplate assertion of irrelevance, vagueness, overbreadth, and privilege. After some correspondence between the parties, they were able to narrow the dispute to cover about twenty of Plaintiff's discovery requests. The parties remain in conflict over the scope of Plaintiff's request for emails; what evidence is relevant and reasonable in relation to the issue of Plaintiff's job duties; what is discoverable with regard to other employees' time and pay; and whether financial information about Solara is relevant.

         Emails

         RFP No. 1.

         Plaintiff requests all emails sent to or from her work email address from April 2015 through April 5, 2018. Solara objected to the request, arguing that it is far too broad and ambiguous. While not at all ambiguous, the request is broad in its scope. Not each and every email in Plaintiff's email accounts is relevant or necessary to prove the claims in this case. However, emails located in Plaintiff's work email account that relate to her performance, duties, and pay clearly are and should be provided. Solara contends that it has since turned over thousands of emails, but it has not provided information about what types of emails were turned over, where the emails came from, and whether they include emails from Plaintiff's work accounts. Solara is directed to comply with Plaintiff's request for relevant emails from her work account or certify that it has already provided them to her.

         RFP No. 2.

         Plaintiff requests all emails from April 2015 through April 5, 2018 sent by or to Joe Saunders that mention her name. Again, while the request is quite broad in its scope, it does touch on relevant material. Any emails sent by or to Plaintiff's supervisor on his Solara email accounts relating to Plaintiff's performance, duties, pay, or age are relevant here and should be turned over. To the extent Plaintiff asks that emails from her supervisor's personal accounts be turned over, there is no basis to suggest that Solara has possession or control over such emails or that her supervisor conducted business through his personal email accounts. Again, Solara contends that it has since turned over thousands of emails but has not provided information about what types of emails were turned over, where the emails came from, and whether they include emails from Joe Saunders's work accounts. Solara is directed to comply with Plaintiff's request for relevant emails from Joe Saunders's work email accounts or certify that it has already provided them to her.

         RFP No. 3.

         Plaintiff requests all emails from April 2015 through April 5, 2018 sent to or by Trisha Torborg through her personal email accounts and any other email or messaging accounts “that Defendant has possession and/or control to access” and that mention Plaintiff's name. Emails sent to or by Trisha Torborg that are covered by RFP Nos. 1 and 2 are of course discoverable. That is, relevant email exchanges between Plaintiff and Trisha Torborg or Joe Saunders and Trisha Torborg found in Solara email accounts are within Solara's ...


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