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Murphy v. Piper

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 22, 2017

Tenner Murphy, by his Guardians Kay and Richard Murphy; Marrie Bottelson; Dionne Swanson; and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Emily Johnson Piper in her Capacity as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's appeal of Magistrate Judge Becky R. Thorson's August 21, 2017 Order and Opinion on Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel and Defendant's Motion to Compel (“Order”) (Doc. No. 78). Plaintiffs filed a response to Defendant's objections on September 19, 2017. (Doc. No. 91.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         The Court must modify or set aside any portion of the Magistrate Judge's order found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); Local Rule 72.2(a). This is an “extremely deferential” standard. Reko v. Creative Promotions, Inc., 70 F.Supp.2d 1005, 1007 (D. Minn. 1999). “A finding is ‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Chakales v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 79 F.3d 726, 728 (8th Cir. 1996) (quoting Chase v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 926 F.2d 737, 740 (8th Cir. 1991)). “A magistrate judge's ruling is contrary to law when it either fails to apply or misapplies pertinent statutes, case law or rules of procedure.” Coons v. BNSF Ry. Co., Civ. No. 15-4282 (WMW/TNL), __ F.Supp.3d __, 2017 WL 3382311, at *5 (D. Minn. Aug. 7, 2017) (citing Edeh v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 748 F.Supp.2d 1030, 1043 (D. Minn. 2010)).

         II. The Magistrate Judge's Order and Defendant's Objections

         Magistrate Judge Thorson's August 21, 2017 Order addressed Motions to Compel by Plaintiffs and Defendant, granting in part and denying in part both motions. (See Doc. Nos. 59, 65, 78.) Only Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel is at issue in this appeal.

         Defendant objects to the August 21, 2017 Order and asks the Court to reverse the Order to the extent it obligates Defendant to gather responsive information to Plaintiffs' interrogatories contained in case management files from 87 lead agencies tasked with administering the State's Waiver Services program.[1] In particular, Defendant challenges the Order with respect to Interrogatories 5, 6(c), 8, and 17. According to Defendant, “[t]he Order is clearly erroneous because it fails the Rule 26(b)(1) proportionality test in which the court never engaged and rests on a misinterpretation of the law.” (Doc. No. 79 at 2.) Defendant asserts two fundamental objections. First, Defendant argues that the discovery ordered by the Magistrate Judge is not proportional under Rule 26(b)(1). Defendant asserts that responding to the interrogatories at issue “would require a subjective, substantive review of each case management file, which would require a great deal of time and resources.” (Id. at 5.) Second, Defendant argues that the Magistrate Judge committed clear error in requiring Defendant to obtain data from lead agencies since “case management records are not in Defendant's control and are not otherwise ‘reasonably available' to Defendant.” (Id.)

         In contrast, Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge did not clearly err “in compelling Defendant to make efforts to obtain information to supplement Defendant's interrogatory responses that are proportional to the needs of the case.” (Doc. No. 91 at 4.) First, Plaintiffs argue that the issues involved in the disputed interrogatories are of central importance to their case. Second, Plaintiffs suggest that Defendant should have access to the information in question and emphasize that Defendant must “make efforts to obtain” responsive information. (Id. at 6 (quoting Doc. No. 78 at 13).) In short, Plaintiffs argue that Defendant has not met her burden to demonstrate that the Magistrate Judge's Order merits reversal.

         The Court outlines each disputed interrogatory and the parties' specific arguments, below.[2]

         A. Interrogatory No. 5: “Identify how many providers are authorized to provide person-centered planning services and how many of those providers specifically help individuals develop person-centered transition plans.”

         The Magistrate Judge granted Plaintiff's Motion to Compel with respect to Interrogatory No. 5 and ordered “Defendant to identify the number of providers she knows of who provide person-centered planning services and how many of those providers specifically help individuals develop person-centered transition plans.” (Doc. No. 78 at 15.) The Magistrate Judge also stated that “[i]f, after sufficient inquiry, Defendant lacks necessary information to make a full, fair, and specific answer to an interrogatory, she must state so under oath and Defendant must also set forth in detail the efforts made to obtain the information.” (Id.)

         Defendant asserts that it does not have data concerning providers who are “authorized” to provide person-centered planning services because the term “authorized” has no meaning in this context. Defendant contends that she has provided available information and explains that answering whether person-centered planners help to develop transition plans would require case-management-level review. Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge did not err in directing Defendant to supplement her ...


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