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Trainer v. Continental Carbonic Products, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 15, 2018

Timothy N. Trainer, Plaintiff,
Continental Carbonic Products, Inc., Defendant.

          Matthew J. Schaap, Esq., Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills & Bauer P.A., Apple Valley, Minnesota, for Plaintiff.

          Alyssa M. Toft, Esq., Jackson Lewis P.C., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Continental Carbonic Products, Inc.'s (“CCPI”) Motion to Compel Discovery, for Spoliation Sanctions Including Dismissal of Action, and for Attorneys' Fees (“Motion to Compel”) [Doc. No. 42]. This matter has been referred for the resolution of pretrial matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and District of Minnesota Local Rule 72.1. For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Timothy N. Trainer (“Trainer”) is a white male whose wife is African-American and whose children are biracial. (Am. Compl.) [Doc. No. 13 ¶¶ 9-10]. CCPI's Burnsville location hired Trainer in August 2013 as a full-time driver. (Id. ¶ 8). After learning about the race of Trainer's family members, Trainer's coworker, Travis Gilder (“Gilder”), began making “offensive and derogatory comments” regarding Trainer's family. (Id. ¶ 13). Gilder also made racist jokes and showed Trainer racist cartoons and memes. (Id. ¶ 15). Gilder was promoted to assistant manager in September 2014, thereby becoming Trainer's direct supervisor, and continued to make racist jokes and comments. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17).

         In April 2015, Gilder again made racist statements about Trainer's family, and the two had a verbal altercation. (Id. ¶ 18). Trainer called an employee in CCPI's human resources office to report the behavior. (Id. ¶ 19). Trainer then called human resources repeatedly because his calls were not returned for seven to ten days. (Id. ¶ 20). During this period, Gilder continued to attempt to contact Trainer. (Id. ¶ 21). CCPI fired Gilder three weeks after Trainer's first complaint. (Id. ¶ 24). In October 2015, Trainer requested CCPI's investigation file regarding Gilder because he wanted to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Id. ¶¶ 25-26). CCPI refused to provide the file, and fired Trainer three weeks later. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28).

         Trainer alleges that CCPI violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act provisions based on his familial status and that CCPI wrongfully terminated him. (Id. ¶¶ 29-44).

         In its Motion to Compel, CCPI argues Trainer deleted text messages and emails that are responsive to its discovery requests. See (Def.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Compel, “Mem. in Supp.”) [Doc. No. 45 at 1]. CCPI seeks various forms of relief related to this spoliation, and also seeks information regarding Trainer's tax returns, government benefits, evictions, and phone records. (Id. at 22-30). CCPI also seeks attorney's fees. (Id. at 30-31).

         Following the hearing, the Court ordered the parties to engage in further meet-and-confer efforts. (Minute Entry Dated May 14, 2018) [Doc. No. 52]. As a result, the parties resolved the majority of their dispute. (Letter Dated May 21, 2018) [Doc. No. 54]. The remaining issues relate to text messages and emails that CCPI argues have not been produced and are relevant to the claims and defenses in this case.[1] CCPI also seeks spoliation sanctions-up to and including dismissal of this lawsuit-and attorneys' fees. See (Mem. in Supp. at 12) (requesting dismissal); (id. at 16-18) (requesting an adverse-inference instruction and a finding that destroyed evidence was unfavorable to Trainer); (id. at 18) (requesting “any and all appropriate relief” and monetary sanctions); (id. at 30) (requesting reimbursement of reasonable expenses and attorney's fees).


         The Court first discusses whether the text messages and emails should be produced, followed by a discussion of sanctions.

         A. Compelling Production

         1. Legal Standard

         The Federal Rules permit

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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). But discovery is not boundless. Discovery must be limited if:

(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, ...

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