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Adhi Parasakthi Charitable, Medical, Educational, and Cultural Society of North America v. Township of West Pikeland

March 16, 2010

ADHI PARASAKTHI CHARITABLE, MEDICAL, EDUCATIONAL, AND CULTURAL SOCIETY OF NORTH AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF WEST PIKELAND, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This case is now before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Enforce the Court's January 13, 2010 Memorandum and Order (Doc. No. 39). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

Factual Background

The facts of this case have already been set forth in this Court's memorandum of January 13, 2010 (Doc. No. 35), and we will, therefore, only provide a brief summary of the facts that have transpired since our previous Order. Following that Order, Plaintiff provided Defendant with over 2600 pages of documents in response to its document requests and served its "Second Supplimental [sic] Answers" to Defendant's Interrogatories. Believing that many of these responses were still deficient, Defendant's counsel sent a letter to Plaintiff's counsel on January 21, 2010. The attorneys then discussed their disagreements on January 25, 2010, and Plaintiff's attorney sent a letter to Defendant's attorney on January 26, 2010, detailing Plaintiff's responses to Defendant's contentions, and attaching Plaintiff's "Fourth Supplimental [sic] Answers" to Defendant's Interrogatories.*fn1 Believing that these responses still are deficient, Defendant filed the present Motion.

Defendant points to five specific deficiencies in Plaintiff's responses to discovery to this point. First, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff has not adequately answered Interrogatory 4, requesting information about damages. Defendant urges this Court to prohibit Plaintiff from seeking monetary damages or presenting evidence of such damages at trial as a sanction for this failure. Second, Defendant objects to Plaintiff's responses to Interrogatory 7, arguing that Plaintiff continues to answer a question other than the one asked, and asking this Court to bar Plaintiff from arguing at trial that there were not other suitable plots of land in West Pikeland Township for the construction of a temple. Third, Defendant seeks an order compelling a more complete response to Interrogatories 13 and 14, concerning the size and number of deities in other temples, or, in the alternative, an order dismissing Plaintiff's Complaint. Fourth, Defendant takes issue with the changing nature of Plaintiff's list of potential witnesses, and seeks an order preventing Plaintiff from continuing to add factual and expert witnesses at this stage of the litigation. Finally, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff has not fully complied with document-production requests, and seeks an order compelling Plaintiff to provide all responsive documents and e-mails, and to provide several specific documents referenced during depositions, but never produced for Defendant.

Standard

Discovery in the federal courts is outlined by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. Under this rule, "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). The rules then provide for several specific methods of discovery, including by request for production of documents, Fed. R. Civ. P. 34, or by interrogatory. Fed. R. Civ. P. 33. In responding to interrogatories, a party must either answer the interrogatory or object with specificity to the request. Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(b) (3)-(4). If the party does not properly object to the interrogatory, the objection is waived unless the court decides to excuse the failure. Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(b)(4). Importantly, however, "[i]t is inappropriate for a party to decide for itself that an interrogatory is improper. It is its responsibility either to answer the interrogatory or to object." 8A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Richard L. Marcus, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 2173 at 293-94 (2d ed. 1994) (footnote omitted).

A party may object to interrogatories for any of the reasons included in Rule 26(b)(1)(C), which include that the discovery is cumulative, duplicative, or the benefit of the discovery outweighs the burden of obtaining the information. "As a general rule a party in answering interrogatories must furnish information that is available to it and that can be given without undue labor and expense. But a party cannot ordinarily be forced to prepare its opponent's case." Id. § 2174 at 302-03 (footnotes omitted) (citing Ballard v. Allegheny Airlines, Inc., 54 F.R.D. 67 (E.D. Pa. 1972)). When an objection is made on the basis that the information is unavailable, however, the burden is on the party seeking to avoid answering the request to demonstrate that the information is not readily available or would be overburdensome to discover. Id. at 310.

In responding to a request for production of documents, a party must "state that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested or state an objection to the request, including the reasons." Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a)(2)(B). As with interrogatories, an "incomplete or evasive" response to document-production requests is considered a failure to disclose. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(4). Importantly, however, "[a]bsent exceptional circumstances, a court may not impose sanctions under these rules on a party for failing to provide electronically stored information lost as a result of the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system." Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(e).

When discovery requests are not answered or are incompletely answered, the requesting party may return to court to seek an order compelling responses. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a). If this order is not obeyed, the party may then seek sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b). It is within the discretion of the district court to determine whether sanctions are appropriate in an individual case. Bowers v. NCAA, 475 F.3d 524, 528 (3d Cir. 2007). When making such a determination, the court should consider "1) the extent of the party's personal responsibility; 2) a history of dilatoriness; 3) whether the attorney's or party's conduct was willful or in bad faith; 4) meritoriousness of the claim (i.e., whether the allegations in the pleadings support recovery); 5) prejudice to the other party; and 6) appropriateness of alternative sanctions." Ali v. Sims, 788 F.2d 954, 957 (3d Cir. 1986). Further, if a motion for sanctions is granted, the court must award attorney's fees and reasonable expenses caused by the failure to comply with the court's discovery order, unless "substantial justification" is shown for the failure. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2)(C).

Discussion

Interrogatory 4

Defendant's Interrogatory 4 asks Plaintiff to "[s]et forth the basis for the computation of damages to which Plaintiff believes that it is entitled by virtue of the instant matter." Following this Court's prior Order compelling a more complete set of responses to Defendant's interrogatories, Plaintiff submitted its "Second Supplimental [sic] Answers" to Defendant's interrogatories. At that point, Plaintiff answered that it was entitled to damages for "the daily loss of the right to exercise its religion in adequate facilities and the daily suffering of religious discrimination." Plaintiff further noted that it was allowed to collect damages for these harms under both RLUIPA and 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and that, although an exact figure could not be provided, Defendant's own practice of fining individuals $500 per day for an uncorrected zoning violation provided a rough baseline for the damages suffered by Plaintiff. Following this answer, Defendant sent a letter to Plaintiff explaining that it did not believe that Plaintiff had answered the question asked, and that Defendant was attempting to determine the amount of damages that Plaintiff was seeking or a method for computing those damages. Plaintiff responded with a letter, in which it stated that it was not seeking actual damages, but instead, was seeking solely nominal and punitive damages. When Plaintiff submitted its "Fourth Supplimental [sic] Answers" to Defendant's interrogatories, its answer to Interrogatory 4 was unchanged. Defendant seeks an order from this Court preventing Plaintiff from seeking monetary damages due to Plaintiff's vague response and due to the fact that Plaintiff appears to be seeking nominal and punitive damages without seeking actual damages.

At this time an order preventing Plaintiff from seeking damages would be inappropriate. Plaintiff has answered the question asked and has explicitly stated that it is not seeking actual damages. Whether nominal or punitive damages are available without actual damages is not appropriately decided on a motion to compel answers to interrogatories. Plaintiff has stated what its harms are and has stated that it will seek injunctive relief, punitive damages, and nominal damages. Unlike actual damages, no precise calculation is involved in any of these. Plaintiff, therefore, has fully answered Defendant's Interrogatory 4. We take no position on whether Plaintiff is entitled to the damages that it seeks, as this is a subject ...


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