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Lawson v. Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 8, 2020

KRISTOPHER LAWSON, et al., Plaintiffs,

          Conner Chief Judge.


          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         This case is a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action brought on behalf of current and former Operations Managers (OMs) employed at various Love's Travel Stops. (Doc. 1). The plaintiffs allege that they were misclassified as exempt managerial employees under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and accordingly were not paid overtime as required by federal law. (Id.) On February 16, 2018, the court entered an order conditionally granting the plaintiffs' motion for class and collective certification in this case. (Doc. 68). Following the entry of this order, approximately 400 current and former Love's OMs opted into this conditionally certified class and the parties engaged in a course of reciprocal discovery involving the defendants and a selected group of discovery Opt-in plaintiffs.

         This discovery process has been marked by many mutual disputes relating to a wide array of matters which have required the court's intervention. (Docs. 167-231). In order to provide focus, clarity, and finality to this process, on November 25, 2019, we entered an order directing the parties to provide us with a comprehensive and complete list of their discovery disputes by December 9, 2019. (Doc. 218). The parties have complied with this direction, providing us with correspondence outlining the remaining discovery disputes that divide these litigants. (Docs. 219-223).

         Included among these disputes is a contest concerning the plaintiffs' request for access to certain potential defense witness personnel files. Specifically, the plaintiffs note that Love's initial Rule 26 disclosures identified some 66 individuals who may have information supporting its defenses to this FLSA action. According to the plaintiffs, “[t]o avoid trial by ambush, ” Love's should be required to produce the personnel files of these witnesses, as well as any relevant text messages and ESI pertaining to these individuals. (Doc. 220 at 6). Love's opposes this request for wholesale disclosure of potential witness personnel files, arguing that the plaintiffs have not made the requisite showing to justify this type of potentially intrusive discovery.

         For the reasons set forth below, we agree and will deny this request for disclosure of personnel files.

         II. Discussion

         A. Guiding Principles.

         Rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery are matters consigned to the court's discretion and judgment. A court's decisions regarding the conduct of discovery will be disturbed only upon a showing of abuse of that discretion. Marroquin-Manriquez v. I.N.S., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983). This far-reaching discretion also extends to rulings by United States Magistrate Judges on discovery matters. In this regard:

District courts provide magistrate judges with particularly broad discretion in resolving discovery disputes. See Farmers & Merchs. Nat'l Bank v. San Clemente Fin. Group Sec., Inc., 174 F.R.D. 572, 585 (D.N.J. 1997). When a magistrate judge's decision involves a discretionary [discovery] matter . . ., “courts in this district have determined that the clearly erroneous standard implicitly becomes an abuse of discretion standard.” Saldi v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 224 F.R.D. 169, 174 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (citing Scott Paper Co. v. United States, 943 F.Supp. 501, 502 (E.D. Pa. 1996)). Under the standard, a magistrate judge's discovery ruling “is entitled to great deference and is reversible only for abuse of discretion.” Kresefky v. Panasonic Commc'ns and Sys. Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 64 (D.N.J. 1996); see also Hasbrouck v. BankAmerica Hous. Servs., 190 F.R.D. 42, 44-45 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (holding that discovery rulings are reviewed under abuse of discretion standard rather than de novo standard); EEOC v. Mr. Gold, Inc., 223 F.R.D. 100, 102 (E.D.N.Y. 2004) (holding that a magistrate judge's resolution of discovery disputes deserves substantial deference and should be reversed only if there is an abuse of discretion).

Halsey v. Pfeiffer, No. 09-1138, 2010 WL 2735702, at *1 (D.N.J. Sept. 27, 2010).

         The exercise of this discretion is guided, however, by certain basic principles. At the outset, Rule 26(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally defines the scope of discovery permitted in a civil action, ...

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