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Monetary Sanctions Imposed for “painstaking and slow” Production

Posted in CASE SUMMARIES

Green v. Baca, 225 F.R.D. 612 (C.D.Cal. 2005)

In this case, the court found that plaintiff’s efforts to obtain discovery regarding the over-detention of inmates in the Los Angeles County jail system were “unduly complicated and extraordinarily delayed by the failure of the County and/or its counsel to investigate promptly and effectively the records available, both in hard-copy and computer-based formats, regarding such over-detentions.” For almost nine months, the court and plaintiff’s counsel were never specifically apprised of the availability of computer-based records regarding over-detentions, despite extensive questioning by the court and court orders that declarations be provided regarding the availability of such documents and the burden associated with their production.

The court agreed with defense counsel that the discovery propounded by plaintiff was over-broad and plaintiff’s counsel did not make a reasonable and good faith effort to meet and confer to narrow and focus the discovery requests appropriately. However, it found that even if plaintiff’s counsel had acted entirely reasonably and in the utmost good faith, the production of relevant documents would not have occurred without court intervention. It observed:

The fundamental problem, which resulted in protracted proceedings regarding plaintiff’s motion to compel, was the County’s lack of awareness of what information existed regarding over-detentions and the alleged bureaucratic quagmire encountered by the County’s counsel in their efforts to ferret out such relevant information. Given the prior litigation regarding over-detentions in which the County has been named as a defendant, it is shocking to this Court that the County apparently does not have an accountable official charged with carefully monitoring the over-detention of prisoners and ameliorating this problem in the County jail system. Yet, based upon the numerous declarations submitted by and on behalf of the County, it appears that either there is no such accountable “point person” with full knowledge of the County’s methods for tracking over-detentions or counsel for the County did a very poor job in conducting a reasonable and diligent search to determine the existence of records regarding over-detentions. In either event, the quest for relevant documents regarding over-detentions was painstaking and slow as a consequence of the ineptitude of the County or its counsel.

Accordingly, the court found that the county’s failure to provide relevant information and/or documents regarding over-detentions in response to plaintiff’s discovery requests, and specifically to ascertain the existence of readily-accessible computer-based information regarding over-detentions, for a period of months was not “substantially justified” and “necessitated the motion” to compel and follow-up proceedings that ultimately resulted in the identification and production of relevant, responsive documents. The court ordered the county to pay monetary sanctions of $54,375, representing plaintiff’s reasonable attorneys’ fees associated with the motion to compel and related proceedings.