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Magistrate Approves Petition for $72,910 in Attorneys’ Fees and Costs Relating to Discovery Dispute

Posted in CASE SUMMARIES

McDowell v. Gov’t of D.C., 2006 WL 1933809 (D.D.C. July 11, 2006)

In an earlier opinion, summarized here, Magistrate Judge John A. Facciola denied the plaintiff’s request for judgment to be entered against the defendant for various discovery failings. The court concluded that the discovery dispute could be adequately remedied by the imposition of attorneys’ fees and costs against defendants and the possibility of a jury instruction. In this opinion, the court evaluated plaintiffs’ fee petition and awarded plaintiff $72,910 in fees and costs.

Plaintiff claimed a total of $99,832.12 in fees and expenses since February 3, 2003, the date on which she filed her first motion to compel. Defendants’ primary objection to the fee petition was that the scope of discovery changed over time and that defendants should not be penalized for not producing earlier what was not sought until later. The court emphasized that, although it was true that the form of discovery sought did change over time, the rationale for the court’s decision to award fees remained the same: “But for defendants’ failure to comprehend the capabilities of their own record-keeping system, plaintiff would have had the discovery she sought at a much earlier date.” The court explained further:

Although defendants rightly point out that plaintiff did not initially request computerized data but rather hard copies of the PD 163′s, plaintiff wouldn’t have had to move to compel information about defendants’ computer system if the documents had been produced when initially requested. In other words, plaintiff’s first seeking information about the database and then seeking information in either an ascii-delimited or spreadsheet format did not impose any greater burden on defendants than already existed by virtue of the first document request. The paper copies of the PD 163′s are kept in filing cabinets, where they are filed by district, arrest number or PD ID number. Thus, in order to comply with plaintiff’s first document request, defendants would still have had to run a computerized query of its database in order to locate those responsive PD 163′s for copying. The fact that defendants did not respond to plaintiff’s initial document request and the fact that plaintiff had to move to compel the information justifies an award of attorneys fees dating back to February 3, 2003, even though the first time plaintiff actually sought the information in an ascii-delimited or spreadsheet format was November 22, 2004. Plaintiff wouldn’t have had to seek the data in a computerized form if defendants had realized in November of 2002 that it was possible to run the relevant query of the CJIS system.