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Butler v. Craft

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

April 19, 2017

KELLY BUTLER, ET AL., Plaintiffs
EDWY G. CRAFT, ET AL., Defendants


          Joseph H.L. Perez-Montes United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court are two Motions to Quash and for a Protective Order filed by Defendant Edwy G. Craft (“Mayor Craft”) and Movant Concordia Bank & Trust Co. (“Concordia Bank”). (Docs. 41, 43). Plaintiffs oppose the Motions (Doc. 42). The Motions seek quashal of a subpoena requiring production of Mayor Craft's personnel records by Concordia Bank, Mayor Craft's former employer.

         The Court held a hearing on March 3, 2017, and thereafter conducted a thorough in camera review of the disputed records. Because the records are beyond the proper scope of discovery, and because production of the records would not be proportional to the needs of the case, the Motions are granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs - all former employees of the City of Vidalia - allege Mayor Craft terminated them because they supported Mayor Craft's opponent in the 2016 mayoral race. Plaintiffs claim their terminations were acts of unconstitutional political retaliation. (Doc. 1, p. 3).

         Plaintiffs issued a Subpoena to Produce Documents (the “Subpoena”) to Mayor Craft's former employer, Concordia Bank, seeking disclosure of the following: “Entire personnel records of Edwy G. Craft and all documents pertaining to Mr. Craft's termination/resignation, including any severance agreements.” (Doc. 41-2). Subsequent briefing and argument has made clear that Plaintiffs seek information related to Mayor Craft's departure from Concordia Bank approximately 13 years ago.

         Plaintiffs allege that Mayor Craft was terminated after more than 20 years of employment with Concordia Bank. During Mayor Craft's deposition in this case, counsel for Plaintiffs asked Mayor Craft questions about his departure. According to Plaintiffs, Mayor Craft “balked” during questioning. (Doc. 42, pp. 2-3). Plaintiffs argue that the Subpoena may reveal evidence that Mayor Craft was terminated for engaging in self-dealing and dishonest behavior. Such evidence, according to Plaintiffs, may reveal his character for untruthfulness. (Doc. 42, p. 1). Plaintiffs further argue that any evidence of improper patronage in the business sector is relevant to their claims of improper political patronage.

         Mayor Craft counters that production of his entire personnel records is overly broad, and would expose confidential information. (Doc. 41-1, pp. 2, 3).[1] Mayor Craft also claims that the information sought is not within the scope of discovery, but is instead a “fishing expedition, ” and that Plaintiffs' suspicions are not enough to justify further inquiry into a confidential matter. (Doc. 41-1, p. 5). Mayor Craft states that the circumstances surrounding his departure from Concordia Bank in 2004 are not probative of his motivations for terminating Plaintiffs in 2016. (Doc. 41-1, p. 4).

         Concordia Bank opposes production of the records, stating that most are privileged, confidential, or include protected customer information, personal identifying information, and protected competitive information. Concordia Bank additionally states that the Severance Agreement with Mayor Craft contains a confidentiality provision, which should be observed in this litigation. (Doc. 43-1, pp. 1-2).

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Standing

         Both Mayor Craft and Concordia Bank have standing to challenge the subpoena issued to Concordia Bank under Fed.R.Civ.P. 45. See Richardson v. Axion Logistics, LLC, Civ. No. 13-302-BAJ-RLB, 2013 WL 5554641 (M.D. La. Oct. 7, 2013) (“[A] party does not have standing to oppose a subpoena unless the party is ‘in possession of the materials subpoenaed' or has ‘alleged any personal right or privilege with respect to the materials subpoenaed.'” (citations omitted)).

         B. The Governing Standard: Discoverability, Not Admissibility

         In his Motion to Quash, Mayor Craft quotes Rice v. Reliastar Life Ins. Co., for the proposition that the information sought by the Subpoena must be relevant and admissible. See 11-44 (M.D. La. 11/10/11), 2011 WL 5513181, at *2 However, Rice refers to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the criminal subpoena power of Fed. R. Crim. P. 17. That rule of criminal procedure, however, erects a higher burden, and uses a narrower standard, than its civil counterpart, which does not require evidence sought in discovery to be admissible.

         Accordingly, the information sought by the Subpoena must be “discoverable, ” but not necessarily ...

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