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Thomas v. Cassia County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

May 15, 2018

DEREK THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CASSIA COUNTY, JAY M. HEWARD, and MICHAEL AKERS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          DAVID C. NYE, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Protective Order. Dkt. 15. Defendants ask this Court to issue a protective order preventing Plaintiff Derek Thomas from discovering the personal financial information of the two individual Defendants in this case: Cassia County Sheriff Jay Heward and Deputy Michael Akers. Having reviewed the record and briefs, the Court finds that the parties have adequately presented the facts and legal arguments. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Court will decide the motion without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(2)(ii). For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds good cause to DENY the Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In this case, Thomas claims that Deputy Akers violated his First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights when he held Thomas “in contempt” after Thomas “peacefully and in a lawful manner exercised his rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment and Idaho law to openly carry a sidearm on his own property.”[1] Dkt. 1, at 1-3. Specifically, Thomas alleges that on December 31, 2016, Akers, “falsely and without a warrant or probable cause, arrested and imprisoned [him] for four (4) days, ” and in doing so “utilized unreasonable and excessive force.” Id. at 3. Akers stated that he arrested Thomas that day for his participation in a “hit and run” “involving a 15-year-old boy with a mental disability” riding a “motorized bicycle.” Id. Thomas alleges that Akers “knowingly and deliberately falsified an affidavit” to “manufacture probable cause” and support “false felony charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.” Id. at 4. Thomas contends that Akers took all these actions to retaliate against him, punish him for exercising his Second Amendment rights, and ultimately take his firearms away from him. Id. at 4-5.

         As to the other Defendants, Thomas asserts that “Sheriff Heward failed to properly train, supervise and control Akers, ” and actively “approved, affirmed and ratified Akers' misconduct.” Id. at 5. Thomas also asserts that “Cassia County had an official policy or custom permitting its law enforcement officers to make warrantless arrests without probable cause” and “to make false or unsupported criminal allegations, charges and prosecutions against citizens in order to punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights.” Id.

         Among other things, Thomas has requested an award of punitive damages. To support an award for punitive damages, Thomas has served Defendants with interrogatories and requests for production asking Defendants to produce information about the individual Defendants' personal finances, such as pay stubs, tax returns, W-2s, and bank, investment, credit card, and credit union statements. Defendants object to these requests. See Dkt. 17-1. The Court held an informal discovery dispute conference on this objection. After the parties were unable to reach a compromise at that conference, Defendants filed the pending Motion for Protective Order.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Generally, if no claim of privilege applies, a party can be compelled to produce evidence regarding any matter “relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action” or “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Under Federal Rule of Evidence 401, “[e]vidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.”

         “[P]re-trial discovery is ordinarily ‘accorded a broad and liberal treatment, '” because “wide access to relevant facts serves the integrity and fairness of the judicial process by promoting the search for the truth.” Shoen v. Shoen, 5 F.3d 1289, 1292 (9th Cir. 1993) (quoting Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 507 (1947)). “Under Rule 26, however, ‘[t]he court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.'” In re Roman Catholic Archbishop of Portland in Oregon, 661 F.3d 417, 424 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1)). “The party opposing disclosure has the burden of proving ‘good cause, ' which requires a showing ‘that specific prejudice or harm will result' if the protective order is not granted.” Id. (quoting Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2003)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Thomas argues that the individual Defendants' financial information is discoverable because this information is relevant to his request for punitive damages.[2]The Court, generally, agrees.

         “Punitive damages by definition are not intended to compensate the injured party, but rather to punish the tortfeasor whose wrongful action was intentional or malicious, and to deter him and others from similar extreme conduct.” City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 266-67 (1981). Accordingly, in § 1983 cases, courts permit juries “to assess punitive damages in appropriate circumstances against the offending official, based on his personal financial resources.”[3] Id. at 269. This type of award “directly advances the public's interest in preventing repeated constitutional deprivations.” Id. Because “evidence of a tortfeasor's wealth is traditionally admissible as a measure of the amount of punitive damages that should be awarded, ” id. at 270 & n.31 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908(2) (1979); D. Dobbs, Law of Remedies § 3.9, pp. 218-219 (1973)), an individual § 1983 defendant's personal financial information is relevant, and thus discoverable, McCoy v. Holguin, No. 1:15-cv-00768-DAD-MJS, 2017 WL 4037944, at *6 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 13, 2017).

         “The Ninth Circuit has not defined the parameters of the dissemination of financial information during discovery when punitive damages are alleged.” E.E.O.C. v. Cal. Psychiatric Transitions, 258 F.R.D. 391, 394 (E.D. Cal. 2009). However, “the majority of federal courts” have held that “a plaintiff seeking punitive damages is entitled to discover information relating to the defendant's financial condition in advance of trial without making a prima facie showing that he is entitled to recover such damages.” Id. at 394-95 (citation omitted) (collecting cases). A minority of federal courts have required plaintiffs to “first allege specific facts sufficient to support a claim for punitive damages” before obtaining this information. Id. at 395 (collecting cases). This Court has not yet ruled on this issue. At this point, the Court finds it appropriate to follow the approach taken by the majority of federal courts. This approach accords with the ...


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