United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
MARY BRIDGES, BOBBY GORDON, and JOHNNIE GRIFFIN, all individually and on behalf of 345 other named plaintiffs, Plaintiffs,
RICHARD A. FREESE; TIM K. GOSS; SHEILA M. BOSSIER; DENNIS C. SWEET, III; FREESE AND GOSS PLLC; SWEET AND FREESE PLLC; BOSSIER AND ASSOCIATES PLLC; and DENNIS C. SWEET, d/b/a Sweet and Associates, PLLC, Defendants,
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS [63, 67, 68, 113, 114] TO QUASH OR FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER; GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION  TO COMPEL, AND MOTION FOR SANCTIONS AND ORDER OF CONTEMPT; AND DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION  TO PERMANENTLY SEAL DOCUMENTS
JOHN C. GARGIULO, Magistrate Judge.
BEFORE THE COURT are five Motions [63, 67, 68, 113, 114] to Quash or for Protective Order, filed by Defendants Richard A. Freese; Tim K. Goss; Sheila M. Bossier; Dennis C. Sweet, III; Freese and Goss, PLLC; Sweet and Freese, PLLC; Bossier and Associates, PLLC; and Dennis C. Sweet d/b/a Sweet and Associates, PLLC ("Defendants"). Defendants' Motion  to Permanently Seal Documents is also before the Court, as is the Emergency Motion  to Compel, and Motion for Sanctions and Order of Contempt, filed by Plaintiffs Mary Bridges, Bobby Gordon, and Johnnie Griffin ("Plaintiffs"). The Motions have been fully briefed, and a telephonic Motions hearing was held on September 5, 2014. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record, relevant legal authority, and the argument of counsel at the Motions hearing, the Court finds that Defendants' Motions [63, 67, 68, 113, 114] to Quash or for Protective Order should be granted in part and denied in part; Plaintiffs' Motion  to Compel, and Motion for Sanctions and Order of Contempt, should be granted in part and denied in part; and Defendants' Motion  to Permanently Seal Documents should be denied.
A. Class-Certification-Related Discovery
On February 3, 2014, a Case Management Order  was entered that provided: "Parties will fully disclose all documents and disclosure items related to the Motion for Class Certification on or prior to February 21, 2014." Order  2. The Case Management Order set a discovery deadline of March 2, 2015, and May 1, 2014, as the deadline for Plaintiffs to file a motion for class certification. In the interim period between February 3, 2014, and May 1, 2014, the parties did not comply with their discovery obligations to the extent that the discovery process completely stalled.
In March 2014, Plaintiffs served numerous subpoenas duces tecum and notices of deposition. Defendants objected to every subpoena and deposition in full, filing six Motions [62, 63, 67, 68, 113, 114] to Quash or for Protective Order. According to Plaintiffs, Defendants have not produced a single document or allowed any noticed depositions to go forward. Defendants maintain that Plaintiffs are engaging in a "discovery free-for-all' targeted at the merits of the case" and not seeking discovery curtailed to the issue of class certification. Resp.  3.
A significant portion of the Motions' briefing now before the Court addresses the parties' dispute over whether initial discovery in this matter was limited to the issue of class certification by the Case Management Order . By August 8, 2014, TEXT ONLY ORDER, the Court clarified that initial discovery is limited to the issue of class certification.
1. Defendants' Motions to Quash
Plaintiffs submit that the subpoenas issued by Plaintiffs and depositions noticed by Plaintiffs are necessary in order to allow Plaintiffs a fair opportunity to establish the prerequisites for class certification, specifically commonality. "To obtain class certification, parties must satisfy [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 23(a)'s four threshold requirements, as well as the requirements of Rule 23(b)(1), (2), or (3)." Funeral Consumers Alliance, Inc. v. Serv. Corp. Intern., 695 F.3d 330, 345 (5th Cir. 2012). The United States Supreme Court has recently emphasized that Rule 23 does not set forth a mere pleading standard:
The class action is an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf the individual named parties only. To come within the exception, a party seeking to maintain a class action must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with Rule 23. The Rule does not set forth a mere pleading standard. Rather, a party must not only be prepared to prove that there are in fact sufficiently numerous parties, common questions of law or fact, typicality of claims or defense, and adequacy of representation, as required by Rule 23(a). The party must also satisfy through evidentiary proof at least one of the provisions of Rule 23(b)....
Repeatedly, we have emphasized that it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question, and that certification is proper only if the trial court is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied. Such an analysis will frequently entail overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim. That is so because the class determination generally involves considerations that are enmeshed in the factual and legal issues comprising the plaintiff's cause of action.
Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 1432 (2013)(internal citations and quotations omitted).
Class certification hearings should not be mini-trials on the merits of the class or individual claims. At the same time, however, going beyond the pleadings is necessary, as a court must understand the claims, defenses, relevant facts, and applicable substantive law in order to make a meaningful determination of the certification issues. To assist the court in this process it may sanction controlled discovery at the certification stage. The plain text of Rule 23 requires the court to "find, " not merely assume, the facts favoring class certification.
Unger v. Amedisys, Inc.,
401 F.3d 316, 321 (5th Cir. 2005); see Funeral Consumers Alliance, ...