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Tentative Ruling
Judge Donna Geck
Department 4 SB-Anacapa
1100 Anacapa Street P.O. Box 21107 Santa Barbara, CA 93121-1107

CIVIL LAW & MOTION

Helmer Vasquez vs The County Meat Market Inc

Case No: 17CV03359
Hearing Date: Fri Feb 09, 2018 9:30

Nature of Proceedings: Motion to Compel

Tentative Ruling: The court denies defendant The County Meat Market, Inc.’s motion to compel further responses to form interrogatories and demand for production of documents. The court orders that defendant, The County Meat Market, Inc., and its counsel, McCarthy & Kroes, jointly and severally, shall pay a monetary sanction in the amount of $706.70 to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

 

Background: This is an appeal from the Labor Commissioner’s award to plaintiff Helmer Vasquez against defendant The County Meat Market, Inc., of $700 in meal period premiums, $43.15 interest, and $3,360 waiting time penalties.

Motion: Defendant moves to compel further responses to Form Interrogatories (“FI”) ##2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 2.13, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 8.6, 8.8, 11.1, and 11.2; and to Demand for Production of Documents (“DFP”) ## 7 and 8. Defendant seeks a monetary sanction in the amount of $3,660. Plaintiff opposes the motion and seeks a monetary sanction in the amount of $4,143.

Plaintiff objected to the discovery as excessive and improper under Sales Dimensions v. Superior Court, 90 Cal.App.3d 757 (1979) (“Sales”). Plaintiff also objected on privacy grounds and on the ground that the information sought is neither relevant to the subject matter of this action nor reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Plaintiff provided supplemental responses to DFP ##7 and 8.

Analysis: The hearing on an appeal under Labor Code § 98.2 “is a new trial in that both parties are required to present their evidence directly to the court, which sees the witness, hears their testimony and accepts any documentary or physical evidence. Neither party is limited to the evidence presented at the administrative hearing and may introduce any relevant evidence.” Sales, 90 Cal.App.3d at 762. In Sales, the appellate court considered the scope of discovery in a Labor Code appeal:

To allow discovery routinely as an incident of this full new trial would not always meet the purpose of the discovery statutes. ‘The fundamental purpose of those enactments was to expedite the trial of civil matters by allowing litigants an adequate means of discovery during the period of preparation for trial.’ If discovery is not effectively controlled in appeals from decisions of the Labor Commissioner, trials will be prolonged rather than expedited. In cases where only small amounts are at issue, a well supported party (either employer or employee) could virtually exclude his adversary from exercising the right of appeal by carrying on lengthy and costly discovery. Thus, in proceedings on appeal from a decision of the Labor Commissioner, where the matter is analogous to a small claims case, i.e., the amount in controversy is not great and the issues involved are not complex, the court should give effect to the policy of the discovery statutes and of the Labor Code by limiting or precluding discovery. Id. at 763 [citations omitted].

“[T]he superior court, in the exercise of its discretion, may establish an appropriate procedure on discovery in each case.” Id. at 764.

This case involves an award for missed meal periods and a waiting time penalty for a delay in paying the unpaid compensation. The award for meal periods covers 50 days at $14/day. The total award is $4,103.15. The waiting time penalty appears based solely on the failure to pay plaintiff meal period premiums when he left defendant’s employ. So the sole issue appears to be whether defendant provided plaintiff meal periods required by Labor Code § 226.7.

On September 6, 2017, defendant served on plaintiff 1) Form Interrogatories—General (37 questions plus subparts); 2) Form Interrogatories—Employment Law (20 questions); 3) special interrogatories (6 questions); 4) demand for production of documents (8 demands); and 5) requests for admissions (21 requests). At issue are 14 form interrogatories and two demands for production.

FI ##2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, and 2.13 seek information about plaintiff’s place of birth, driver’s licenses, residence address(es) and when he lived there, present and prior employers, education information, and drugs and alcohol used within 24 hours before the INCIDENT. FI ##8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 8.6, and 8.8 seek information about work before and after the INCIDENT, compensation, lost income, and future lost income. FI ##11.1 and 11.2 seek information regarding personal injury and worker’s compensation claims over the last 10 years. DFP ##7 and 8 seek documents showing plaintiff’s cell phone use during his employment.

First, FI ##2.3, 2.4, 2.6, 2.13, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 8.6, and 8.8 use the term INCIDENT, which is described elsewhere in the interrogatories. “The separate statement must be full and complete so that no person is required to review any other document in order to determine the full request and the full response.” CRC 3.1345(c). It must include the text of all definitions. 3.1345(c)(4). Defendant does not include the definition of INCIDENT in the separate statement. The court would have to go look for that. When a party does not comply with the requirement of a separate statement, the court is well within its discretion to deny the motion to compel discovery on that basis. Mills v. U.S. Bank, 166 Cal.App.4th 871, 893 (2008). For this reason alone, the court will not order a further response to these form interrogatories.

Second, and more importantly, the marginal or complete lack of relevance to the issue of meal periods is precisely the kind of discovery the court should limit or preclude under Sales. Requiring responses to questions about plaintiff’s birth, addresses, licenses, employers, education, drug and alcohol use, compensation, lost income, and prior personal injury and worker’s compensation claims will not inform defendant or the court of any information leading to the discovery of admissible evidence of whether defendant afforded plaintiff meal periods or compensated him for meal periods not provided. Defendant wants information regarding cell phone use to show that plaintiff used his phone when he was supposed to be working. But this case is not about the quality and quantity of plaintiff’s work or cause to terminate him.

The effect of the motion is to increase the time and expense of this litigation, not to obtain information that will facilitate ascertainment of truth and expediting resolution of this case. Under Sales, the court exercises its discretion to limit discovery by denying this motion to compel further responses to form interrogatories and demands for production of documents.

Monetary Sanction: The court shall impose a monetary sanction against any party, person, or attorney who unsuccessfully makes or opposes a motion to compel a further response to interrogatories or demands for production of documents, unless it finds that the one subject to the sanction acted with substantial justification or that other circumstances make the imposition of the sanction unjust. CCP §§ 2030.300(d); 2031.310(h).

The court deems a monetary sanction against defendant and its counsel warranted. Counsel for plaintiff seeks compensation for 10 hours of attorney time at a market rate of $450. Counsel works for the Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. There is no evidence that anyone pays him $450/hr. Mr. William A. Reich is a Counsel IV for the department. His hourly rate (dividing his total salary by 2080 hours) is $70.67. The court will impose a monetary sanction of $706.70 on defendant and its counsel, McCarthy & Kroes.

Order: The court denies defendant The County Meat Market, Inc.’s motion to compel further responses to form interrogatories and demand for production of documents. The court orders that defendant, The County Meat Market, Inc., and its counsel, McCarthy & Kroes, jointly and severally, shall pay a monetary sanction in the amount of $706.70 to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

 
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