U.S. District Court Rules on Nonparty Depositions

In this case before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were examined closely with respect to a subpoenaed nonparty deposition. The court stated that nonparties will be protected by undue burden and that, in weighing requests to depose nonparties, courts will consider four factors:

  1. The person’s nonparty status;
  2. Relevance of discovery sought;
  3. Need for discovery; and
  4. Breadths of the request.

In this case, the plaintiff Prabhjot Uppal graduated as a physician from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in 2005.  He obtained a residency at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

In November 2005, Dr. Natalie Correia, the director of the hospital’s internal medicine residency program, wrote a letter to Dr. Uppal terminating her residency for serious misconduct and violating her employment contract.

Three years later, when Dr. Uppal requested Rosalind Franklin University to sponsor her for another residency at another hospital, the university declined. It sent a letter dated Aug. 12, 2009, citing “recurrent and lengthy pattern of unacceptable conduct.”

Dr. Uppal subpoenaed Dr. Correia for a deposition. Dr. Correia filed a motion to quash the deposition notice. Rosalind Franklin University also filed the same motion. The magistrate judge granted the motion, quashing the deposition of Dr. Correia. The judge also held that the university lacked standing to present its motion to quash.

The magistrate judge began consideration of the motion to quash by observing that Dr. Uppal’s misconduct leading to a termination of her residency consisted of “scurrilous harassing e-mails to university personnel, repeated refusals to heed warnings to cease and desist, bizarre and at times threatening content of e-mails [to university personnel].”

The university’s Aug. 12, 2009 letter referenced the following:

“Dr. Uppal was charged with and convicted of a felony for sending a letter to the White House in which she threatened to kill Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s then chief of staff, Judge Larry Axelrod and seven other individuals involved in two court cases in which Dr. Uppal was charged with phone harassments of former co-workers in 2007 and 2009.”

The court observed that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are designed to protect nonparties from undue burden:

“For example, Rule 26(c)(1) empowers a court to issue an order to protect a party or person from inter alia, undue burden or expense.  And Rule 26(g)(1)(B)(iii) provides that every discovery request must be signed by an attorney of record and that by signing, the attorney certifies that the document is neither unreasonable nor unduly burdensome.”

The court also stated that under Rule 45(d)(1) the law requires that attorneys responsible for serving a subpoena must avoid imposing undue burden or expense subject to the subpoena.

The magistrate noted that the court looks at four factors generally in deciding whether a subpoena for a deposition should be quashed. The judge said that the evidence sought must be relevant. Explaining that the evidence in a nonparty deposition must relate to the pleadings and defenses in the case, the judge wrote:

“The 2000 amendments to Rule 26(b)(1) narrowed the definition so that to date parties may obtain discovery regarding a non-privileged matter that is ‘relevant to any parties’ claim or defense. . .’  ‘The rule changed signals to the court that it has authority to confine discovery to the claims and defenses asserted in the pleadings and signals to the parties that they have no entitlement to develop new claims or defenses that are not identified in the pleadings.’ Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1), Advisory Committee Notes to 2000 Amendments (West 2002).”

The judge here also considered proportionality in deciding whether the benefit of the deposition outweighed the detriments.  The judge granted Dr. Correia’s motion to quash her deposition finding that her dealings with Dr. Uppal had no relevancy to the university’s dealings.

“Phrased differently, her (Dr. Correia’s) knowledge of the plaintiff’s difficulty in 2005 while a resident in internal medicine at Lutheran General Hospital is irrelevant to the defendant’s alleged refusal to assist Dr. Uppal in 2008 in securing placement in a different residency- a refusal which appears to be based on Dr. Uppal’s misconduct directed to employees of the university. Subjecting Dr. Correia to a deposition under these circumstances will therefore impose an undue burden on her – and a burden that is without any offsetting value to the case.”

Thus the magistrate judge’s well-reasoned decision carefully follows the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and matches it to the facts of this case.

Uppal v. Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, 124 F. Supp 3d 811 (N.D. Ill. 2005).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling cases of federal civil litigation, work injury cases, diesel fume work injury cases, construction site injuries and truck accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas and counties, including Rolling Meadows, Naperville, Wheeling, Lincolnshire, Arlington Heights, Bolingbrook, Calumet City, Deerfield, Elmhurst, Franklin Park, Gurnee, Highwood, Inverness, Joliet, Kenilworth, Orland Park, Palos Park, Schiller Park, Tinley Park, University Park, Vernon Hills and Zion, Ill.

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