In Moccia v. Saul, 2020 WL 5406412 (2d Cir. Sept. 9, 2020) (Summary Order), the court affirmed the summary judgment dismissal of plaintiff’s claims of employment discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Plaintiff here argued that the district court abused its discretion when it denied her request, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d), for additional discovery – namely, (1) the personnel files of her replacements, in support of her disparate treatment claim, and (2) comparator data for Social Security Administration decision writers, in support of her disparate treatment and disparate impact claims.
Generally, “summary judgment” is a procedure under which a court may address an issue as a matter of law, where there are no “genuine” disputes of “material” fact. Summary judgment motions (which are defined/governed, in federal court, by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56) are a routine feature of employment discrimination litigation. Procedurally, such motions are typically made at the conclusion of the “discovery” portion of the litigation, in which the parties have the opportunity to obtain – i.e., “discover” – information from the other side. In sum, and in theory, when a summary judgment motion is made, all of the facts are “in”, enabling the court to evaluate them and determine whether the case may proceed to a jury, or whether the court can dispose of it as a matter of law. (This is, of course, a gross oversimplification; there are thousands of judicial opinions explaining the precise legal standards, which have been developed over decades, and applying them to specific facts in specific cases.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d), titled “When Facts Are Unavailable to the Nonmovant”, provides:
If a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may:
(1) defer considering the motion or deny it;
(2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or
(3) issue any other appropriate order.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d).
In the Moccia case, the Second Circuit explained:
It is well established that “the trial court may properly deny further discovery” under Rule 56(d) “if the nonmoving party has had a fully adequate opportunity for discovery.” Trebor Sportswear Co., Inc. v. The Limited Stores, Inc., 865 F.2d 506, 511 (2d Cir. 1989) (internal citations omitted). We discern no abuse of discretion in the district court’s denial. The district court here observed that Moccia’s Rule 56(d) request was filed months after the close of discovery and raised the same arguments as her earlier motions to compel, which two magistrate judges denied for reasons falling well within their discretion.
First, with respect to Moccia’s request for her replacements’ personnel files, the SSA had already stated in response to Moccia’s earlier discovery requests that the agency had hired no replacement for Moccia. Indeed, an agency witness deposed by Moccia’s counsel later confirmed that fact, and Moccia has not explained why she believes any responsive materials exist. See, e.g., Alphonse Hotel Corp. v. Tran, 828 F.3d at 151–52 (rejecting Rule 56(d) challenge to award of summary judgment by party who failed to explain basis to think requested documents existed).
Second, with respect to Moccia’s request for comparator data, the district court observed that two magistrate judges reasonably exercised discretion in denying as “extremely overbroad” Moccia’s requests for (1) demographic information of all SSA employees and (2) all documents containing statistical data relied on by Defendant. Moccia v. Saul, No. 16-cv-4007 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 19, 2017), ECF No. 53 (docket entry). In so ruling, the magistrate judges—and the district judge thereafter—considered that the SSA in fact produced relevant responsive documents, including staffing charts identifying the SSA personnel who, like Moccia, worked as decision writers in the White Plains office both before and after Moccia’s June 2016 retirement. See, e.g., Grady v. Affiliated Cent., Inc., 130 F.3d 553, 561 (2d Cir. 1997) (rejecting argument that plaintiff in age discrimination action should have been allowed to conduct additional discovery, where defendant employer provided in discovery names and addresses of plaintiff’s fellow trainees). Insofar as Moccia orally requested comparator data during depositions taken shortly before the close of discovery, a magistrate judge reasonably denied these requests on the ground that they could have been made earlier in the litigation.
The court concluded that “because the record shows that Moccia had a ‘fully adequate opportunity for discovery’ before defendant moved for summary judgment, the district court acted well within its discretion in granting that motion without affording Moccia further discovery pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d).”