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Sistrunk v. Titlemax, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

June 2, 2017

DEXTER SISTRUNK, individually and on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, Plaintiff,
TITLEMAX, INC., et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court in the above-styled cause are Defendants' Motion to Stay Consideration of Objections and Objections to Order Denying Rule 56(d) Motion. (Dkt. 278). Having reviewed the parties' filings and the extensive record, the Court finds that the objections should be overruled.


         This case is a class action concerning Defendants' alleged violations of the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (“DPPA”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721, et seq. Though initially filed in July 2014, a class was only certified in this matter on November 21, 2016. (See Order Adopting R. & R., Dkt. 243). Days later, on November 30, 2016, the parties filed a joint notice informing the Court that Plaintiff intended to file a motion for summary judgment and that Defendants would oppose the motion as premature pursuant to Rule 56(d), complaining that no discovery had taken place on the merits.

         Plaintiff filed his motion for summary judgment a month later, on December 28, 2016. Two weeks later-on the last day to respond to Plaintiff's motion-Defendants filed an unopposed motion for an extension of time to respond. The reason for seeking the extension was not to conduct additional discovery pursuant to Rule 56(d), but rather to engage in a second mediation after a first attempt failed. (See Mot. Cancel Mediation, Dkt. 258, at 1). United States Magistrate Judge Henry Bemporad granted Defendants' request to extend the deadline to fourteen days after the mediation. (See Order, Dkt. 258). Plaintiff informed the Magistrate Court that the second mediation failed on February 22, 2017, making the deadline for Defendants to respond to Plaintiff's summary judgment motion March 8, 2017.

         Defendants filed their response to Plaintiff's motion on March, 8, 2017, and also filed a motion to continue consideration of the summary judgment motion for an unspecified period of time so that Defendants could conduct discovery on several topics. (See Response, Dkt. 272; Rule 56(d) Mot., Dkt. 271). These topics included: (1) whether the employees identified in Plaintiff's summary judgment motion acted within the scope of their employment; (2) whether the employees misused access to driver records or acted willfully; (3) whether the employees engaged in criminal conduct; (4) the identity of the individuals who created a list of vehicle owners; and (5) the extent of any class member's actual damages. (Rule 56(d) Mot., Dkt. 271, at 2-4).

         The Magistrate Judge denied Defendants' Rule 56(d) motion on March 10, 2017. (Order Denying Mot., Dkt. 275). He found as to the first four topics that Defendants had not diligently sought discovery despite knowing of the relevant evidence for more than a year. (Id. at 2-3). He also pointed out that Defendants had not explained why they had sought a continuance after previously seeking an extension of time to respond. Additionally, the Magistrate Judge found discovery into the issue of actual damages to be futile as the class was not seeking actual damages.

         Defendants thereafter filed a motion to reconsider the denial before the Magistrate Judge and simultaneously filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's order before this Court along with a request to stay consideration of those objections until the Magistrate Judge ruled on their motion for reconsideration. The Magistrate Judge issued an order denying Defendants' motion for reconsideration as moot following his issuance of a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. This Court therefore finds it appropriate to consider Defendants' objections at this time.


         “Courts are authorized under Rule 56(d) to defer ruling on a summary judgment motion and allow discovery, but ‘Rule 56 does not require that any discovery take place before summary judgment can be granted.'” Mendez v. Poitevent, 823 F.3d 326, 336 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Baker v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 430 F.3d 750, 756 (5th Cir. 2005)). “[D]eferring summary judgment and ordering discovery is appropriate only if the ‘nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d)). “A party ‘may not simply rely on vague assertions that additional discovery will produce needed, but unspecified, facts.'” Id. (quoting Am. Family Life Assurance Co. of Columbus v. Biles, 714 F.3d 887, 894 (5th Cir. 2013)). Rather, the party must “set forth a plausible basis for believing that specified facts, susceptible of collection within a reasonable time frame, probably exist and indicate how the emergent facts, if adduced, will influence the outcome of the pending summary judgment motion.” Biles, 714 F.3d at 894 (quoting Raby v. Livingston, 600 F.3d 552, 561 (5th Cir. 2010)). “If the requesting party ‘has not diligently pursued discovery, however, [it] is not entitled to relief' under Rule 56(d).” McKay v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., 751 F.3d 694, 700 (5th Cir. 2014). The court's disposition of a Rule 56(d) motion is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Raby, 600 F.3d at 561.


         Defendants assert three primary arguments in their objections to the Magistrate Court's order. First, they insist that the Magistrate Court had bifurcated discovery and that Defendants therefore had no opportunity to conduct merits-based discovery. Second, Defendants reiterate the need for discovery as to the five topics mentioned above. Finally, Defendants argue that their actions in asking for additional time to respond only to file a rule 56(d) motion were not inconsistent with their purported need for discovery. The Court first addresses the applicable standard of review before turning to Defendants' arguments.

         1. Applicable Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72 provides that a district court reviews objections to a magistrate judge's order under a “clearly erroneous or contrary to law” standard if the matter is non-dispositive, and under a de novo standard if a party objects to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation on a dispositive matter. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72. Defendant suggests that this Court should review de novo the Magistrate Court's order denying Defendants' Rule 56(d) motion-which is non-dispositive-on the ground that it is related ...

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