5th Circuit Keeps Count: It has kicked federal judge off 6 cases, thrice reversed his discovery refusals

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U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of the Southern District of Texas has taken another drubbing from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans, this time for limiting discovery in an age discrimination lawsuit.

“This is the third time we have been asked to consider whether a particular district court can deny discovery rights protected by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because, in the district court’s view, that discovery is unnecessary. We have twice held no,” the appeals court said in a May 26 per curiam opinion. “Today, we so hold a third time.”

The 5th Circuit ruled in the case of Dana Bailey, who has claimed that she was fired from a nursing job at KS Management Services because of age discrimination. She also said she previously had a job as a nurse coordinator at KS Management Services, but she was constructively discharged from the position.

Hughes had ordered KS Management Services to disclose certain information, including Bailey’s emails, and had required Bailey to provide certain information, including a list of others who could corroborate her allegations of mistreatment.

He also ordered the company and Bailey to file a joint chronology of significant events from the time that Bailey applied to work until she left or sued. Hughes’ order said the list should be objective and factual.

“Legal posturing, abstractions and quibbling will be crushed,” he said.

Lynn Nettleton Hughes U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of of the Southern District of Texas in Houston. Photo by the U.S. Government, PD US Courts, via Wikimedia Commons.

The 5th Circuit said Hughes’ order “purports to create a one-size-fits-all system of rough justice; it both recognizes that particular requirements might be inapplicable and threatens to ‘crush’ discovery efforts that run afoul of the district court’s expectations.”

Hughes said he would not allow further discovery until after Bailey’s deposition. But KS Management Services didn’t depose Bailey. Hughes did not allow Bailey to conduct depositions or further discovery before granting KS Management Services’ motion for summary judgment.

The 5th Circuit said Hughes should have allowed discovery on whether Bailey was replaced as nurse coordinator by a younger person or someone outside her protected class. He should also have allowed discovery on whether the company’s stated reason for her firing was pretextual. And he should have allowed discovery on her argument that the company fabricated allegations against her—that she had two medication administration errors—in retaliation for reporting age discrimination.

It’s not the first time that the appeals court has kept count of issues regarding Hughes, a judge in the Southern District of Texas in Houston.

In an April opinion, the appeals court tossed Hughes from an antitrust case because his “gratuitous comments” suggested “ingrained skepticism” about the plaintiff’s claims. In a footnote, the court noted that it had removed Hughes from five prior cases. One of those five cases was one of the two cases in which Hughes was previously reversed because of his discovery limits.

The appeals court declined to remove Hughes from Bailey’s case, despite the two prior reversals involving similar discovery orders.

“Today, it is ‘déjà vu all over again,’” the appeals court said. “And we reverse. Again. But we trust that the district court will heed the Federal Rules and the mandates of our precedent.”

The appeals court reversed Hughes’ order denying additional discovery and vacated his grant of summary judgment to KS Management Services.

Judges on the 5th Circuit panel were Judges Edith H. Jones, Leslie H. Southwick and Andrew S. Oldham.

Hat tip to Law360, which had coverage of the opinion.

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