95 F.3d 86 (1st Cir. 1996), 95-1867, Ayala-Gerena v. Bristol Myers-Squibb Co.

Docket Nº:95-1867.
Citation:95 F.3d 86
Party Name:Fed.R.Serv.3d 395 Miguel Angel AYALA-GERENA, et al., Plaintiffs--Appellants, v. BRISTOL MYERS-SQUIBB COMPANY, d/b/a Bristol Myers-Squibb, et al., Defendants--Appellees.
Case Date:September 05, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 86

95 F.3d 86 (1st Cir. 1996)

Fed.R.Serv.3d 395

Miguel Angel AYALA-GERENA, et al., Plaintiffs--Appellants,

v.

BRISTOL MYERS-SQUIBB COMPANY, d/b/a Bristol Myers-Squibb, et

al., Defendants--Appellees.

No. 95-1867.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 5, 1996

Heard Feb. 27, 1996.

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Jess Hernandez-Sanchez, with whom Hernandez-Sanchez Law Firm, San Juan, PR, was on brief, for appellants.

Carl Schuster, with whom Schuster Aguil¢ & Santiago, Hato Rey, PR, was on brief, for appellees.

Before TORRUELLA, Chief Judge, COFFIN, Senior Circuit Judge, and CYR, Circuit Judge.

TORRUELLA, Chief Judge.

Plaintiffs-Appellants, former employees of Squibb Manufacturing, Inc. ("SMI"), their wives, and their conjugal partnerships, brought action below seeking damages arising from the termination of their employment. They brought alleged violation of their civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 due to their dismissal due to their national origin and/or race as Puerto Ricans; violation of their right to privacy under § 8 of Article II of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; defamation under 32 L.P.R.A. § 3141-3149; and for breach of contract. 1 The United States District Court, District of Puerto Rico, dismissed the last claim and granted summary judgment on the first three in favor of Defendants-Appellees, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. ("BMSC") and four of its employees: Mark Geraci, Director of Corporate Security ("Geraci"), Eugene Hackett, Manager of Corporate Security ("Hackett"), Tibur Kerr, Acting Plant Administrator ("Kerr"), and Bryan Dunne, Manager of Corporate Security ("Dunne"). This appeal ensued. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

Reviewing the summary judgment materials in the light most favorable to Appellants, the nonmovants, and drawing all reasonable inferences in their favor, see, e.g., Alan Corp. v. Int'l Surplus Lines Ins. Co., 22 F.3d 339, 341 (1st Cir.1994), we present a thumbnail sketch of the factual background, providing greater detail as the need arises.

Appellants, all Puerto Ricans, were regular employees of SMI--which is not a party to this action--in Humacao, Puerto Rico. It is uncontested that SMI's employees are mostly Puerto Rican. According to Appellants' complaint, Geraci, Hackett, Kerr and Dunne of BMSC were sent to Puerto Rico in 1991 and 1992 in connection with a security investigation regarding missing inventory at SMI and the suspected illegal trafficking of pharmaceutical drugs and other products. According to Appellants' complaint, Appellees developed a "discriminatory and persecutorial policy" against them in furtherance of BMSC's interest in taking control of SMI's management. Geraci and possibly others at BMSC contracted with certain named individuals to carry on the security investigation, which included conducting a surveillance of Appellants and their families, pressuring Appellants to testify falsely against SMI's management as part of BMSC's attempt to gain control over SMI, and using illegal means to obtain evidence to be used to dismiss Appellants. Geraci and Dunne individually interviewed SMI employees, including Appellants, as part of the ongoing security investigation. On or about the date of the individual interviews, Appellants were dismissed from their employment at SMI between March and

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May 1992 without being told the reason for their dismissal. It is uncontested that no one else participated in these interviews except for a translator, that the interviews took place in a discrete manner, and that it was Appellants that subsequently publicized the details of the interviews.

DISCUSSION

Appellants raise four challenges to the district court's grant of summary judgment: (i) discovery was improperly cut off; (ii) their production of documents was erroneously denied; (iii) summary judgment was erroneously granted on their conspiracy claims; and (iv) summary judgment was improperly granted on their breach of contract claim. We address each. Because the first two involve intertwining facts and the same standard of review, we address them together.

  1. Discovery Cut Off & Document Production

    Appellants raise two discovery-related challenges on appeal. First, invoking Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f), Appellants argue that the district court erred when it granted summary judgment without affording them the benefit of conducting a reasonable discovery. In support thereof, they claim they were diligent in their pursuit of discovery but that Appellees refused to comply with their requests and the district court granted summary judgment without acting upon their motions to compel discovery. Second, they claim error by the district court's denial of their February 9, 1994, request for production of certain documents. Appellees counter, asserting that the record clearly shows that the district court granted Appellants ample time to conduct discovery, and that they did not "hide" any information from Appellants. Thus, they contend that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying their document production request as untimely.

    It is well settled that the trial judge has broad discretion in ruling on pre-trial management matters, and we review the district court's denial of discovery for abuse of its considerable discretion. See Fusco v. General Motors Corp., 11 F.3d 259, 267 (1st Cir.1993); Serrano-Perez v. FMC Corp., 985 F.2d 625, 628 (1st Cir.1993). "We will intervene in such matters only upon a clear showing of manifest injustice, that is, where the lower court's discovery order was plainly wrong and resulted in substantial prejudice to the aggrieved party." Mack v. Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., Inc., 871 F.2d 179, 186 (1st Cir.1989). The same abuse of discretion standard applies to a review of a district court's denial of a Rule 56(f) motion. See, e.g., Resolution Trust Corp. v. North Bridge Assoc., Inc., 22 F.3d 1198, 1203 (1st Cir.1994); Price v. General Motors, Corp., 931 F.2d 162, 164 (1st Cir.1991).

    Before addressing Appellants' arguments, we detail the pertinent procedural history as revealed by the relevant docket entries:

    1. 8/10/92: Complaint filed. 2. 5/18/93: Scheduling Order sets discovery deadline for 10/15/93. 3. 10/18/93: Appellants move to extend discovery. New deadline set for 11/30/93. 4. 11/15/93: Appellants request document production pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 34. 5. 11/18/93: Appellants move again to extend discovery. New deadline set for 1/3/94. Court states this is the last extension. 6. 12/8/93: Appellants move for status conference to clarify discovery and to further extend discovery by sixty days. Denied. 7. 12/17/93: Pretrial Conference set for 2/4/93. 8. 1/3/94: Appellants move to order witnesses to attend oral deposition. Denied (see 11, below). 9. 1/10/94: Appellants move for summary judgment (SJ). 10. 1/14/94: Appellants move for extension to oppose SJ. Granted. Opposition due by 2/20/94. 11. 1/14/94: Appellants move again to clarify discovery process. Denied, citing failure to comply with Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(c) regarding personal service of subpoena and noting that it cannot allow further disruption in the scheduling order. 12. 2/2/94: Appellees submit proposed pretrial order. 13. 2/3/94: Appellants file SJ opposition. 14. 2/4/94: Pretrial Conference. Court grants parties until 2/10/94 to prepare joint pretrial order. Court denies Appellees' motion to dismiss. 15. 2/9/94: Appellants move to supplement opposition to SJ, to compel document production, and to appoint special process server. 16. 2/10/94: Pretrial Conference. Appellants submit proposed pretrial order. Court grants pretrial order. 17. 2/17/94: Appellees file response to SJ opposition. 18. 3/11/94: Court grants SJ, denies Appellants' motion to compel document production and to appoint a special process server. Court enters partial judgment in favor of Appellees. Appellants' severance pay claim, as ordered to be amended, remains. 19. 3/21/94: Appellants move to postpone jury trial to file reconsideration motions and motion for new trial. Granted. 20. 3/28/94: Appellants move for reconsideration of grant of SJ. Denied (see 22, below). 21. 3/29/94: Appellants move for additional discovery. 22. 6/5/95: Court denies Appellants' motion for reconsideration, grants Appellees' motion to strike third amended complaint, and denies Appellants' leave to file a fourth amended complaint. Page 92

    We turn first to Appellants' reliance on Rule 56(f). Rule 56(f) "looms large" when a party claims an inability to respond to an opponent's summary judgment motion because of incomplete discovery, Resolution Trust Corp., 22 F.3d at 1202, given that it is "intended to safeguard against judges swinging the summary judgment axe too...

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