Morrison v. Langrick

Decision Date31 March 2020
Docket Number18-CV-06127 (CBA) (RML)
PartiesMONICA MORRISON, Plaintiff, v. ROBERT LANGRICK, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York



AMON, United States District Judge:

This case arises out of a 2005 sexual encounter at Dartmouth College between then-undergraduate student, Plaintiff and Counter-Defendant Monica Morrison, and then-graduate student, Defendant and Counter-Claimant Robert Langrick. Morrison has characterized the encounter as rape, and Langrick has characterized it as consensual. A non-party (hereinafter, the "Settlement Party") appeals the Honorable U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy's order denying the Settlement Party's motion for a protective order covering a settlement and non-disclosure agreement (the "Agreement") between Morrison and the Settlement Party. The Court considers the Settlement Party's appeal as a motion to set aside Magistrate Judge Levy's order denying the motion for a protective order and requiring the Settlement Party to produce the Agreement with proposed redactions for an in camera review. For the reasons stated below, that appeal is DENIED.


On November 1, 2018, Morrison initiated this action, seeking (1) a declaration that Langrick does not have a meritorious slander action against her based on a January 2, 2018 phone call to Langrick's employer regarding the 2005 encounter between the parties; (2) a declaration that a proposed Settlement Agreement between the parties is unenforceable and unconscionable; and (3) a declaration "of her rights going forward, in particular her First Amendment right to speak and to write—uncensored—about her personal story of abuse." (ECF Docket Entry ("D.E.") # 1 ("Compl.") ¶¶ 97-99.) On December 21, 2018, Langrick filed an Answer and Counterclaim Complaint, stating three claims: (1) slander arising out of the January 2, 2018 phone call; (2) libel arising out of a January 4, 2018 Vimeo post, which referred to Langrick as a "rapist"; and (3) libel arising out of a July 19, 2018 post, similar to the Vimeo post. (D.E. # 14 ("Ans. & Counterclaim") ¶¶ 256-303.)

On March 10, 2020, Morrison filed an amended complaint, which dropped the cause of action related to the proposed Settlement Agreement between the parties and seeks (1) a declaration that Morrison is presently entitled to judicial relief from the unconstitutional chilling effects of Langrick's attempts to "baselessly—indeed frivolously—contest [Morrison's] constitutional right to speak and publish truthful, albeit disparaging" statements related to the 2005 encounter; and (2) a declaration affirming Morrison's "right to freely express and publish truthful facts and opinions about her own life." (D.E. # 70 ("Am Compl.") ¶¶ 106-127.)

Earlier, on February 13, 2020, Austin Graff of The Scher Law Firm, LLP, filed a motion for a protective order on behalf of his client, "an entity . . . that entered into a confidential settlement agreement with [Morrison] to resolve claims asserted by [Morrison] against [that entity]," (the "Settlement Party"). (D.E. # 64.) As explained in the motion, on or about January 29, 2020, Langrick served Morrison with a subpoena duces tecum seeking "[a]ll documents and communications related to the 'agreement on nondisclosure for silence in exchange of compensation' referenced in [Morrison's] blog post entitled 'I am Not Sorry,' at the URL:" (Id. (quoting D.E. # 64-1).) Counsel for the Settlement Party argued for a protective order and to quash the subpoena on the grounds that (1) the Agreement contained a confidentiality provision, which would be violatedif the Agreement were produced in this litigation and would rob the Settlement Party of "the benefit of its bargain" with Morrison; and (2) "the equities balance in favor of the Settlement [P]arty" because Langrick "does not need the [Agreement] to defend against the claims asserted by [Morrison] in this Action." (Id. at 2-3.) Langrick opposed the motion for a protective order, on the grounds that (1) the Agreement is "highly relevant to Mr. Langrick's theory of the case, Ms. Morrison's defense, and Ms. Morrison's damage claims" and (2) "the presence of a confidentiality clause does not render a relevant document non-discoverable in future litigation." (D.E. # 65 at 2-3.)

On March 3, 2020, Magistrate Judge Levy found "the fact of the settlement agreement, the date of the agreement, the nature of the allegations, and the amount of the settlement to be relevant to Mr. Langrick's defense and discoverable." (D.E. dated March 3, 2020.) Magistrate Judge Levy further ruled that Langrick "is entitled to see only a redacted version of the [A]greement which excludes any information that is not relevant or that may identify any party to the [A]greement other than Ms. Morrison." (Id.) Magistrate Judge Levy directed the Settlement Party to submit the Agreement with proposed redactions to chambers for an in camera review by March 10, 2020. (Id.) On March 9, 2020, the Settlement Party requested a three-day extension to file the proposed redactions for in camera review, citing illness. (D.E. # 66.) Magistrate Judge Levy granted the request, (see D.E. dated March 9, 2020), but the Settlement Party never filed the requested documents. Instead, on March 12, 2020, the Settlement Party filed a notice of appeal of Magistrate Judge Levy's March 3, 2020 order. (D.E. # 71.) Langrick opposed overturning Magistrate Judge Levy's ruling, (D.E. # 72 ("Def Opp'n")), and the Settlement Party replied to Langrick's opposition, stating its reasons for the appeal, which it had not previously done, (D.E. # 73("Settlement Party Reply")). The Settlement Party's appeal of Magistrate Judge Levy's ruling is now before this Court, and for the reasons stated below, it is DENIED.


Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), a district judge must set aside a portion of a magistrate judge's order concerning a non-dispositive matter if it is "clearly erroneous or is contrary to law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); see also, e.g., 287 Franklin Ave. Residents' Ass'n v. Meisels, No. 11-CV-976(KAM)(JO), 2013 WL 12403049, at *1-2 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 2013) (affirming magistrate judge's discovery rulings and denial of reconsideration of those rulings as not clearly erroneous or contrary to law), aff'd sub nom. Sasmor v. Meisels, 708 F. App'x 728 (2d Cir. 2017). An order is clearly erroneous if "'on the entire evidence' the Court is 'left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'" Mental Disability Law Clinic v. Hogan, 739 F. Supp. 2d 201, 203 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (quoting Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 235 (2001)). An order is contrary to law if it "fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law or rules of procedure." Weiss v. La Suisse, 161 F. Supp. 2d 305, 321 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under the "highly deferential standard" governing Rule 72(a), "magistrate judges are afforded broad discretion in resolving nondispositive disputes and reversal is appropriate only if their discretion is abused." Williams v. Rosenblatt Sec., Inc., 236 F. Supp. 3d 802, 803 (S.D.N.Y. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted).

As to the standard of review Magistrate Judge Levy was to apply to the motion for a protective order, in general, "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense. . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). "Though district courts in this Circuit have in the past disagreed as to whether discovery of settlement agreements requires a heightened showing of relevance, the majority view is now that no such heightenedshowing is required." Small v. Nobel Biocare USA, LLC, 808 F. Supp. 2d 584, 587 (S.D.N.Y. 2011); see also Gen. Elec. Co. v. DR Sys., Inc., No CV 06-5581(LDW)(ARL), 2007 WL 1791677, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. June 20, 2007) (joining "what is clearly the most recent view that Rule 26's relevancy standard applies to the disclosure of settlement documents"). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c), a court may, "for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, including . . . forbidding the disclosure or discovery." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1)(A). "Rule 26(c) requires the party seeking the [protective] order to demonstrate good cause." Dorsett v. County of Nassau, 762 F. Supp. 2d 500, 514 (E.D.N.Y. 2011), aff'd sub nom. Newsday LLC v. County of Nassau, 730 F.3d 156 (2d Cir. 2013). "To determine whether good cause exists, courts balance the need for information against the injury that might result if uncontrolled disclosure is compelled." In re Zyprexa Injunction, 474 F. Supp. 2d 385, 415 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted), aff'd sub nom. Eli Lilly & Co. v. Gottstein, 617 F.3d 186 (2d Cir. 2010).

I. The Settlement Party's Appeal

At the outset, Langrick argues that the Settlement Party's appeal is deficient because it fails to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) and Local Rule 37.3, which require the objecting party to file "specific, substantive objections that identify the legal defect in the Magistrate's ruling." (Def. Opp'n at 3.) The Court agrees with Langrick that the Settlement Party's notice of appeal, on its own, does not comply with the relevant rules. However, because the Settlement Party did file a reply letter stating its specific objections to Magistrate Judge Levy'sruling, (see generally Settlement Party Reply), the Court will consider the merits of the Settlement Party's motion to set aside Magistrate Judge Levy's ruling.1

On the merits, the Settlement Party argues that "it was induced to settle with [Morrison] under the belief that the terms of the confidential Settlement Agreement would remain confidential." (Settlement Party Reply at 2.) However, ...

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