Yang v. Peony Lin

Decision Date01 July 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action 19-8534 (ES) (ESK)
PartiesTZUHSIN YANG a/k/a CHRISTINE YANG, Plaintiff, v. PEONY LIN, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
OPINION

Esther Salas Esther Salas, U.S.D.J.

Before the Court is Defendant Peony Lin's appeal of the Honorable Edward S. Kiel's September 20, 2021 Order (D.E No. 88 (Order”)), denying Defendant's request to bar Plaintiff Tzuhsin Yang a.k.a. Christine Yang's supplemental discovery responses and granting Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. (D.E. No. 94). Defendant also moves to dismiss the amended complaint (D.E No. 93 (“Amended Complaint” or “Am Compl.”)). (D.E. No. 98). Plaintiff opposed both motions (D.E. Nos. 96 & 101) and Defendant replied (D.E Nos. 100 & 103). Having considered the parties' submissions, the Court decides this matter without oral argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b); L. Civ. R. 78.1(b). For the following reasons, both the appeal and the motion to dismiss are DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 14, 2019, Plaintiff filed the original complaint in this matter, seeking injunctive relief and damages pursuant to a single claim for defamation and conspiracy to commit defamation against Defendant. (D.E. No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 66-77). Plaintiff alleged that from January through September 2018, Defendant published or conspired to publish several defamatory statements about her on various websites and emails, many of which accuse Plaintiff of being a “prostitute,” “whore,” and “hooker.” (Id. ¶¶ 2-3, 14-28, 30, 34 & 66).

On April 23, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the original complaint as untimely and for failure to state a claim. (D.E. No. 6). On March 2, 2020, the Court heard oral argument on the motion and determined that the original complaint was timely and sufficiently stated a claim for defamation. (See D.E. No. 37, March 2, 2020 Hearing Transcript (03.02.20 TR.”) at 19:721:3, 36:5-37:7 & 51:14-52:19). That same day, the Court issued an order denying Defendant's motion to dismiss. (D.E. No. 36).

On March 18, 2020, the Court issued a scheduling order indicating that fact discovery would close on September 3, 2020. (D.E. No. 41). In April 2020, Plaintiff served responses to Defendant's interrogatories. (D.E. No. 90, September 20, 2021 Hearing Transcript (“09.20.21 Tr.”) at 5:24-6:3). On November 6, 2020, Defendant testified that she was responsible for one of the fifty-four statements cited in the original complaint, as well as five additional statements posted using different usernames (the “Five Statements”) that Plaintiff had not included in the original complaint. (Id. at 5:8-15; see also D.E. No. 6-4 at 9, 14, & 16-17).[1] On September 1, 2020, the Court issued a scheduling order extending fact discovery to December 31, 2020. (D.E. No. 54). On December 28, 2020, the Court issued a scheduling order extending fact discovery “until such time as the Court [] rules on” outstanding discovery disputes. (D.E. No. 67). On April 7, 2021, the Court issued a scheduling order extending fact discovery to May 21, 2021. (D.E. No. 76). On May 25, 2021, the Court issued a scheduling order extending fact discovery to June 30, 2021. (D.E. No. 80).

On June 23, 2021, Plaintiff indicated that she intended to serve supplemental responses to Defendant's interrogatories. (09.20.21 Tr. at 5:24-6:3). The supplemental responses contained the Five Statements. (Id. at 6:3-6). On August 5, 2021, the parties submitted a joint letter regarding discovery disputes as to the supplemental responses. (D.E. No. 83). On August 16, 2021, the Court held a settlement conference, during which the parties discussed the pending discovery disputes. (D.E. No. 85). On September 20, 2021, the Court held a telephone conference, during which Judge Kiel analyzed the factors set forth in Meyers v. Pennypack Woods Home Ownership Assn., 559 F.2d 894 (3d Cir. 1977), and determined that Plaintiff may provide the Five Statement in her supplemental discovery responses. (09.20.21 Tr. 7:11-11:8). Further, Judge Kiel reasoned that allowing Plaintiff to file the Amended Complaint with the Five Statements before the parties prepared a final pre-trial order would serve the interest of efficient case management and resolution of this case. (Id. at 11:18-12:2). Thereafter, Judge Kiel entered an Order denying Defendant's request to bar Plaintiff's supplemental discovery responses and sua sponte granting Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint, solely for the purpose of adding the Five Statements. (See Order). On September 27, 2021, Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint. (See Am. Compl.).

II. LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Appeal

A United States Magistrate Judge may hear and determine any non-dispositive pretrial matter pending before the Court. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The district court will not disturb a magistrate judge's decision on these matters unless it is “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(1)(A). An order is contrary to law “when the magistrate judge has misinterpreted or misapplied the applicable law.” Doe v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 237 F.R.D. 545, 548 (D.N.J. 2006). A district court conducts a de novo review of legal conclusions. See Cooper Hosp./Univ. Med. Ctr. v. Sullivan, 183 F.R.D. 119, 127 (D.N.J. 1998).

“Where the appeal seeks review of a matter within the exclusive authority of the Magistrate Judge, such as a discovery dispute, an even more deferential standard, the abuse of discretion standard, may be applied.” Experian Info. Sols., Inc. v. List Servs. Direct, Inc., No. 15-3271, 2018 WL 3993449, at *3 (D.N.J. Aug. 21, 2018) (quoting Miller v. P.G. Lewis & Assocs., Inc., No. 055641, 2006 WL 2770980, at *1 (D.N.J. Sept. 22, 2006)). “An abuse of discretion occurs ‘when the judicial action is arbitrary, fanciful[,] or unreasonable, which is another way of saying that discretion is abused only where no reasonable [person] would take the view adopted by the trial court.' Ebert v. Twp. of Hamilton, No. 15-7331, 2016 WL 6778217, at *2 (D.N.J. Nov. 15, 2016) (quoting Lindy Bros. Builders v. Am. Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp., 540 F.2d 102, 115 (3d Cir. 1976)).

B. Motion to Dismiss

To withstand a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

“When reviewing a motion to dismiss, [a]ll allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true, and the plaintiff must be given the benefit of every favorable inference to be drawn therefrom.' Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). But the court is not required to accept as true “legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. And [t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

III. DISCUSSION
A. Appeal

Defendant essentially argues that Judge Kiel misapplied the Meyers factors by denying her request to bar Plaintiff's supplemental discovery responses. (D.E. No. 94-1 (“Appeal Mov. Br.”) at 4-18). The Third Circuit's Meyers factors are used to evaluate whether a district court's decision of whether or not to exclude evidence as a discovery sanction constitutes a clear abuse of discretion. Meyers, 559 F.2d at 903. They are (i) prejudice or surprise to the party opposing the evidence; (ii) the ability of the proponent of the evidence to cure any prejudice; (iii) the extent to which allowing such evidence would “disrupt the orderly and efficient trial of the case; (iv) “bad faith or willfulness in failing to comply with the court's order”; and (v) the importance of the evidence to the case. See ZF Meritor, LLC v. Eaton Corp., 696 F.3d 254, 298 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Meyers, 559 F.2d at 904-05).

Applying these factors, the Court perceives no error, let alone an abuse of discretion, in Judge Kiel's analysis. First, Defendant is not prejudiced by the Five Statements because, as Judge Kiel noted, Defendant was aware of the statements since she testified to making them during her November 2020 deposition. (See 09.20.21 Tr. at 8:9-23). Further, Defendant had notice as of June 23, 2021, before fact discovery was set to close, that Plaintiff intended to serve supplemental discovery responses with the Five Statements. (See id. at 5:24-6:3). Therefore, Defendant could not be surprised by their inclusion in Plaintiff's supplemental discovery responses and the Amended Complaint. (See id. at 8:23-9:4).

Second even if there were prejudice, Plaintiff took an opportunity to cure any such prejudice, which Defendant declined. (Id. at 6:15-20 & 9:5-10). Specifically, Plaintiff indicated her intent to submit the Five Statements in her supplemental responses the day before her deposition and offered to pay for any expenses related to extended depositions so Defendant would have the opportunity to further depose Plaintiff, yet Defendant declined the offer. (Id. at 6:15-20). Moreover, as Judge Kiel noted, Defendant would still have an opportunity to question Plaintiff regarding the Five Statements before the parties submitted a final pretrial order. (See id. at 9:1013). Finally, as Judge Kiel noted, there was no prejudice from the late disclosures in connection with the preparation of expert reports because the parties...

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