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R.C. v. Richland County Court Appointed Special Advocates

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

February 13, 2018

R.C., by and through his guardian ad litem John D. Elliott, Plaintiff,
v.
Richland County Court Appointed Special Advocates, Movant,
v.
South Carolina Department of Social Services and Palmetto Place Emergency Children's Shelter, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Donald C. Coggins, Jr. United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Movant Richland County Court Appointed Special Advocates' (“CASA”) Motion to Quash Subpoena for Deposition of Lindsey McCallister, filed December 6, 2017. ECF No. 39. Defendant Palmetto Place Emergency Children's Shelter (“Palmetto Place”) filed a Response in Opposition and CASA filed a Reply. The Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for consideration.

         On November 28, 2017, Palmetto Place issued a subpoena for the deposition of Lindsey McCallister, a volunteer guardian ad litem (“GAL”) for CASA, who served as a GAL for Plaintiff during the time of the underlying abuse and neglect action initiated by Defendant South Carolina Department of Social Services (“SCDSS”) and during the time Plaintiff was in the custody of SCDSS. ECF No. 39 at 1. Pursuant to the South Carolina Children's Code, the family court must appoint a GAL for all children in abuse and neglect proceedings, and the GAL must be represented by counsel. S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-1620(1). CASA argues that any information McCallister has is protected and may not be disclosed pursuant to the Children's Code. ECF No. 39 at 3. Moreoever, CASA contends that any information that McCallister possesses is subject to protections afforded by attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. Id. at 4. For the reasons set forth below, CASA's Motion to Quash is denied.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, unless otherwise limited by court order, “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden of expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). “The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense” by forbidding or limiting the scope of discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). “The scope and conduct of discovery are within the sound discretion of the district court.” Columbus-Am. Discovery Grp. v. Atl. Mut. Ins. Co., 56 F.3d 556, 568 n.16 (4th Cir. 1995); see also United States ex rel. Becker v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 305 F.3d 284, 290 (4th Cir. 2002) (stating that district courts are afforded “substantial discretion . . . in managing discovery”).

         Rule 30 gives parties broad leave to depose “any person” who may have relevant information in a case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 30. When a party subpoenas attendance at a deposition, the party receiving the subpoena may move to quash the subpoena under Rule 45, which requires that a district court must quash or modify a subpoena that:

(i) fails to allow a reasonable time to comply;
(ii) requires a person to comply beyond the geographical limits specified in Rule 45(c);
(iii) requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matter, if no exception or waiver applies; or
(iv) subjects a person to undue burden.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(d)(3)(A).

         DISCUSSION

         With respect to CASA's argument that McCallister is prohibited from sharing any information by the Children's Code, the Court finds that the Children's Code, as a South Carolina statute, does not dictate federal discovery and privilege law. All privileges asserted in federal court are governed by Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which provides “[t]he common law- as interpreted by United States courts in the light of reason and experience-governs a claim of privilege unless any of the following provides otherwise: the United States Constitution; a federal statute; or rules prescribed by the Supreme Court.” Fed.R.Evid. 501. This case involves both federal and state law claims, and the evidence in dispute appears to be relevant to both the state and the federal claims. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “in a case involving both federal and state law claims, the federal law of privilege applies.” Virmani v. Novant Health Inc., 259 F.3d 284, 293 n.3 (4th Cir. 2001). Therefore, for resolution of the present discovery dispute, concerning material relevant to both federal and state law claims, the Court will apply federal privilege law.

         There is no federally recognized privilege applicable to GALs. Accordingly, the Court finds that McCallister is subject to being subpoenaed to appear at a deposition. Further, it appears that McCallister would have ...


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