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A.G. v. Oregon Department of Human Services

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 28, 2014

A. G.; et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES (

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN V. ACOSTA, Magistrate Judge.

Introduction

Plaintiffs are minor children who allege they suffered sexual abuse by defendant James Earl Mooney, a state-certified foster parent, at various times between 2007 and 2011. At the outset of discovery plaintiffs served a 319-paragraph request for production calling for myriad categories of documents, much of which defendants claim is privileged, confidential, or private, and thus appropriately subject to a protective order. Plaintiffs respond that a protective order is not appropriate or necessary, because defendants have not shown the requisite "good cause" and because defendants' concerns can be adequately addressed by redaction of sensitive information. Both sides filed motions to resolve their dispute. See State Defendants' Motion for Protective Order (Dkt. No. 57) and Plaintiff's Motion to Compel (Dkt. No. 65).

The court grants in part and denies in part both motions, in the ways and for the reasons detailed below.

Background

The facts relevant to the parties' respective motions are summarized from plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs are now and were, at all times relevant to the allegations in the Amended Complaint, minor children. Some or all of the plaintiffs suffer from developmental, emotional, or physical disabilities which render them especially vulnerable.

The Oregon Department of Human Services ("DHS") is the state agency responsible for delivering and administering programs and services regarding child adoption, child welfare, child protective services, and foster care in Oregon. DHS certifies individuals to serve as foster parents. DHS also is the state agency empowered to remove children from the custody of their biological parents and to place them in foster homes.

In February 2007, DHS certified Mooney and his wife to be foster parents. Certification required the Mooneys to submit to a background check, undergo an assessment of their home environment, and demonstrate adequate financial resources to support their household independent of payments provided by DHS. The Mooneys were required to participate in orientation, education, and training intended to equip them to competently and safely serve as foster parents. While serving as foster parents, the Mooneys were expected to work closely with DHS in all matters pertaining to the care of the children placed in the Mooneys' care, and were required to follow all DHS regulations establishing the requirements for the care of those children. These requirements included regularly consulting with the children's caseworkers, allowing unscheduled in-home inspections, obtaining approval for a child's extended absence from the home, using approved respite care, following proper disciplinary practices, and reporting known or expected abuse of the children.

Between February 2007 and May 2011, DHS placed each of the plaintiffs in the Mooneys' care. While in the Mooneys' care, Mooney sexually abused each of the plaintiffs and did so on multiple occasions. In April 2011, plaintiff A.G. reported Mooney's abuse. DHS learned of the report and in May 2011 it instructed Mooney to vacate the home in which he and his wife provided foster care. DHS also began an investigation into Mooney's conduct, In June 2011 Mooney confessed to law enforcement authorities that between 2007 and 2011 he committed multiple acts of sexual abuse against the children in his care and children in the care of other foster parents. In January 2012 Mooney was sentenced to prison on charges of sexual abuse against one of the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs allege DHS knew or should have known of Mooney's behavior toward them. They fault the DHS caseworkers' supervision and monitoring of Mooney's behavior and failure to recognize signs of abuse plaintiffs exhibited. Plaintiffs also challenge every aspect of DHS's certification and supervision processes that led to Mooney becoming a foster parent and remaining a foster parent for so many years. Plaintiffs assert that DHS also knew from prior experience that children with disabilities such as theirs made them especially vulnerable to sexual abuse, thus giving DHS additional reason to have recognized plaintiffs' signs of sexual abuse.

Standards

The starting point is Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. Under Rule 26©, a court may for "good cause" issue a protective order "to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense." The protective order may include one or more of the following provisions:

(A) forbidding the disclosure or discovery;
(B) specifying terms, including time and place, for the disclosure or discovery; © prescribing a discovery method other than the one selected by the party seeking discovery;
(D) forbidding inquiry into certain matters, or limiting the scope of disclosure or discovery to certain matters;
(E) designating the persons who may be present while the discovery is conducted;
(F) requiring that a deposition be sealed and opened only on court order;
(G) requiring that a trade secret or other confidential research, development, or commercial information not be revealed or be revealed only in a specified way; and
(H) requiring that the parties simultaneously file specified documents or information in sealed envelopes, to be opened as the court directs.

FED. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1)(A)-(H). This court's local rules describe the showing required to obtain a protective order:

LR 26-4 Motions for Protective Orders

A party or person asserting there is good cause for the Court to make an order that would limit access to discovery materials not filed with the Court, or would authorize a party or person to file any materials with the Court under seal, must show with respect to each particular material or category of materials that specific prejudice or harm will result if no order is granted. The showing must be sufficiently detailed to permit the Court in its good cause examination to identify specific factors supporting entry of the order sought. Where the order sought would authorize a party to file materials under seal, the showing also must articulate why, as an alternative to filing under seal, the information sought to be protected could not be redacted. Broad allegations of ...

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