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Estate of Patterson v. Contract Freighters, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

March 14, 2019

ESTATE OF AUSTIN PATTERSON, et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
CONTRACT FREIGHTERS, INC., et al. DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          LANNY KING, MAGISTRATE JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Lanny King for ruling on all discovery motions. (Docket #9).

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of Plaintiffs, Estate of Austin Patterson and Amanda Patterson, to Compel Defendant Contract Freighters, Inc. (“Contract Freighters”) to supplement responses to interrogatories and to produce information. (Docket #14). Defendant Contract Freighters filed a Response in opposition, arguing primarily that the documents requested are not relevant and proportional to the needs of the case. (Docket #15). This motion is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons detailed below, the Plaintiffs' Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. (Docket #14).

         Background

         This case arises from a wrongful death action regarding a motor vehicle accident that occurred on March 15, 2018 in McCracken County, Kentucky. (Docket #1). The accident involved Mr. Austin Patterson, who was killed in the accident, and Mr. John S. Rhee, a driver for Contract Freighters, Inc. Mr. Rhee and Contract Freighters are both defendants in this action. (Id.). Mrs. Amanda Patterson (Mr. Patterson's widow), along with Mr. Michael Gibson, as the administrator of Mr. Patterson's estate, brought this action in McCracken Circuit Court on October 26, 2018. (Id.). This action was subsequently removed to this Court. (Id.).

         Following the removal of the case to this Court, the parties agreed to continue the discovery process initiated in the state court. (Docket #15 at 2). Plaintiffs served Defendants with their first set of discovery requests along with the Complaint, and Defendant Contract Freighters responded to those requests on January 10, 2019. (Id.). Senior Judge Russell entered a Scheduling Order in this case on January 11, 2019. (Docket #9). On February 1, 2019, Plaintiffs propounded another set of discovery requests upon Defendants, to which Defendants responded. (Docket #15 at 2). Disputes arose over Defendants' responses to the discovery requests, and a telephonic status conference was held before Judge King. (Docket #12). During that conference, Judge King granted leave for Plaintiffs to file a Motion to Compel regarding the disputed discovery requests. Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Compel on February 13, 2019. (Docket #14). Defendant Contract Freighters responded on February 18, 2019. (Docket #15).

         In their Motion to Compel, Plaintiffs seek information requested in five particular discovery requests. (Docket #14). Plaintiffs seek Defendant Rhee's routes in the six months preceding the wreck (Interrogatory 26), copies of reviews performed on Defendant Contract Freighters by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) under 49 C.F.R. § 385.5 (Request for Production 10), dispatch records and load reports for the truck at issue during February 2018 (Request for Production 14), Defendant Rhee's driver log books for the past six months (Request for Production 19), and Defendant Rhee's trip receipts (Request for Production 21). (Id.). Defendant broadly responds that Plaintiffs' requests are not within the scope of discovery, based on the concepts of relevance and proportionality. (Docket #15 at 2).

         Legal Standard

         Under Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[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). Relevance is to be “construed broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on” any party's claim or defense. Albritton v. CVS Caremark Corp., No. 5:13-CV-00218-GNS-LLK, 2016 WL 3580790, at *3 (W.D. Ky. June 28, 2016) (citing Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) (citation omitted)). However, the scope of discovery is not unlimited. “On motion or on its own, the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery … if it determines that … the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of discovery in resolving the issues.” Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii)). The determination of “the scope of discovery is within the sound discretion of the trial court.” Cooper v. Bower, No. 5:15-CV-249-TBR, 2018 WL 663002, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 29, 2018), reconsideration denied, 2018 WL 1456940 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 22, 2018) (quoting Chrysler Corp. v. Fedders Corp., 643 F.2d 1229, 1240 (6th Cir. 1981)).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33 governs interrogatories while Rule 34 governs requests to produce. Rule 33(b)(3) requires the responding party to answer each interrogatory “to the extent it is not objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(3). Similarly, Rule 34(b)(2)(B) requires a response to a document request to “either state that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested or state an objection to the request, including the reasons, ” and Rule 34(b)(2)(C) requires “[a]n objection to part of a document [request] must specify the part and permit inspection of the rest.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(B), (C). Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 33 and 34 are structured such that, in combination with Rule 26(g)(1), both the requesting party and the court may be assured that all responsive, non-privileged materials are being produced, except to the extent a valid objection has been made. Heller v. City of Dallas, 303 F.R.D. 466, 487 (N.D. Tex. 2014) (citing Evans v. United Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., 2007 WL 2323363 at *1, *3 (E.D. La. Aug. 9, 2007) (emphasis in original)). Federal Rule 33 requires that objections be made with specificity. Janko Enterprises, Inc. v. Long John Silver's, Inc., 2013 WL 5308802 at *7 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 19, 2013) (“Unexplained and unsupported ‘boilerplate' objections are clearly improper.”).

         If a party fails to answer an interrogatory submitted under Rule 33 or a request to produce submitted under Rule 34, the discovering party may move for an order compelling an answer, or a designation, or an order compelling inspection in accordance with the request. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(2)(B). Pursuant to Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “a party may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery, ” provided that the party certifies to the Court that it has, in good faith, conferred or attempted to confer with the person or party failing to make disclosure or discovery in an effort to obtain it without court action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1); see id. at (a)(3)(B)(iii)-(iv) (providing that a party may move to compel answers to interrogatories submitted under Rule 33 or to compel an inspection requested under Rule 34). The party who files a motion to compel discovery “bears the burden of demonstrating relevance.” Albritton v. CVS Caremark Corp., No. 5:13-CV-00218-GNS-LLK, 2016 WL 3580790 at *3 (W.D. Ky. June 28, 2016).

         Request for Production 19: Defendant Rhee's Driver's Logs

         Plaintiffs request Defendant Rhee's driver log books from September 1, 2017 to February 28, 2017. (Docket #14 at 7). Defendant Contract Freighters argues that it has produced ten days of Defendant Rhee's log books, from February 18, 2018 to February 28, 2018, which is sufficient to meet the discovery requirements of this case. (Docket #15 at 6).

         Plaintiffs argue that Defendant Rhee's log books are imperative to their case, as they show his hours of service, whether he drove in compliance with FMCSA safety regulations, whether he altered his log books, and whether he had a practice or pattern of doing so. (Docket #14 at 8). Defendant argues that the only conceivable use of these log books is to show Defendant Rhee's hours of service, so as to determine his levels of fatigue at the ...


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