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Estate of Patterson v. Contract Freighters, Inc.

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

July 2, 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 to Compel Rule 30(b)(6) Deposition Regarding Document Production by Plaintiffs, Estate of Austin Patterson and Amanda Patterson (hereinafter “Patterson”). (Docket # 25). Defendant Contract Freighters, Inc. (hereinafter “Contract Freighters”) filed a Response in opposition, styled as a “Response to Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel the Disclosure of Confidential Attorney-Client Communications” arguing primarily that the documents requested are not relevant and proportional to the needs of the case. (Docket # 26). Plaintiff filed a Reply on June 10, 2019. (Docket # 27). Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for adjudication.

         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, and it 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).

         Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Compel on February 13, 2019, (Docket # 14). The Court entered an Opinion and Order granting the Motion and requiring Defendants to produce Rhee's driver's logs for the period from September 1, 2017 to February 28, 2018, a six-month time-frame. (Docket # 21 at 5-6). Thereafter, Contract Freighters supplemented its discovery responses, providing Rhee's driver logs from the period of January 1, 2018 to February 28, 2018. (Docket # 26 at 2). Following the production, the parties attempted to resolve the dispute and contacted the Court to schedule a telephonic status conference with Magistrate Judge King. (Docket # 23). During that conference, the Court granted leave for the Plaintiffs to file the present Motion to Compel a deposition under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(b)(6) with regard to document production. (Docket # 24).

         Legal Standard

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit parties to “obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense. . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). The purpose behind such broad discovery is to eliminate surprise in civil litigation. Davis v. Marathon Oil Co., 528 F.2d 395, 404 (6th Cir. 1975). Thus, “[i]n this Circuit, the scope of discovery is extremely broad under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and ‘is ... within the broad discretion of the trial court.'” Clark Const. Group, Inc. v. City of Memphis, 229 F.R.D. 131, 137 (W.D. Tenn. 2005) (quoting Lewis v. ACB Business Servs. Inc., 135 F.3d 389, 402 (6th Cir.1998)).

         The party resisting discovery has the burden to “show that the material sought either falls beyond the scope of relevance, or is so marginally relevant that the potential harms of production outweigh the presumption in favor of broad disclosure.” Bentley v. Highlands Hosp. Corp., No. 7:15-CV-97-ART-EBA, 2016 WL 762686, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 23, 2016). In assessing proportionality, the Court must weigh “‘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 or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.'” Albritton v. CVS Caremark Corp., No. 5:13-CV-00218-GNS-LLK, 2016 WL 3580790, at *4 (W.D. Ky. June 28, 2016) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1)).

         “Although a plaintiff should not be denied access to information necessary to establish her claim, neither may a plaintiff be permitted to ‘go fishing' and a trial court retains discretion to determine that a discovery request is too broad and oppressive.” Surles ex rel Johnson v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 474 F.3d 288, 305 (6th Cir. 2007). A discovery request for otherwise relevant documents may be too broad or otherwise overly burdensome when it applies to a generally broad category or group of documents or a broad range of information, see Transamerica Life Inc. Co. v. Moore, 274 F.R.D. 602, 609 (E.D. Ky. 2011), or where it requires the producing party to incur excessive costs that outweigh the benefits to the requesting party (Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(2)(b)).

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 30 permits parties to conduct discovery through use of depositions. When a corporation is the party to be deposed, a party must name the entity and “describe with reasonable particularity the matters for examination.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6). “The named organization must then designate one or more officers, directors, or managing agents, or designate other persons who consent to testify on its behalf; and it may set out the matters on which each person designated will testify.” Id. A corporate designation under this Rule serves to distinguish the testimony of a fact witness from the testimony of the representative of the corporate entity itself. Jecker v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., No. 3:12-CV-219-S, 2014 WL 4063568, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 15, 2014) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(b)(6)).

         Discussion

         This Opinion solely addresses the need for a deposition under Rule 30(b)(6) and the ability of the designated deponent to assert the attorney-client privilege on behalf of Defendant Contract Freighters.[1] For the reasons below, the Court finds that Plaintiffs are entitled to conduct a deposition pursuant to Rule 30(b)(6) on the retention policy, specifically as relates to the logs and their destruction, but any ruling on the applicability, scope, and waiver of the attorney-client privilege is premature until ...


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