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Burrell v. Duhon

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

October 4, 2019

BURRELL et al., PLANTIFS
v.
DUHON et al., DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Lindy W. Duhon, Lindy Duhon Trucking, LLC, Forward Air, Inc., Forward Air Corporation, FAF, Inc. (TN), Forward Air Services LLC, Forward Air Solutions, Inc., Forward Air Technology and Logistics Services, Element Financial Corp., Element Fleet Management Corp., Element Transportation Asset Trust, Element Transportation, LLC, 19th Capital Group, LLC, and 19th Capital Group, Inc.'s Objection to Magistrate Judge's Opinion and Order Compelling Discovery. [DN 66]. Plaintiffs responded, [DN 102], and this matter is ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein: Defendants' Objection to Magistrate Judge's Opinion and Order Compelling Discovery is SUSTAINED IN PART and OVERRULED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         At approximately 2:00AM on September 30, 2017, Plaintiff J.B. Burrell Jr. was driving a commercial vehicle westbound on Interstate 24 while his wife, Plaintiff Marie Burrell, slept in the vehicle's sleeper compartment. [DN 1-4 at 9]. Further ahead on Interstate 24, Defendant Lindy Duhon was driving a tractor trailer. Id. At some point, Mr. Duhon lost control of the tractor trailer, causing the vehicle to enter the unpaved median and fall on its side. Id. The tractor trailer landed with its wheels off the ground and the underside of the vehicle blocking both lanes of westbound Interstate 24. Id. Mr. Burrell's vehicle collided with Mr. Duhon's trailer, resulting in injuries to Mr. and Mrs. Burrell. Id.

         In addition to Mr. Duhon, Plaintiffs allege the involvement of fourteen other defendants on the basis that each entity had a legal relationship with Mr. Duhon at the time of the collision. Id. at 10. The Complaint contains six counts, including (1) negligence, (2) negligence per se, (3) strict liability, (4) vicarious liability, (5) negligent hiring, retention, supervision, and training, and (6) gross negligence. Id. at 10-14.

         The Complaint was filed in Marshall Circuit Court on August 24, 2018, and the case was removed to federal court on September 19, 2018. [DN 1]. Subsequently, the Court referred all discovery-related disputes to Magistrate Judge King. [DN 23]. Plaintiffs then filed a Motion to Compel certain discovery from Defendants. [DN 33]. Defendants responded, [DN 34], and Plaintiffs replied, [DN 35]. Magistrate Judge King issued an Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel. [DN 62]. Defendants then filed the Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Opinion and Order currently before the Court. [DN 66].

         LEGAL STANDARD

         When a party timely assigns error to a magistrate judge's nondispositive order, this Court “has authority to ‘reconsider' the determination, but under a limited standard of review.” Massey v. City of Ferndale, 7 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 1993) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A)). Under that standard, a magistrate judge's determination must be affirmed unless the objecting party demonstrates that the order is “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a) (implementing statutory directive). “The ‘clearly erroneous' standard applies only to factual findings made by the Magistrate Judge, while [his] legal conclusions will be reviewed under the more lenient ‘contrary to law' standard.” EEOC v. Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 621 F.Supp.2d 603, 605 (W.D. Tenn. 2009) (alteration in original) (quoting Gandee v. Glaser, 785 F.Supp. 684, 686 (S.D. Ohio 1992), aff'd per curiam, 19 F.3d 1432 (6th Cir. 1994) (unpublished table disposition)) (internal quotation marks omitted). A factual finding is clearly erroneous where the Court is left “with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Max Trucking, LLC v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Corp., 802 F.3d 793, 808 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985)). A legal conclusion is contrary to law if it contradicts or ignores applicable precepts of law. Sedgwick Ins. v. F.A.B.E. Custom Downstream Sys., Inc., 47 F.Supp.3d 536, 538 (E.D. Mich. 2014).

         ANALYSIS

         Defendants object to the Magistrate Judge's Opinion and Order regarding Interrogatories 5, 8, 9, 13, 16, 20, and 21. [DN 66]. The Court addresses the merits of those objections below.

         I. Interrogatory No. 5

         First, Defendants argue that the Magistrate Judge erred when he ordered Defendants to identify, “the sources(s), amount(s), manner(s), and extent(s) of all compensation and payments to Defendants Lindy W. Duhon, [and] Lindy Duhon Trucking, LLC.” [DN 66 at 804]. Defendants claim that the Magistrate Judge's purpose in compelling the production of this information was that it was relevant to whether Defendants are vicariously liable for Duhon's actions at the time of the collision. Id. at 805. However, Defendants argue that they conceded the relationship necessary to prove vicarious liability in their Answer when they stated that Duhon was a statutory employee of Defendant FAF, Inc. (TN) at the time of the accident. Id.; [DN 1-3 at 27]. Thus, Defendants claim that payments made to Duhon and Lindy Duhon Trucking, LLC are irrelevant and it “is contrary to law to compel production of a defendant's sensitive financial information to ‘prove' an uncontested issue.” [DN 66 at 806].

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 allows parties to “obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b) Advisory Committee's Note to 2015 Amendment. 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. Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders,437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). The proponent of a motion to compel discovery bears the initial burden of demonstrating relevance. See Gruenbaum v. Werner Enters., Inc.,270 F.R.D. 298, 302 (S.D. Ohio 2010); Anderson v. Dillard's, Inc.,251 F.R.D. 307, 309-10 (W.D. Tenn. 2008). Considering the spirit and purpose of the Civil Rules, however, that threshold is relatively low. See John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Book Dog Books, LLC, 298 F.R.D. 184, 186 (S.D.N.Y. 2014); Wrangen v. Pa. Lumbermans Mut. Ins. Co.,593 F.Supp.2d 1273, 1278 (S.D. Fla. 2008). The Court has considerable discretion when handling discovery matters, such as deciding if information might be relevant. See S.S. v. E. Ky. Univ., 532 F.3d 445, 451 (6th Cir. 2008); Chrysler Corp. v. Fedders Corp.,643 F.2d 1229, 1240 (6th Cir. 1981); see also Heathman v. U.S. Dist. Court for Cent. Dist. of Cal., 503 F.2d 1032, 1035 (9th Cir. 1974) (“‘Relevance' on discovery has a very broad meaning, and the question is for the district court.” (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1)) (citation omitted)). Plaintiffs satisfied their burden of demonstrating the relevance of payments or compensation Defendants made to Duhon or Lindy Duhon Trucking, LLC. As noted by the Magistrate Judge, this information is relevant to Plaintiffs' claim that Defendants are vicariously liable for Duhon's actions at the time of the collision. The fact that Defendants conceded in their Answer that Duhon was a statutory employee of FAF, Inc. (TN) at the time of the accident does not ...


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