United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Brent Brennenstuhl, United States Magistrate Judge.
Jack and Holly Papineau, have filed a motion to compel
discovery from Defendant, Honeywell International (DN 98).
Papineau seeks an order compelling Honeywell to supplement
its responses to certain interrogatories and requests for
production. Honeywell filed a response in opposition at
¶ 123. Papineau filed a reply at ¶ 129. A hearing
on this issue was conducted to allow the parties oral
argument on the motion (DN 135, 150). At the conclusion of
the hearing, the Court directed Papineau to supplement its
original interrogatory and request for production to narrow
their scope (DN 150). Papineau has done so (DN 147). The
matter is now ripe for determination. For the reasons that
follow, the Court grants Papineau's motion to compel.
requests information and documents pertaining to all lawsuits
filed against Honeywell wherein the claimant alleged an
asbestos-related disease from exposure to Honeywell friction
products containing asbestos where exposure occurred prior to
2002 (DN 147 PageID # 1582-83). Papineau argues this
information is discoverable and “unquestionably
relevant” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
26(b)(1). Specifically, Papineau believes the information is
relevant to prove the presence of a dangerous condition,
Honeywell's knowledge of such a condition, causation, and
punitive damages (DN 98).
objects to Papineau's interrogatory and request for
production (DN 98-3). It argues that prior lawsuits are not
relevant, and therefore not discoverable. Honeywell contends
that lawsuits filed after Papineau was allegedly exposed to
asbestos cannot be used to prove Honeywell was on notice that
Bendix brake linings created a dangerous condition. Honeywell
adds that the requested prior claims are also not reasonably
calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence
because “once Mr. Papineau was exposed to brake dust,
the development of his disease became inevitable” (DN
PageID #1455). Finally, Honeywell reasons that the mere
existence of other lawsuits does not prove the presence of a
dangerous condition or prove causation (DN PageID # 1457).
relevant evidence is discoverable evidence. A party may
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. Rule Civ. Proc. 26(b)(1). The
range of relevant discoverable evidence is much broader than
evidence that may later be admitted at trial. Generally,
something is discoverable if it appears reasonably calculated
to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. In re
McCarty, 644 Fed.Appx. 372 (6th Cir. 2016). Limiting
discovery to matters relevant to the precise issues of the
pleadings and trial admissibility would frustrate a
plaintiff's ability to obtain information necessary to
prosecute their case.
the liberal relevance standard applied during discovery,
courts have routinely permitted discovery of prior lawsuits
against a defendant. See Burrell v. Duhon, No.
5:18-CV-00141-TBR-LLK, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 172696 (W.D. Ky.
Oct. 4, 2019). Such evidence has been deemed discoverable for
several purposes. In Burrell, the Court held prior lawsuits
against the defendant were relevant to plaintiffs'
punitive damages claim. Prior lawsuits may also be relevant
to prove whether Honeywell knew or should have known of an
allegedly unsafe condition created by their product.
Gardner v. Norfolk S. Ry., 307 F.R.D. 467 (N.D. Ohio
2015) (citing Lewis v. CSX Transp., Inc., 778
F.Supp.2d 821, 838-39 (S.D. Ohio 2011)). In fact, “few
things could be more relevant…than the occurrence or
the non-occurrence of other accidents under similar
circumstances” in cases involving allegedly defective
or dangerous products. Rhodes v. Michelin Tire
Corp., 542 F.Supp. 60, 62 (E.D. Ky. 1982). Prior
lawsuits against a defendant may be used to “show the
danger of the product and the cause of the accident.”
Montgomery Elevator Co. v. McCullough, 676 S.W.2d
776, 783 (Ky. 1984) (quoting Frumer & Friedman, Products
Liability, § 12.01(2) (internal punctuation omitted)).
erroneously focuses its argument on the admissibility of such
evidence rather than its discoverability. Nearly all the
cases cited by Honeywell address the question of
admissibility of evidence at trial, thereby undercutting its
argument that the evidence is not discoverable. After all, in
most cases where evidence is excluded by the trial court, the
evidence must have been subject to discovery by the opposing
party. Honeywell cites Yates v. Ford Motor Company to support
its claim that post-exposure lawsuits are irrelevant and not
reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible
evidence (DN 123 PageID # 1455). No. 5:12-CV-752-FL, 2015
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64309 (E.D. N.C. May 11, 2015). Yates
excluded post-exposure lawsuits from admission at trial, but
explicitly noted the evidence was relevant and could be used
to establish causation. “As to causation the facts
presented by post-exposure evidence may very well make it
more probable that defendant's products caused the
plaintiffs' injuries.” Yates (citing United Oil
Co. v. Parts Associates, Inc., 227 F.R.D. 404, 414 (D.
Md. 2005)); Rowan Cnty. Bd. Of Educ. v. U.S. Gypsum,
103 N.C.App. 288, 300 (1991) (holding that evidence
post-dating the sale of asbestos-containing ceiling materials
to county school system went “not to knowledge but to
the nature” of the product, and whether it was fit for
school buildings). Yates also acknowledged that lawsuits
post-dating a plaintiff's exposure can be used to show
knowledge of what defendants knew or should have known prior
to the incident or event in question. (citing Cross v.
Beckwith, 293 NC. 224, 232 (1977). Rather than
supporting Honeywell's claim, Yates unequivocally holds
that prior lawsuits against a defendant a relevant.
task before this Court is not to determine if the evidence
sought by Papineau is admissible at trial. Nor is it to
determine what purpose the evidence may serve. This Court is
presently tasked with determining if Papineau's
interrogatory and request for production are reasonably
calculated to lead to the discovery of evidence. This Court
finds that they are. The purposes for which the evidence may
be used at trial, if at all, are questions for another day.
HEREBY ORDERED that Papineau's Motion to Compel Discovery
(DN 98) is GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that by no later
than December 18, 2019, Honeywell shall respond to
Papineau's amended Interrogatory No. 25 as it appears in
Papineau's Supplemental Memorandum at ¶ 147.
FURTHER ORDERED that by no later than December 18, 2019,
Honeywell shall shall produce the documents requested in
Papineau's amended Request for Documents No. 12 as it