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Oyen v. Land O'lakes Inc.

February 10, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Veronica L. Duffy United States Magistrate Judge



This matter is before the court on an amended complaint filed by plaintiffs Jeff Oyen and Randy Johanson alleging diversity jurisdiction and federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. Plaintiffs served defendant Land O'Lakes, Incorporated with interrogatories and requests for production.*fn1 Although Land O'Lakes responded to those discovery requests, plaintiffs believe that full and complete answers have not been given in some instances and that certain objections to the discovery made by Land O'Lakes are not supported. Accordingly, after conferring with opposing counsel and making a good faith effort to resolve this matter informally, plaintiffs filed a motion seeking the court's order compelling Land O'Lakes to respond fully to plaintiffs' discovery requests. See Docket No. 38. The district court, the Honorable Karen E. Schreier, Chief Judge, referred this matter to this magistrate judge for resolution pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).


The facts pertinent to the motion pending before the court are as follows. Plaintiffs have filed an amended complaint against Land O'Lakes alleging claims arising out of their purchase from Land O'Lakes of "Ameristand 407TQ" (hereinafter "407TQ") alfalfa seed. Plaintiffs allege that they purchased this seed from Land O'Lakes based on representations about the seed made by a salesman for Hoegemeyer Hybrids and based upon advertisements by Land O'Lakes that said 407TQ alfalfa seed contained patented Traffic Tested(r) genetics that were proven in University and USDA trials and that 407TQ was a proven high yielding variety bred to withstand heavy traffic.

Plaintiffs allege further that, after planting the 407TQ in their fields, they drove on those fields several times while cutting, raking, baling, and stacking their alfalfa hay. Plaintiffs allege that the 407TQ was not, in fact, resistant to traffic as advertised.

Plaintiffs allege that the labels on the seed bags of the 407TQ sold to them indicated that the bag contained AmeriStand 407TQ alfalfa seeds produced by America's Alfalfa(r). Further, plaintiffs allege that ABI Alfalfa warranted that the seeds in the bags conformed to the label description. Plaintiffs allege that, despite the warranty on the label, the seeds contained in the bags they bought were not the original formula/recipe of 407TQ which contained the patented Traffic Tested(r) genetics. ABI Alfalfa Inc. is alleged to be owned or operated by, or a subsidiary of, defendant Land O'Lakes. Based on the factual allegations, plaintiffs assert claims of: (1) breach of warranty (two counts), (2) fraud/deceit, (3) negligence, (4) a Lanham Act violation, (5) and falsely advertising that their product contained patented genetics. Land O'Lakes answered the amended complaint by admitting that ABI sold substantially all its assets, including seed assets, to Land O'Lakes. As to the factual allegations asserted in support of plaintiffs' claims, Land O'Lakes asserted either that it was without knowledge or information sufficient to admit those allegations, and therefore denied, or it denied the allegations outright. In addition, Land O'Lakes asserted the following affirmative defenses: (1) failure to state a claim, (2) failure to join indispensable parties, (3) contributory negligence more than slight on the plaintiffs' parts, (4) failure to mitigate damages, (5) lack of proximate causation, (6) plaintiffs are barred from proceeding due to a binding arbitration clause, (7) failure to allege fraud with sufficient particularity, and (8) lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the diversity claims due to failure to meet the amount in controversy requirement.

On February 12, 2008, plaintiffs served Land O'Lakes with interrogatories and requests for the production of documents. Land O'Lakes objected to many of these requests on the grounds that they called for the production of confidential information. The parties then stipulated to the entry of a protective order, which the district court signed. The order provided protection for the disclosure of confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information. Nevertheless, even after the entry of this protective order, discovery disputes remained. After being unable to resolve these disputes with Land O'Lakes, this current motion was filed.


A. Scope of Discovery Under Rule 26

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) sets forth the standard governing the scope of discovery in civil cases:

(1) Scope in General. Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense--including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter. For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. All discovery is subject to the limitations imposed by Rule 26(b)(2)(C).

See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

The advisory committee's note to the 2000 amendments to Rule 26(b)(1) provide guidance on how courts should define the scope of discovery in a particular case:

Under the amended provisions, if there is an objection that discovery goes beyond material relevant to the parties' claims or defenses, the court would become involved to determine whether the discovery is relevant to the claims or defenses and, if not, whether good cause exists for authorizing it so long as it is relevant to the subject matter of the action. The good-cause standard warranting broader discovery is meant to be flexible.

The Committee intends that the parties and the court focus on the actual claims and defenses involved in the action. The dividing line between information relevant to the claims and defenses and that relevant only to the subject matter of the action cannot be defined with precision. A variety of types of information not directly pertinent to the incident in suit could be relevant to the claims or defenses raised in a given action. For example, other incidents of the same type, or involving the same product, could be properly discoverable under the revised standard. . . . In each case, the determination whether such information is discoverable because it is relevant to the claims or defenses depends on the circumstances of the pending action.

The rule change signals to the court that it has the authority to confine discovery to the claims and defenses asserted in the pleadings, and signals to the parties that they have no entitlement to discovery to develop new claims or defenses that are not already identified in the pleadings. ... When judicial intervention is invoked, the actual scope of discovery should be determined according to the reasonable needs of the action. The court may permit broader discovery in a particular case ...

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