United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Central Division
BRUCE LINDHOLM, individually and as personal representative of the ESTATE OF ALEXANDER NELS LINDHOLM, and VANOOSHEH LINDHOLM, individually, Plaintiffs,
BMW OF NORTH AMERICA, LLC, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL DISCOVERY
ROBERTO A. LANGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Bruce Lindholm, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Alexander Nels Lindholm, and Vanoosheh Lindholm (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed a Motion to Compel Discovery and for an Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs, Doc. 17, along with certification of good faith affidavits from counsel, Docs. 19, 20, in compliance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a) and D.S.D. Civ. LR 37.1. Plaintiffs move for an order compelling BMW of North America, LLC ("Defendant") to respond to certain of Plaintiffs' requests for production of documents and interrogatories and to make additional initial disclosures. Plaintiffs also move for an order under Rule 37(a)(5) awarding Plaintiffs attorney's fees. For the reasons explained below, Plaintiffs' motion is granted in part and denied in part.
II. FACTS PERTINENT TO MOTION
This products liability and wrongful death action centers on an incident that occurred on July 5, 2013. Docs. 1, 1-1, 1-2. According to Plaintiffs' complaint, Alexander N. Lindholm ("Alex") performed maintenance work on his 1997 BMW 540i in Pierre, South Dakota, and utilized the car's jack according to the car manual's directed use to elevate the vehicle. Doc. 1-1 at 2. Plaintiffs allege that, while Alex was under the vehicle, the jack "functionally failed and a plastic piece of the jack fractured, causing the vehicle to fall and crush Alex." Doc. 1-1 at 2. Plaintiffs allege that "Alex subsequently died from asphyxia due to the weight of the vehicle crushing his chest." Doc. 1-1 at 2.
Both parties exchanged initial disclosures, Docs. 18-3, 18-4, and Plaintiffs served Defendant with interrogatories and requests for production of documents on June 29, 2015, Doc. 18-5. Several of Plaintiffs' interrogatories-numbered 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, and 15- sought information about the alleged defective design of the jack and subject vehicle. Doc. 18-5 at 7-10. In addition, Plaintiffs sought to discover various documents relevant to the allegations in their Complaint. Doc. 18-5 at 11-18. Defendant objected to certain discovery requests claiming that the information requested is not in its possession or control. Doc. 18-6 at 6-10. Defendant made stock and repeated objections that the requests are vague, overbroad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Doc. 18-6 at 6-10. Plaintiffs argue that the requests are tailored to specific and relevant information at issue in the case, are not unduly burdensome, and may be obtained through Defendant's regular course of business as a distributor of BMW vehicles in the United States. Doc. 18 at 9; Doc. 26 at 3.
III. APPLICABLE STANDARDS OF DISCOVERY
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure concerning discovery "are to be broadly and liberally construed in order to fulfill discovery's purposes of providing both parties with 'information essential to the proper litigation of all relevant facts, to eliminate surprise, and to promote settlement."' Marook v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins., 259 F.R.D. 388, 394 (N.D. Iowa 2009) (quoting Rolscreen Co. v. Pella Prods., 145 F.R.D. 92, 94 (S.D. Iowa 1992)). Thus, a party generally may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any claim or defense. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). The scope of permissible discovery is broader than the scope of admissibility. Hofer v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 981 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir. 1992). Nonetheless, there must be at least a "threshold showing of relevance" before parties "are required to open wide the doors of discovery, " and discovery must be proportional to the needs of the case. Id.; see Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Once the requesting party has made its threshold showing that the evidence sought is relevant, the burden shifts to the resisting party who must "show specific facts demonstrating that the discovery is not relevant, or how it is overly broad, burdensome, or oppressive." Kirschenman v. Auto-Owners Ins., 280 F.R.D. 474, 481 (D.S.D. 2012). The mere statement that an interrogatory or request for production was overly broad, burdensome, oppressive, or irrelevant is not adequate to prevail on such an objection. Lillibridge v. Nautilus Ins. Co., No. CIV. 10-4105-KES, 2013 WL 1896825, at *5 (D.S.D. May 3, 2013). The party alleging undue burden must demonstrate that the burden of producing the requested information would outweigh its beneficial value. St. Paul Reinsurance Co. v. Commercial Fin. Corp., 198 F.RD. 508, 511 (N.D. Iowa 2000).
A. Preliminary Issues
Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the issuance of an order compelling discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37. Under Rule 37 and Local Rule 37.1 of the Civil Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court of the District of South Dakota, Plaintiffs' counsel certified that they contacted Defendant's counsel prior to filing the instant motion to compel and attempted in good faith to resolve the parties' discovery disputes. Docs. 19, 20. Defendant does not dispute this, but responded that it did not have control over the requested material. Thus, the requirements of Rule 37 and Local Rule 37.1 have been met with respect to the good faith effort to resolve the dispute prior to the filing of the motion. See Robinson v. Potter, 453 F.3d 990, 995 (8th Cir. 2006).
Defendant filed two response briefs to Plaintiffs' motion; the first response brief was filed on December 7, 2015, and the second, supplemental brief was filed on December 11, 2015. Docs. 22, 25. Plaintiffs urge this Court to disregard Defendant's second brief in its entirety because it was filed after the time limits proscribed in Civil Local Rule 7.1(b) for a response brief. Doc. 26 at 1-2. Defendant filed the second brief after Plaintiffs deposed Peter Baur ("Baur"), Defendant's Manager of Product Analysis, on December 4, 2015. Doc. 25 at 1. Defendant filed the second brief believing Baur's testimony to be relevant to its opposition to the motion, "but his deposition transcript was not available at the time that [Defendant] filed its [first] Response." Doc. 25 at 1
n.1. Indeed, Baur was deposed just three days before Defendant filed its initial response brief. Under these circumstances, this Court would have granted leave for Defendants to enlarge its deadline to respond or to supplement its response brief. Moreover, there is no prejudice to Plaintiffs from the second brief in that Plaintiffs filed a reply brief on December 18, 2015, after the second response brief, and highlighted portions of Baur's deposition different from those portions used in Defendant's second brief. Doc. 25 at 2-5; Doc. 26 at 4-5. Thus, this Court will consider Defendant's second, supplemental brief in ruling on this motion.
B. Analysis of the Requests for Production of Documents at Issue
Under Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may request that another party produce documents for inspection and copying. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a). If the responding party "fails to produce documents or fails to respond that inspection will be permitted-or fails to permit inspection-as requested" the requesting party may move a court for an "order compelling an answer, designation, production, or inspection." Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iv). "[A]n evasive or ...