Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff sued the Defendants for $100,000 in damages after Defendants’ product exploded and injured Plaintiff. During discovery, Plaintiff’s attorney nonetheless asked Defendants to produce all documents from the prior lawsuits. Plaintiff’s attorney also filed a Rule 30(b)(6) notice to depose Defendants’ records custodians. Defendants requested a protective order to prevent the additional discovery.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Federal courts prevent discovery on discovery and unduly burdensome, unnecessary discovery that is not proportional to the needs of the case.
Broad allegations of harm, unsubstantiated by specific examples or articulated reasoning will not suffice.View Full Point of Law
When Plaintiff inflated his snow-blower tire, the rim exploded, injuring Plaintiff’s hand. After $6,000 in medical bills, Plaintiff sued the Defendants for $100,000 in damages. Defendants produced information from prior cases involving the same model, including the claimants’ and attorneys’ names and where the cases were filed. Defendants’ counsel said most of those lawsuits involved similar injuries from exploding tire rims. Defendants also produced product recall records that showed knowledge of the defect. Plaintiff’s attorney nonetheless asked Defendants to produce all documents from the prior lawsuits, including expert reports, deposition transcripts, and discovery. Plaintiff’s attorney also filed a Rule 30(b)(6) notice to depose Defendants’ records custodians, seeking their identities, and to question them about nine listed topics about Defendants’ document storage and retrieval systems. Defendants requested a protective order to prevent the additional discovery and submitted an affidavit from its national discovery counsel explaining that the costs would likely exceed $100,000. Plaintiff’s attorney countered that he needed the additional discovery to prove Defendants’ knowledge and recover punitive damages and that its production would not unduly burden Defendants.
Do federal courts prevent discovery on discovery and unduly burdensome, unnecessary discovery that is not proportional to the needs of the case?
Yes. The court granted the protective order with respect to document production.
Federal courts prevent discovery on discovery and unduly burdensome, unnecessary discovery that is not proportional to the needs of the case. Federal courts do not allow discovery on a litigant’s discovery processes solely to prove the litigant did not produce enough documents. Other federal courts refuse that kind of discovery on discovery unless the litigant withheld documents unlawfully or in bad faith. For that reason, courts usually deny discovery requesting specific information about document storage and retention systems. FRCP Rule 26(b) allows discovery of nonprivileged matters relevant and proportional to the needs of the case. Courts weigh five factors to determine proportionality: 1) the importance of the issues at stake, 2) the amount in controversy, 3) the litigants’ relative access, 4) the discovery’s importance in resolving the case, and 5) whether the costs outweigh likely benefits.
Here, Plaintiff’s attorney was clearly trying to procure discovery on Defendants’ discovery processes when it sought the identity of Defendants’ records custodians and to depose them about Defendants’ document storage and retrieval systems. Plaintiff claimed that he needed the information to determine whether the discovery would burden Defendants, but the affidavit of its national discovery counsel already supported that conclusion. Moreover, Plaintiff’s document requests was not proportional to the lawsuit’s needs under the five-factor test. First, the lawsuit involves important issues, including serious injuries and liability for defective products, but their importance alone did not justify the discovery. Second, it would cost Defendants $100,000 to locate all the documents, review them for privileged or confidential information, and comply with protective orders from prior lawsuits. That cost is disproportionately close to the $100,000 in controversy. Third, Defendants arguably had better access to the documents, but Plaintiff’s counsel could also find some of them himself with the information Defendants provided about prior cases. Fourth, the documents were not critical to resolving this case because Defendants has already produced recall records showing awareness of the snow-blower tire defect sufficient for Plaintiff to recover punitive damages. Fifth, the discovery costs clearly outweighed its likely benefits for the same reasons. For these reasons, the court granted the protective order with respect to document production and the nine topics listed in Plaintiff’s Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notice.