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Smith v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

September 19, 2019

CHARLES R. SMITH PLAINTIFF
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          KRISTINE G. BAKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is plaintiff Charles R. Smith's motion to compel Rule 30(b)(6) deposition, to strike objections, to produce documents, to answer discovery, and for sanctions filed against defendant BNSF Railway Company ("BNSF") (Dkt. No. 23). BNSF responded in opposition to the motion, and Mr. Smith filed a reply (Dkt. Nos. 25, 29). Also before the Court is BNSF's motion for protective order regarding plaintiffs notice of 30(b)(6) deposition and document requests (Dkt. No. 26). Mr. Smith responded in opposition to the motion for protective order (Dkt. No. 30). For the following reasons, the Court grants, in part, and denies, in part, Mr. Smith's motion to compel and BNSF's motion for protective order (Dkt. Nos. 23, 26).

         I. Legal Standard

         Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

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

         In resisting otherwise relevant discovery, "the party from whom discovery is sought must show that the information is not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. If that showing is made, the court may nonetheless order discovery from such sources if the requesting party shows good cause . . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(B). When weighing the proportionality of the discovery to the needs of the case, courts should consider "the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).

         The Court understands that Mr. Smith has now been deposed by BNSF but that the discovery disputes regarding a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition of a BNSF representative persist (Dkt. No. 26-1, at 4). With this Order, the Court directs the parties to confer regarding a reasonable date and time for supplementing responses to discovery requests, where directed by this Order, and for scheduling the Rule 30(b)(6) deposition. The Court makes the following determinations.

         II. Interrogatories

         Mr. Smith moves to compel BNSF to withdraw its objections and to answer fully Interrogatory No. 4 (Dkt. No. 23-1, at 3-4). This is the only interrogatory the Court understands to be in dispute.

         Interrogatory No. 4

         The discovery request propounded by Mr. Smith and objections, answer, and supplemental answer by BNSF are:

4. If Defendant communicated any warning or instruction to Plaintiff about the operation, installation and/or otherwise handling of multi-use ("MU") cables, MU receptacles and/or related equipment, (including but not limited to the installation of an MU cable into locomotive BNSF 2885 near the Harvard Yard), describe in detail and to the best of Defendant's ability to content of such warning or instruction, and the name or names of the person(s) who communicated the warning to Plaintiff.
ANSWER: BNSF objects to this interrogatory as overly broad; it is not limited to a relevant and reasonable time period, not sufficiently limited in scope as to "related equipment." BNSF further objects to the term "warning" on the grounds it is argumentative, and therefore, vague and ambiguous. BNSF also objects on the grounds the request is vague and ambiguous as to what is mean by "otherwise handling." For these reasons, the interrogatory also seeks information that is not relevant to the claim or defense of any party and is not proportional to the needs of the case. Subject to and without waiving the foregoing objections, BNSF responds by referring Plaintiff to the documents produced by BNSF in response to Plaintiffs Request for Production No. 8 and its response to Plaintiffs Request for Production No. 27.
SUPPLEMENTAL ANSWER: See additional documents produced herewith concerning New Hire Conductor Training (collectively, # 001161 [folder on USB drive]), which may contain responsive information.

(Dkt. No. 23-7, at 3-4).

         The Court overrules BNSF's objection as to the time period of Interrogatory No. 4. BNSF clearly has produced some documents responsive to Interrogatory No. 4, but BNSF has not identified the time period for which it produced documents or whether BNSF limited the time period for its response to Interrogatory No. 4, if it in fact did so. At this stage, the Court overrules BNSF's proportionality objection because BNSF has put forth no information or record evidence to assist the Court in making a determination regarding proportionality, including but not limited to information or evidence with respect to the cost in dollars and time of responding to such a request. To the extent BNSF withheld information or documents responsive to Interrogatory No. 4 on the basis of this objection, the Court directs BNSF to supplement further its response to Interrogatory No. 4 in accord with this ruling.

         The Court overrules BNSF's objection to the term "warning." To the extent BNSF withheld information or documents responsive to Interrogatory No. 4 on the basis of this objection, the Court directs BNSF to supplement further its response to Interrogatory No. 4 in accord with this ruling.

         The Court sustains BNSF's objection to the phrase "otherwise handling."

         Further, by referring Mr. Smith to documents, if BNSF has not responded fully to Interrogatory No. 4 by, for example, providing the name or names of persons who communicated ...


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