Sanders v. Stryker Corporation et al
ORDERED that Plaintiff's 47 Motion to Compel is hereby DENIED, as further set out in order. Signed by Honorable Judge Gray M. Borden on 4/5/2016. (kh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
Case No. 1:14-cv-698-JA-GMB
Pending before the court is Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel (Doc. 47), which seeks
supplementary responses to discovery requests propounded by Plaintiff Rhonda Sanders
(“Sanders”) on September 17, 2015.
Defendant Howmedica Osteonics Corporation
(“HOC”) objected to further responses on relevance grounds, and maintains that
objection. See Doc. 50. For the reasons stated below, the Motion to Compel (Doc. 47) is
due to be DENIED at this time.
Background and Procedural History
Sanders filed her Complaint in the Circuit Court of Houston County, Alabama,
alleging tort claims related to two hip-replacement surgeries performed on her in 2009.
Doc. 1-4 at 4. During the surgeries, Sanders had the following artificial components
implanted in her body: an Accolade® TMZF® Plus 127o Neck Angle V40TM Hip System,
an LFITTM Anatomic V4OTM Femoral Head, a TRIDENT® Hemispherical Acetabular
Shell, an Acetabular Dome Hole Plug, and a Trident® X3® 0o Polyethylene Insert. Doc.
1-4 at 4. After the surgeries, Sanders experienced abdominal and hip pain and other
illnesses. Doc. 1-4 at 4. By January 2014, Sanders underwent surgery to explant two
components of the hip prostheses—the LFIT Anatomic V40 Femoral Heads and the
Trident X3 Polyethylene Inserts. See Docs. 1-4 at 5 & 47-2.
The discovery requests at issue in Sanders’ motion were styled as Plaintiff’s First
Set of Interrogatories and Plaintiff’s First Request for the Production of Documents and
Things to Defendants. See Doc. 47-1. Almost all of these requests asked for information
relating to the manufacturing, design or marketing of the “medical device as described in
Plaintiff’s Complaint,” the “medical device or any of its component parts involved in the
lawsuit,” the “subject product,” or some similar formulation. E.g., Doc. 47-1 at 5-14.
HOC responded to both sets of requests on October 20, 2015, and included the following
general objection in each set of responses:
OBJECTION REGARDING PRODUCT IDENTIFICATION
HOC objects . . . inasmuch as Plaintiff has failed to specifically
identify the components alleged to be at issue. Based upon Plaintiff’s
disclosures, the components at issue appear to be the Trident X3
Polyethylene Inserts and LFIT Anatomic V40 Femoral Heads implanted
into Plaintiff Rhonda Sanders’ left and right hips on or about June 25, 2009
and September 17, 2009, respectively. HOC further objects to the extent
these Requests seek documents or information relating to products other
than the subject Trident X3 Polyethylene Inserts and LFIT Anatomic V40
Femoral Heads implanted into Plaintiff Rhonda Sanders’ left and right hips
on or about June 25, 2009 and September 17, 2009, respectively. These
responses are limited only to the subject Trident X3 Polyethylene Inserts
and LFIT Anatomic V40 Femoral Heads at issue in this litigation and
which were implanted into Plaintiff Rhonda Sanders’ left and right hips on
or about June 25, 2009 and September 17, 2009, respectively.
Doc. 47-1 at 3-4 & 17. The individual discovery responses 1 at issue also incorporated
this product-identification limitation. See Doc. 47-1 at 4-13 & 17-25. 2 Subject to these
objections, HOC produced 3,255 pages of documents. Doc. 47 at 2.
The crux of this dispute is the relevance of information and documents relating to
the components of Sanders’ hip prosthesis systems that were implanted in 2009 and have
not been explanted. HOC argues that the issues presented in the lawsuit implicate only
the explanted components; Sanders counters that she is entitled to information and
documents relating to all components of the prosthetics regardless of whether they remain
in her body or have been surgically removed. Having considered the parties’ submissions
and the operative discovery requests and responses, the court finds that the record now
before it does not establish the relevance of the information Sanders has requested on the
hip prosthesis components that have not been explanted.
Sanders seeks to compel supplemental responses to 29 requests. The court notes that three of the subject
responses did not repeat the general product identification limitation, but did reference and incorporate
other responses that explicitly stated the limitation. See Doc. 47-2 at 7 (Response No. 7), 23 (Response
No. 12), 24 (Response No. 16).
On March 3, 2016, Sanders’ counsel wrote for the first time to challenge HOC’s objections to the scope
of the requests. Doc. 47-2. Sanders also filed a motion to continue the trial on March 3, 2016 that was
denied for the failure to meet and confer with defense counsel regarding the continuance. Docs. 36 & 38.
On March 21, 2016, Sanders filed a second motion to continue, now seeking to reopen her expert
discovery, to extend the discovery deadline to December 2016, and to continue the trial to May 2017.
Doc. 45. Sanders premised her request for a continuance principally on the need for the information
sought in the discovery responses subject to the pending motion to compel, which followed on March 23,
2016. See Docs. 45 at 2-3 & 47. In denying Sanders’ request to continue the trial and other deadlines,
United States District Judge John Antoon II noted: “Plaintiff’s motion is in part based on [HOC’s] failure
to comply with Plaintiff’s discovery requests. If these failures did in fact occur, they are long standing,
and Plaintiff failed to take timely action.” Doc. 51.
The recent revision to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 defines the scope of
discovery broadly: “Parties 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 . . . .
Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be
discoverable.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1), as amended December 1, 2015. In light of this
expansive scope and the underlying purpose of eliminating surprise at trial, e.g., Berry v.
Florida Int’l Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 2008 WL 203362, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 23, 2008), “an
objection that a discovery request is irrelevant . . . must include a specific explanation
describing why the request lacks relevance, and why the information sought will not
reasonably lead to admissible evidence.” Guzman v. Irmadan, Inc., 249 F.R.D. 399, 401
(S.D. Fla. 2008) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1); Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437
U.S. 340, 345 (1978)); cf. Panola Land Buyers Ass’n v. Shuman, 762 F.2d 1550, 1559
(11th Cir. 1985) (“[O]bjections which serve as the basis of a motion for protective order
under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 should be ‘plain enough and specific enough so that the court
can understand in what way the interrogatories are alleged to be objectionable.’”)
(quoting Davis v. Fendler, 650 F.2d 1154, 1160 (9th Cir. 1981)).
The court finds that HOC’s responses to Sanders’ interrogatories and requests for
production are precisely the type of objections contemplated by the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. The product-identification limitation was not meaningless boilerplate,
but a plain explanation of HOC’s interpretation of the proper scope of its responses. This
objection was clearly and consistently stated, and no claim has been made that HOC
obscured its basis for objection. In fact, HOC’s product limitation framed the entire
discovery process in this case, as the parties proceeded to conduct virtually all
depositions and written discovery—with Sanders even putting up her own experts for
deposition—before she filed her motion to compel.
In light of these objections, Sanders’ sole argument for relevance is the claim that
her complaint lists all of the implanted components in a preliminary section and
elsewhere does not distinguish between these components and the subset that were
explanted. See Docs. 1-4 & 47 at 2. To be sure, “complaints are important.” Bonds v.
Hyundai Motor Co., 2015 WL 5522072, at *1 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 16, 2015). At the same
time, while plaintiffs may initiate a lawsuit with a generalized complaint wherein “almost
any defect is conceivable,” through the course of discovery “the plaintiffs begin to define
with more specificity the nature of the defect.” Id.
Such is the case here. Sanders’ expert witnesses have defined the nature of the
alleged defect, and they have done so without the discovery materials she is now seeking.
The record before the court reveals that none of Sanders’ experts testified to a defect
involving the still-implanted components, and each affirmed that he already had at his
disposal all of the information he needed to form his opinions. Docs. 50-2, 50-3, 50-4.
Sanders nevertheless posits that she needs extensive information on the implanted
components in order to appropriately prepare her expert witnesses for trial, Doc. 47 at 4,
but the court is persuaded by the experts’ unequivocal statements disavowing any need
for additional information or documentation. 3 Moreover, the timing of Sanders’ motion
undercuts her claim of relevance, as Sanders opted to make her expert witness disclosures
and tender her experts for deposition many months before she sought to compel HOC to
produce information on the remaining prosthetic components. 4 Without more, the court
finds that the relevance of the information sought has not been established, and the
motion to compel must be denied.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel (Doc. 47) is
hereby DENIED, as further set out above.
DONE this 5th day of April, 2016.
/s/ Gray M. Borden
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
The court is not privy to the entire transcripts of Sanders’ expert witnesses’ depositions, only to brief
excerpts selected by HOC. If other testimony given during these depositions has some bearing on the
relevance of the information Sanders seeks, she has not provided this testimony to the court.
The most recent scheduling orders entered in this case required Sanders’ expert disclosures no later than
September 24, 2015, with discovery due to be completed on April 18, 2016, and dispositive motions to
follow by May 20, 2016. Docs. 16 & 29. By agreement of the parties, Sanders was allowed to disclose an
additional expert witness on October 1, 2015. Doc. 39 at 2.
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