Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. The Judge Organization, LLC et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 59 Motion to Compel. Signed by Magistrate Judge G. R. Smith on 4/12/18. (jrb)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY
JUDGE WAREHOUSING, LLC,
Scott L. Poff, Clerk
United States District Court
By jburrell at 3:27 pm, Apr 12, 2018
Interstate rail carrier Norfolk Southern Railway Company sued
defendant Judge Warehousing, LLC, for unpaid rail car demurrage 1 for
failing to return possession of certain rail cars delivered into
defendant’s possession within an allotted time frame.
Doc. 1 at 3
(seeking $951,025.00 in demurrage charges pursuant to Norfolk
Southern’s demurrage tariff).
Norfolk Southern operates as an interstate rail carrier subject to the jurisdiction of
the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (“STB”) and is governed by the provisions of
the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 10101 et seq. “Demurrage” is a charge a
rail-car receiver (like Judge) incurs when the cars are detained beyond a specified
period of time for loading or unloading, which period is known as “free time,” as
prescribed in the rail carrier's applicable tariffs. Ill. Cent. R. Co. v. S. Tec Dev.
Warehouse, Inc., 337 F.3d 813, 815 n. 1 (7th Cir. 2003). Demurrage compensates the
rail carrier for expenses from, and penalizes the receiver for, the undue detention of
the carrier’s rail cars. 49 C.F.R. § 1333.1. Its purpose “is to expedite the loading and
unloading of cars, thus facilitating the flow of commerce, which is in the public
interest.” S. Tec Dev. Warehouse, 337 F.3d at 815 n. 1 (cite and quote omitted).
Judge counterclaimed for lost profits, contending that Norfolk
Southern had actively participated in negotiations to expand the
warehouse that Judge was renting to accommodate additional rail
freight, including a particular curved portion of the loading dock, which
it approved as meeting as its needs. Doc. 6 at 6-8. However, when
Judge sought to use the curved loading dock in February 2012, Norfolk
Southern refused and delivered cars only to the straight portion of the
loading dock for two years.
Id. at 8. Two year later, without
explanation, Norfolk Southern began delivering rail cars to the entire
loading dock. Id. This meant that for two years Judge received fewer
cars than it otherwise could have, and had expected, to receive. Id.
(claiming more than $75,000 in damages).
Norfolk Southern conducted discovery on the counterclaim,
including deposing Judge’s corporate representative. Doc. 59 at 2; see
also id. at 5-7 (complaining about the preparedness of Judge’s witness).
Judge disclosed a lengthy list of customers but identified only one entity
(FMS North America) that it “would have solicited business from, but
for the actions of Norfolk Southern,” and it failed to produce acceptable
financial statements to demonstrate its overall profitability during the
relevant time frame.
After the close of discovery, at Norfolk
Southern’s behest, Judge identified 34 customers it “began to solicit
after [Norfolk Southern] began spotting the curved portion of its track,”
and produced a consolidated financial statement demonstrating the
overall profitability of its umbrella parent company. Doc. 63 at 1, 12 &
16-17 (Judge does not create its own statements or tax returns, so it
produced its holding company, The Judge Organization’s, consolidated
statement of operation at Norfolk Southern’s request). Norfolk asks
that Judge be precluded from using this late-disclosed information or
that discovery be reopened so it can fully suss out Judge’s counterclaim.
Doc. 59 at 2.
It also criticizes Judge’s corporate representative’s
deposition preparedness and asks that the deposition be reopened
and/or another witness produced. Id. at 5-8, 10 & 12.
Because Judge maintains that the financial statement is
irrelevant to its lost profits claim, indicating its intention to forgo
introducing the statement or relying on it at summary judgment or
trial, doc. 63 at 18, Norfolk Southern’s motion to preclude Judge from
relying on the financial statement generated after close of discovery is
thus GRANTED as unopposed.
As to the customer list, Judge concedes that it is unable to -- and
has no intention of -- pointing to any single, unique contract that it was
deprived of entering with any of the identified 34 customers.
doc. 63 at 12 (describing the list as reflecting the “customers it began to
solicit” after it gained the full use of its curved rail) & 22 (explaining
that “there are no specific [lost business] opportunities” it can point to,
so its claim must be based instead on “its [unquantified] inability to
develop additional opportunities”). The Court is unable to determine
precisely the effect of the list of 34 customers (only one of which, FMS,
was specifically earlier identified as a lost-business opportunity) on
Judge’s counterclaim or Norfolk Southern’s defense.
Here, Judge believed it was entering a period of increased
profitability with the new curved loading dock, and after being able to
leverage its additional capacity, it did increase its profits. See doc. 6 at
6-8. But again, given Judge’s contention that it doesn’t need specifics to
prove up its counterclaim, it is unclear what utility the mere list of 34
customers offers or what effect that list might have (now that it has
been generated) on Judge’s corporate witness’s testimony. See Lowe’s
Home Centers, Inc. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 381 F.3d 1091, 1096 (11th Cir.
2004) (“As a general rule, lost profits of a commercial venture are not
recoverable as they are too speculative, remote, and uncertain,” unless
they “are capable of ‘reasonably accurate computation,’ such as when
the damages belong to ‘an established business with clearly defined
business experience as to profit and loss.’”) (quotes and cites omitted).
What is clear, however, is that the parties have demonstrably
failed to meaningfully meet and confer on these issues. 2 The first issue
was moot, and had the parties talked that would have been obvious.
The second issue too could have been resolved without court
intervention. After all, Norfolk Southern has long known about Judge’s
lost profits opportunity with “FMS” and yet (despite arguing that it
absolutely needs to do so with the other 33 identified businesses)
declined to further press the witness or request any third party
discovery to determine whether FMS could have or would have
contracted with Judge. And Judge maintains that specific examples are
Requiring meaningful consultation can lead to informal resolution and thus
conservation of court resources. Avera v. United Airlines, Inc., 465 F. App’x 855, 85859 (11th Cir. 2012) (magistrate judge did not abuse his discretion in denying, without
prejudice, plaintiff’s motion to compel discovery where plaintiff had not sought to
resolve his discovery dispute with defendant before filing the motion); Jo Ann
Howard & Associates, P.C. v. Cassity, 2012 WL 1247271, at *8 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 13,
2012) (rejecting compulsion request in part because “the failure of the parties to
communicate materially impeded their resolution of this matter.”) (emphasis added).
unavailable, so the entire list might be irrelevant to Norfolk Southern’s
defense after all.
That is to say, all this could have been discussed by phone or in
person, without hyperbole and without accusations of hiding the ball or
ambush. See S.D. Ga. L. R. 26.5 (“Counsel are reminded that Fed. R.
Civ. P. 26(c) [ ] require[s] a party seeking a protective order or moving
to compel discovery to certify that a good faith effort has been made to
resolve the dispute before coming to court.”); Scruggs v. Int’l Paper Co.,
2012 WL 1899405, at *2 (S.D. Ga. May 24, 2012) (noting that “the
lawyers here are professionals” and thus capable of fulfilling their Local
Rule 26.5 duty to fully meet and confer before seeking the court’s
intercession). They must do so, and they may return to this Court only
when they have fully exhausted their good faith attempt at compromise.
Put another way, the parties SHALL in good faith (at least by phone if
not in person) attempt to resolve movant’s objections without further
Court involvement. Fees will be assessed for any bad faith shown. 3
The parties are reminded that
The scope of discovery under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) is broad and includes
discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the claims
or defense of any party involved in the pending action. Those resisting
discovery must show specifically how the objected-to request is unreasonable
In sum, plaintiff’s motion (doc. 59) is GRANTED as to the
financial statement and DENIED without prejudice as to the customer
list and reopening of the corporate witness’s deposition, until after the
parties have met their meet and confer obligation.
SO ORDERED, this
12th day of April, 2018.
or otherwise unduly burdensome.
Claims and defenses determine discovery’s scope. Evidence is relevant if it has
any tendency to make the existence of any fact or consequence more or less
probable than it would be without the evidence.
Daniel Def., Inc. v. Remington Arms Co., LLC, 2015 WL 6142883 at * 2 (S.D. Ga. Oct.
19, 2015) (cites and quotes omitted).
“The standard for what constitutes relevant evidence is a low one.” United States
v. Tinoco, 304 F.3d 1088, 1120 (11th Cir. 2002); McCleod v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger
Corp., 2014 WL 1616414 at * 3 (S.D. Ga. Apr. 22, 2014) (“Rule 26, quite simply, sets
forth a very low threshold for relevancy, and thus, the court is inclined to err in favor
of discovery rather than against it.”). The recent changes to the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure (in particular, Rule 26), although substantive and substantial, do not
change the definition of relevance. Instead, they reemphasize and highlight
requirements already present in the Rules, like proportionality. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
26, advisory committee note (2015) (“Restoring the proportionality calculation to
Rule 26(b)(1) does not change the existing responsibilities of the court and the parties
to consider proportionality. . . .”); Sibley v. Choice Hotels Int’l, 2015 WL 9413101 at
* 2 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 22, 2015) (“While proportionality factors have now been
incorporated into the Rule 26(b)(1) definition, those factors were already a part of
Federal discovery standards, appearing in Rule 26(b)(2)(C)(iii)”).
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