Phillips et al v. Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting 95 Motion to Compel. Signed by Magistrate Judge Kenneth G. Gale on 10/14/2020. (df)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF KANSAS
THOMAS ALLEN PHILLIPS, et al.,
NATIONAL PENSION TRUST, et al.,
Case No. 19-2402-DDC-KGG
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO COMPEL
Now before the Court is Plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel (Doc. 95) Defendants
to produce production of a settlement agreement in the case of BoilermakerBlacksmith Nat'l Pension Tr. v. Matrix N. Am. Constr., Inc., No. 19-CV-2370JAR-TJJ, (D. Kan. July 9, 2019. Having reviewed the submissions of the parties,
Plaintiffs’ motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiffs and the putative class members in this class action lawsuit are
participants in the Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust (“the Plan”).
Defendant Plan is an employee benefit plan under the Employee Retirement
Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). Plaintiffs allege in their Amended Class Action
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Complaint (Doc. 57) that Defendants violated the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act by denying retirement benefits based on re-defined eligibility rules
(Doc 57, at 2). Plaintiffs also allege “violations of multiple provisions of ERISA
including breaches of fiduciary duty, violations of ERISA’s prohibited transaction
prohibitions and violations of ERISA’s anti-alienation rules.” (Id.) Defendants
generally deny Plaintiffs’ allegations.
Background Relating to Motion to Compel.
Plaintiffs seek an order compelling Defendants to produce the settlement
agreement entered in the case of Boilermaker-Blacksmith Nat’l Pension Tr. v.
Matrix N. Am. Constr., Inc., No. 19-CV-2370-JAR-TJJ, (D. Kan. July 9, 2019)
(hereinafter “the Matrix lawsuit”), which Defendants filed shortly before Plaintiffs
filed the present matter. It is uncontroverted that Defendants identified the
settlement agreement as responsive to Plaintiffs’ Request for Production No. 39,
seeking “documents pertaining to lawsuits…filed by Defendants seeking …
reimbursement of any pension benefits paid to Class Members.” (Doc. 96-1, at 2.)
Plaintiff contends that “[t]he Matrix lawsuit and terms of settlement are clearly
relevant as they involved the same issues and interpretation of the same Plan
provisions that are at issue in this case.” (Doc. 95, at 2.)
The parties participated in an informal, pre-motion with the Court, via
telephone, to discuss the discoverability of the settlement agreement. Although the
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parties continued to communicate following the informal conference, they were
unable to reach a mutually-agreeable resolution.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) states that
[p]arties 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,
considering the importance of the issues at state 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. Information within this
scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to
As such, the requested information must be nonprivileged, relevant, and
proportional to the needs of the case to be discoverable. Holick v. Burkhart, No.
16-1188-JTM-KGG, 2018 WL 372440, at *2 (D. Kan. Jan. 11, 2018).
Relevance is “broadly construed” at the discovery stage. Kimberly Young v.
Physician Office Partners, Inc., No. 18-2481-KHV-TJJ, 2019 WL 4256365, at *1
(D. Kan. Sept. 9, 2019) (citation omitted). “Relevant information is ‘any matter
that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on’ any
party’s claims or defenses.” Id. (quoting Rowan v. Sunflower Elec. Power Corp.,
No. 15-cv-9227-JWL-TJJ, 2016 WL 3745680, at *2 (D. Kan. July 13, 2016))
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(quoting Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351, 98 S.Ct. 2380,
57 L.Ed.2d 253 (1978)).
While the scope of discovery is broad, it is not unlimited. That stated,
“[u]nless a discovery request is facially objectionable, the party resisting discovery
has the burden to support its objections.” Ezfauxdecor, LLC v. Smith, No. 159140-CM-KGG, 2017 WL 2721489, at *2 (D. Kan. June 23, 2017) (citing Sonnino
v. University of Kansas Hosp. Authority, 221 F.R.D. 661, n.36 (D. Kan. 2004)
(citation omitted)). Within this context, the Court will address the discoverability
of the Matrix settlement agreement.
Plaintiff’s arguments in favor of the motion to compel generally focus on the
relevance of the document requested. (See generally Doc. 95.) Plaintiff contends
that “the Matrix lawsuit involved the exact same Plan provisions at issue here,
including Section 8.08, the interpretation and amendment of which Plaintiffs have
submitted violates ERISA and the Plan.” (Id., at 6.) The Court agrees with
Plaintiff that the document is facially relevant and proportionate to this case. As
such, Defendants have the burden to support their objections. Ezfauxdecor, 2017
WL 2721489, at *2 (citation omitted).
Defendants respond that the settlement agreement “would not assist the
parties in determining the validity of the separation from service rule.” (Doc. 104,
at 2.) On the other hand, Defendants admit that the separation from service rule
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“plays … a … part in resolving” the claims in the Matrix litigation, albeit a “small”
one. (Id., at 3.) The remainder of the arguments in Defendants’ brief do not
diminish the relevance and discoverability of the settlement agreement, which
Defendants have conceded.1 Plaintiff’s motion is, therefore, GRANTED and the
document shall be produced within two weeks of the date of this Order, subject
to an “attorneys’ eyes only” confidentiality designation.
Defendants also request the Court conduct an in camera review of the
settlement agreement “if it has concerns about the relevance of its terms.” (Doc.
104, at 8.) As discussed above, the Court does not have relevance concerns,
particularly because Defendants have conceded the relevance of the document.
Further, Defendants have made no effort to discuss how an in camera inspection
would benefit the discovery process in this case. The briefing of the parties has
adequately described the settlement agreement and the nature of the information
contained therein. The Court has no need to review the document. As such,
Defendants’ request is overruled.
In their response, Defendants refer, but do not discuss, the “confidential” nature of the
settlement agreement. (See Doc. 104, at 5.) The Court notes that the production of
private or confidential information is not, in and of itself, a valid reason to withhold
discovery as this production would be governed by the protective order (Doc. 31) entered
in this case. High Point SARL v. Sprint Nextel Corp., No. 09-2269-CM-DJW, 2011 WL
4008009, at *2 (D. Kan. Sept. 9, 2011). “‘A concern for protecting confidentiality does
not equate to privilege.’” Id. (citation omitted).
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IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel (Doc.
95) is GRANTED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated this 14th day of October, 2020, at Wichita, Kansas.
S/ KENNETH G. GALE
HON. KENNETH G. GALE
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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