Thomas v. Edison Chouest Offshore, LLC et al
ORDER AND REASONS. It is ORDERED that the 117 Motion to Quash is DENIED. Signed by Magistrate Judge Janis van Meerveld. (gec)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
EDISON CHOUEST OFFSHORE, LLC ET *
CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-3487
JUDGE JANE TRICHE MILAZZO
JANIS VAN MEERVELD
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is the Motion to Quash Subpoena filed by Defendants Galliano Marine
Services, LLC and Offshore Service Vessels, LLC. For the following reasons, the Motion is
This lawsuit arises out of the capture by pirates of plaintiff Thomas while he served as
captain on the vessel C-Retriever off the coast of Nigeria. (Rec. Doc. 1, ¶¶ IX, XXI-XXII). He
alleges that during his 18-day captivity he was malnourished and tortured, and he claims he
suffered and continues to suffer from physical and emotional injuries. (Id. ¶¶ XXIII, XXVXXVII). Thomas filed this lawsuit on August 14, 2015, against Edison Chouest Offshore, LLC,
(“ECO”), Galliano Marine Service, LLC (“Galliano”) and Offshore Service Vessels, LLC (“OSV”
and with ECO and Galliano, “Defendants”) alleging a Jones Act claim against the Defendants,
asserting they were negligent, negligent per se, and grossly negligent for failing to adequately
protect him. Id. On October 7, 2016, Thomas filed an amended complaint adding allegations
regarding Defendants’ handling of the negotiations that resulted in Thomas’s release. (Rec. Doc.
On January 10, 2017, Thomas issued a subpoena to the American Bureau of Shipping
(“ABS”) requesting “Any and all records pertaining to the Edison Chouest Vessels “C-Retriever,
FAST SERVANT, and/or C-Endeavor along with any communications or documentation between
you and Edison Chouest relating to safety or security in West Africa.” (Rec. Doc. 117-2). On
January 30, 2017, Galliano and OSV filed a Motion to Quash the Subpoena. (Rec. Doc. 117). They
argue that the subpoena is overly broad because it seeks records related to two vessels (Fast
Servant and C-Endeavor) that were not involved in Thomas’s capture. (Rec. Doc. 117-1, at 1-2).
They concede that “records pertaining to the safety and security of those vessels in West Africa
might be relevant,” but submit that the “wide variety of remaining documents held by ABS are
not.” Id. at 2. They do not describe the “wide variety of remaining documents” that might be held
by ABS which, in their opinion, are not relevant. They also complain that Thomas has not limited
his request to a particular time period. Id. In reply, they reiterate that the subpoena must be limited
to documents related to safety and security within a reasonable time frame of the incident. (Rec.
Doc. 133, at 3). They do not indicate what an appropriate time limitation would be or why.
Galliano and OSV assert that they have standing to challenge the subpoena because the
subpoena seeks documents and materials to which they have an interest. (Rec. Doc. 117-1, at 1).
In reply, they assert that “[i]t goes without saying that the information includes proprietary and
confidential information concerning vessels in which [Galliano and OSV] have an interest.” (Rec.
Doc. 133, at 2). The Court notes that the subpoena refers to ECO vessels, but ECO is not a party
to the Motion to Quash. Although Galliano and OSV did not move for a protective order, they note
in reply that a protective order could be issued to limit the scope of discovery even if they do not
have standing to challenge the subpoena under Rule 45. Id.
In reply, Galliano and OSV also submit that Thomas is misstating the scope of his own
subpoena. Id. at 3. They argue that they “were never under the impression that the subpoena was
seeking information relative to other vessels.” Id. The Court finds Galliano and OSV’s
interpretation of the subpoena untenable. The subpoena clearly requests two categories of
documents; (1) documents pertaining to the C-Retriever, Fast Servant, and/or C-Endeavor and (2)
communications or documentation between ECO and ABS “relating to safety or security in West
Africa.” (Rec. Doc. 117-2). The second category would not be necessary to list if it was included
in the first category. Moreover, the language “along with” does not mean “including” as Galliano
and OSV appear to have interpreted the phrase. (Rec. Doc. 117-1, at 1). Galliano and OSV argue
that regardless of how the subpoena is interpreted, the Court should limit the subpoena to
documents pertaining to the three vessels and related to safety and security over a reasonable time
period. (Rec. Doc. 133, at 3).
Thomas opposes the Motion to Quash, arguing first that Galliano and OSV lack standing
to quash the subpoena on the basis of overbreadth or irrelevance. (Rec. Doc. 125, at 1). Thomas
points out that although they make one conclusory and unsubstantiated assertion that they have an
interest and privilege in the documents, 1 the basis asserted for quashing the subpoena is actually
over breadth and relevance. Id. at 2. Thomas insists that Galliano and OSV lack standing to
challenge the subpoena on these grounds because they are not the party subject to the subpoena.
Id. Thomas argues that his request for documentation and communications between ECO and
ABS regarding “safety and security” should not be limited to communications regarding the three
Thomas did not have an opportunity to respond to Galliano and OSV’s argument in reply that the documents
contain confidential and proprietary information. The Court is sympathetic to Thomas’s concern that Galliano and
OSV would use their reply to elaborate on their original conclusory statement regarding standing, thereby
preventing Thomas from having a meaningful opportunity to respond. (Rec. Doc. 125, at 2 n.3). However, the Court
is denying the Motion to Quash and finds that a sur-reply is not necessary here.
listed vessels because any communications between ECO and ABS regarding “safety and security”
are relevant to a determination of ECO’s knowledge of the safety and security risks and measures
for mitigating those risks. Id. at 3. Thomas argues that his request for information regarding the
three listed vessels should not be limited to “safety and security” information because the only
other subject area about which ABS might have information is environmental compliance and
ECO has already produced environmental compliance documents to Thomas in discovery. Id. at
3-4. Finally, Thomas argues that his document request should not be limited to a certain time
period because any lessons ECO may have learned from ABS about safety and security in West
Africa at any time would be relevant. Id. at 4.
Law and Analysis
1. Standard of Review
Under Rule 45, the Court may quash or modify a subpoena that “(i) fails to allow a
reasonable time to comply; (ii) requires a person to comply beyond the geographical limits
specified in rule 45(c); (iii) requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matter, if no
exception of waiver applies; or (iv) subjects a person to undue burden.” Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 45(d)(3);
see Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 392 F.3d 812, 817–18 (5th Cir. 2004).
While the subpoena rules do not explicitly mention relevance, the undue burden analysis
is tied to a relevance inquiry. The Fifth Circuit, for example, instructs "To determine whether the
subpoena presents an undue burden, we consider the following factors: (1) relevance of the
information requested; (2) the need of the party for the documents; (3) the breadth of the document
request; (4) the time period covered by the request; (5) the particularity with which the party
describes the requested documents; and (6) the burden imposed." Id. at 818. A district court in
Texas held that “[w]hen a subpoena is issued as a discovery device, relevance for purposes of the
undue burden test is measured according to the standard of [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure]
26(b)(1),” and then applied the proportionality analysis of the new rule. Am. Fed'n of Musicians
of the United States & Canada v. Skodam Films, LLC, 313 F.R.D. 39, 44–45 (N.D. Tex. 2015)
(alteration in original) (quoting Williams v. City of Dallas, 178 F.R.D. 103, 110 (N.D. Tex. 1998)).
Typically, a subpoena is challenged by the party subpoenaed. The Fifth Circuit has held
that defendants could not challenge a subpoena issued to a third party because they were not “in
possession of the materials subpoenaed and have not alleged any personal right or privilege with
respect to the materials subpoenaed.” Brown v. Braddick, 595 F.2d 961, 967 (5th Cir. 1979).
Although Brown concerned a subpoena under 35 U.S.C. § 24, courts have come to the same
conclusion for a Rule 45 subpoena. E.g., Campbell v. GECOS G.M.B.H., No. 6:12-CV-01251,
2012 WL 4483528, at *1 (W.D. La. Sept. 26, 2012) (“A party may not, however, challenge a
subpoena directed to a third party on the grounds that the information sought is irrelevant or
imposes an undue burden.”); Frazier v. RadioShack Corp., No. CIV.A. 10-855-BAJ-CN, 2012 WL
832285, at *1 (M.D. La. Mar. 12, 2012) (“[A] plaintiff cannot challenge a Rule 45 subpoena
directed to a third party on the basis that . . . the subpoena is overly broad, or that the subpoena
seeks information that is irrelevant because only the responding third party can object and seek to
quash a Rule 45 subpoena on those grounds”); Weatherly v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., No.
CIV.A. 07-4371-EEH-S, 2009 WL 1507353, at *2 (E.D. La. May 28, 2009) (holding that
defendant did not have standing to challenge the subpoena where it had no privilege over the
documents); 9A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller et al., Federal Practice and Procedure §
2463.1 (3d ed.) (“Numerous cases have held that a party lacks standing to challenge a subpoena
absent a showing that the objecting party has a personal right or privilege regarding the subject
matter of the subpoena.”).
Nonetheless courts have also held that a party “has standing to move for a protective order
pursuant to Rule 26(c) seeking to limit the scope of discovery, even if the party does not have
standing pursuant to Rule 45(d) to bring a motion to quash a third-party subpoena.” Bounds v.
Capital Area Family Violence Intervention Ctr., Inc., 314 F.R.D. 214, 218–19 (M.D. La. 2016).
Rule 26(c) provides that the Court “may, for good cause,” protect a party from “annoyance,
embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense” by issuing an order “forbidding inquiry
into certain matters, or limiting the scope of disclosure or discovery to certain matters.” Fed. R.
Civ. Proc. 26(c)(1)(D). To satisfy “good cause,” “[t]he burden is upon the movant to show the
necessity of [the protective order’s] issuance, which contemplates a particular and specific
demonstration of fact as distinguished from stereotyped and conclusory statements.” In re Terra
Int'l, Inc., 134 F.3d 302, 306 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting United States v. Garrett, 571 F.2d 1323,
1325–26 n. 3 (5th Cir. 1978).
2. ABS Subpoena
Galliano and OSV lack standing to challenge the subpoena via a motion to quash. Although
they attempt to elaborate on their conclusory allegation of privilege by stating that the subpoena
seeks documents that are “proprietary and confidential,” this remains insufficient to establish
standing here. As a preliminary matter, it is unclear what relationship Galliano and OSV have to
vessels owned by ECO or communications between ECO and ABS. Even if a relationship was
established, Galliano and OSV have failed to describe the documents with any specificity, much
less what makes them proprietary and confidential. The Court cannot determine whether the
documents are entitled to protection. Moreover, to the extent confidentiality is the concern, the
Court notes that the parties have already entered into a blanket protective order to prevent
disclosure of confidential information. (Rec. Doc. 19). Finally, as Thomas points out, Galliano and
OSV do not seem to argue that the privileged nature of the documents is the reason why this Court
should quash the subpoena. Instead, they argue that the subpoena seeks documents that are outside
the scope of Rule 26.
As noted above, even where a party does not have standing to quash a subpoena, the Court
can limit the scope of discovery via a protective order. Galliano and OSV have not moved for this
relief. Nor have they made any attempt to establish good cause for a protective order. They will
not suffer any burden or expense because they are not the ones responding to the subpoena. They
have not established any annoyance, embarrassment, or oppression. Moreover, the documents
subpoenaed by Thomas appear to be relevant to the dispute. Communications between ECO and
ABS regarding safety or security in West African waters as to any vessel could be relevant to a
determination of ECO’s knowledge of the piracy risks and the available or recommended security
measures. Further, ABS documents regarding the C-Retriever, Fast Servant, and/or C-Endeavor
(all vessels that have been attacked by pirates) could shed light on the same question. While a
temporal limit might be appropriate, Galliano and OSV have not argued what a reasonable time
limit would be and why.
Galliano and OSV also argue that the subpoena should be limited to documents related to
safety and security. They do not offer any explanation of what other documents would be subject
to the subpoena or why the production of such documents would cause embarrassment or
oppression. The conclusory allegation that the documents are confidential and proprietary is
insufficient for this Court to find good cause to limit the subpoena’s scope. Further, as noted
above, to the extent confidentiality of the subpoenaed documents is the concern, the parties have
already entered into a blanket protective order to prevent disclosure of confidential information.
(Rec. Doc. 19).
For the foregoing reasons, the Motion to Quash is DENIED.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 15th day of February, 2017.
Janis van Meerveld
United States Magistrate Judge
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