Thomas v. Edison Chouest Offshore, LLC et al
ORDER AND REASONS re 62 MOTION for APPEAL OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE DECISION to District Court; 66 MOTION for APPEAL OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE DECISION to District Court. For the following reasons, the Magistrate Judge's decisions are AFFIRMED. Signed by Judge Jane Triche Milazzo on 10/18/2016. (my)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
EDISON CHOUEST OFFSHORE
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court are Plaintiff’s Appeal of the Magistrate Judge’s Order
Denying Motion to Compel Discovery (Doc. 66) and Plaintiff’s Appeal of the
Magistrate Judge’s Order Denying Motion to Show Cause (Doc. 62). For the
following reasons, the Magistrate Judge’s decisions are AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff alleges that he was employed as the Captain of the C-Retriever,
owned by Defendant Edison Chouest Offshore, which was working off the coast
of Nigeria when it was attacked by pirates. Plaintiff was forced to surrender
and was held captive for 18 days, during which he was malnourished and
tortured. Plaintiff alleges that prior to the attack, he repeatedly complained
to Defendants, his employer, about the safety of the vessel and the threats he
had received over VHF radio and the vessel’s cell phone. He alleges that
Defendants knowingly exposed their employees to grave danger. Plaintiff
brings suit under the Jones Act and general maritime law.
Plaintiff has filed the instant two Motions, appealing the magistrate
judge’s opinions on certain discovery issues. This Court will address each
Motion in turn.
With the consent of the presiding district judge, a magistrate judge may
adjudicate non-dispositive pre-trial motions. 8 A magistrate judge is afforded
broad discretion in resolving non-dispositive pre-trial matters. 9
aggrieved by the magistrate judge’s ruling may appeal to the district judge
within fourteen days after service of the ruling. 10 The district judge may
reverse only upon a finding that the ruling is “clearly erroneous or contrary to
law.” 11 In order to meet this high standard, the district judge must be “left
with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” 12
LAW AND ANALYSIS
A. Motion to Compel
In the course of discovery, Plaintiff made certain requests for
information relating to the ransom paid for his release and the negotiations
thereof. Defendants refused to produce this information, asserting that the
requests were vague, overly broad, and sought information that was not
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).
McCallon v. BP Am. Prod. Co., Nos. 05–0597, C/W 05–0700, 2006 WL 3246886, at
*2 (E.D. La. Nov. 8, 2006).
10 FED. R. CIV. P. 72(a).
11 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); FED. R. CIV. P. 72(a).
12 Yelton v. PHI, Inc., 284 F.R.D. 374, 376 (E.D. La. 2012) (internal quotation marks
relevant to Plaintiff’s claims. In addition, Defendants raised concerns that the
information is of a highly sensitive nature and its release could be a threat to
the public’s safety. Plaintiff moved to compel production of this information.
Addressing the parties’ arguments, the magistrate judge denied Plaintiff’s
motion, holding that information regarding the negotiation of Plaintiff’s
release is not relevant to the allegations made in his Complaint. She noted
that “[n]ot one allegation of negligence in Thomas’s Complaint reference or
suggests any issue with Defendants’ handing of the hostage negotiations.” 13
She also noted that the concern over public safety in maintaining the
confidentiality of the ransom negotiations outweighed the possibility that it
might contain some admissible information.
Plaintiff now appeals the
magistrate’s order and asks this Court to reverse that decision.
Concurrent with Plaintiff’s appeal of the magistrate’s denial of his
Motion to Compel, Plaintiff moved for leave to amend his Complaint. In his
Amended Complaint, which the magistrate judge allowed, Plaintiff adds
allegations that he suffered during “the period of ransom negotiations which
[Defendants] handled, and was deprived of meals and other comforts on nights
when the pirates were incensed by the negotiations.” 14 Defendants point out
that the Amended Complaint clearly seeks to rectify the deficiencies identified
by the magistrate judge and add allegations to put Defendants on notice that
Plaintiff intends to pursue claims relating to the negotiation of his release.
This development moots parts of the magistrate judge’s reasoning for refusing
to allow discovery of Defendants’ negotiations.
That said, this Court holds that the magistrate judge did not err in her
decision in light of the Complaint as it stood at that time. Plaintiff’s original
Complaint failed to put Defendants on notice that its negotiations with the
pirates were at issue. In addition, the prejudicial nature of the requested
discovery far outweighed the possibility that it might prove probative. For
those reasons, the magistrate judge’s denial of Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel
based on his original Complaint is affirmed.
B. Motion to Show Cause for Confidentiality and Protection
Next, Plaintiff complains about the breadth of documents that
Defendants have marked “confidential” through the course of discovery. At the
outset of this litigation, the parties entered into a protective order, which
stated that the parties can designate documents produced in discovery as
“confidential” if they “contain trade secrets, sensitive security information
and/or other confidential research, development, or commercial information.” 15
Defendants marked more than 1,600 documents as confidential, and Plaintiffs
have challenged that designation as to roughly 1,000 documents. Plaintiff filed
a motion to require Defendants to show cause why those documents should be
marked confidential. The magistrate judge denied that motion, holding that
Plaintiff is not prejudiced by the designation of documents as confidential for
discovery purposes. She also held that Defendants had demonstrated that the
documents were properly marked as confidential.
Plaintiff appealed the magistrate judge’s order and asks this Court to
reverse her decision.
Plaintiff complains that the magistrate’s holding
“effectively requires much of the future pretrial motion practice in this case be
done under seal and kept from the public.” 16 The basis for Plaintiff’s objection,
however, is flawed. The protective order merely addresses the confidentiality
of documents as between the parties and prohibits their distribution outside of
this litigation. As to the sealing of documents, it states that “[t]he parties shall
refer to the procedure set forth in this Court’s standing Order . . . for
information sought to be sealed.” 17 The protective order does not, therefore,
purport to establish that every document marked “confidential” must be sealed
in the record.
Indeed, in the Eastern District of Louisiana, the sealing of documents is
governed by Local Rule 5.6. Pursuant to this Rule, a party seeking to seal a
document must file a motion stating why it is necessary that the document be
sealed. This Court has repeatedly held that the designation of a document as
“confidential” is alone insufficient to support the sealing of a document in the
record. 18 Accordingly, Plaintiff need not be concerned that the magistrate’s
order—which merely held that Defendants had grounds to maintain the
confidential designation of the documents at issue—will result in the
automatic sealing of those documents.
This Court will determine on an
individual basis which documents should be sealed prior to their use at trial or
in support of pre-trial motions. Accordingly, the magistrate correctly held that
Plaintiff is not prejudiced by the designation of certain documents as
confidential. In addition, this Court finds that the magistrate did not err in
concluding that Defendants had “demonstrated sufficient grounds for
maintaining the confidentiality” of those documents.
See Civ. No. 15-3971, Doc.75.
For the foregoing reasons, the magistrate judge’s orders are AFFIRMED.
New Orleans, Louisiana this 18th day of October, 2016.
JANE TRICHE MILAZZO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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