Bayouland Bowhunters and Outfitters Inc v. Bowtech Inc
MEMORANDUM RULING re 38 SEALED MOTION filed by Bayouland Bowhunters & Outfitters Inc, Brandon Cormier. For the reasons discussed herein, Bayouland's Motion to Compel (Rec. Doc. 38 ) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. Signed by Magistrate Judge Carol B Whitehurst on 4/26/2021. (crt,Chicola, C)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
BAYOULAND BOWHUNTERS AND
CASE NO. 6:19-CV-00295
JUDGE ROBERT R.
MAGISTRATE JUDGE CAROL B.
Before the Court is the Motion to Compel filed on behalf of Plaintiff,
Bayouland Bowhunters and Outfitters, Inc. (Rec. Doc. 38). Defendant, Bowtech,
Inc., opposed the Motion (Rec. Doc. 40), and Bowtech replied (Rec. Doc. 43). The
Court conducted a telephone hearing on April 20, 2021. Considering the evidence,
the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below,
the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.
Bayouland is an archery outfitter in Broussard, Louisiana. Bayouland is an
authorized dealer for Bowtech bows and crossbows. Bayouland alleged in its
Petition, filed in state court and later removed to this Court, that in 2016, 2017, and
2018, it purchased defective bows from Bowtech. Because of the defects, Bayouland
alleges that it was required to perform multiple repairs on the bows purchased during
that time. Bayouland sued Bowtech for redhibitory defects, breach of implied and
express warranties, and breach of contract. (Rec. Doc. 1-2. ¶15). Bayouland is
seeking to recover all damages, including costs of repairs, economic damages, and
damages for loss of business reputation, inter alia. (Rec. Doc. 1-2. ¶16).
Bayouland seeks to compel Bowtech to produce the following documents:
1) Warranty claims from 2010 to 2015 and from 2018 to present – Bowtech
produced warranty claim information from 2016 through part of 2018, but it
objected to producing other claims on the grounds that Bayouland’s claims do
not extend beyond that timeframe.
2) The identities of Bowtech’s limb manufacturers and the identities of all
regional sales representatives – Bowtech objected to producing this
information on the grounds of irrelevance, contending that Bayouland’s
claims do not require proof of a defect.
The parties are governed by a confidentiality agreement, which sets forth the
stipulated procedure for challenging a party’s designation of a document as protected
under the agreement. (Rec. Doc. 32). Bayouland challenges Bowtech’s designation
of certain information as confidential.
Relevancy of Requested Documents.
F.R.C.P. Rule 26(b)(1) governs the scope of discovery.
Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery
is as follows: 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, considering the importance of the issues at
stake 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 be
At issue in this motion is whether the discovery sought is relevant. One court
recently discussed the new “elusive” standard for relevance under F.R.C.P. 26(b)(1)
following the rule’s 2015 amendment:
The term “relevant” as used in Rule 26 can be elusive. As such,
excluding potential definitions and descriptors can be helpful. First, and
by way of reminder at this point, the term does not include evidence
“reasonably calculated” to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26, 2015 amend. cmt. The phrase was deemed
problematical and overbroad, removed in 2015, and replaced with this
notably direct phrase: “Information within this scope of discovery need
not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
26(b)(1). Put simply, the standard is “discoverability,” without
reference to “admissibility” even contemplated in the future. The 2000
Note offers examples of information that “suitably focused, would be
relevant to the parties' claims or defenses ... [including] ‘other incidents
of the same type, or involving the same product.’” Id.
Second, information relevant to “the subject matter involved” is
no longer an operative phrase. The reasons this phrase has been
abandoned appear in the Commentary to the 2015 amendments to Rule
Proportional discovery relevant to any party's claim or defense
suffices, given a proper understanding of what is relevant to a claim or
defense. The distinction between matter relevant to a claim or defense
and matter relevant to the subject matter was introduced in 2000. The
2000 Note offered three examples of information that, suitably focused,
would be relevant to the parties' claims or defenses. The examples were
“other incidents of the same type, or involving the same product”;
“information about organizational arrangements or filing systems”; and
“information that could be used to impeach a likely witness.” Such
discovery is not foreclosed by the amendments.
Discovery that is relevant to the parties' claims or defenses may
also support amendment of the pleadings to add a new claim or defense
that affects the scope of discovery.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26, amend. cmt.
Additionally, Rule 26(b) should exclude some discernable body of
evidence, and should prevent “fishing” and mere “speculation.” See N.
v. Landstar Sys. Inc., No. 6:20-CV-00466, 2020 WL 5636902, at *1
(W.D. La. Sept. 21, 2020).
Excluded limitations aside, what is relevant still eludes us to this
point. But in the aggregate, Rule 26, court decisions, and commonsense notions of fairness provide enough guidance. At the outset,
relevant evidence must pertain to a claim or a defense under Rule 26.
When a plaintiff seeks discovery then, a court may look to the
substantive law underlying a plaintiff's claims to define relevance. Only
then can a court ask how pertinent disclosure of evidence may be, or
how burdensome its production may be. See Citco Grp. Ltd., No. CV
13-373-SDD-EWD, 2018 WL 276941, at *4 (“A determination of
relevancy is tied to applicable substantive law and then weighed against
the six proportionality factors.”).
In addition, some courts simply look to evidentiary (not
admissibility) rules for a definition of evidence. See, e.g., Davenport v.
Hamilton, Brown & Babst, LLC, No. CIV.A. 07-928-RETSCR, 2008
WL 5101998, at *1 (M.D. La. Nov. 25, 2008). Fed. R. Evid. 401 states
that evidence is relevant if: “Evidence is relevant if: (a) it has any
tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without
the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the
Dixon v. Spurlin, No. 1:18-CV-00133, 2020 WL 6707325, at *8–9
(W.D. La. Nov. 13, 2020)
Guided by the foregoing observations, the Court considers whether the
Bowtech warranty claim information and identities of the limb manufacturers and
regional sales representatives are relevant to Bayouland’s claims.
A. Relevance of warranty claim documents from 2010 to 2016 and 2018
Bowtech objected to producing warranty claim information for any years
other than 2016 through the time of Plaintiff’s suit in 2018. Bowtech contends
Bayouland’s Petition does not assert claims beyond that time frame. The Court
disagrees with Bowtech’s interpretation of Bayouland’s Petition. Although the
Petition asserts factual allegations specific to 2016, 2017, and 2018, Bayouland
prayed for all damages, including economic damages and loss of business reputation,
inter alia, not limited to any particular timeframe. Bayouland asserts that it only kept
records of defects during those three years, though it experienced losses from the
defect issue before then.
Regardless of the specific factual allegations, the Petition does not exclude
claims for warranty issues beyond 2016 to 2018. Under F.R.C.P. Rule 8(a)(2), the
petition need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (2), “in order to give the
defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.”
Strickland v. Bank of New York Mellon, No. 20-10124, 2020 WL 7346476, at *2 (5th
Cir. Dec. 14, 2020), citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct.
1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice.
F.R.C.P. Rule 8(e).
Bowtech was certainly on notice of Bayouland’s claims beyond the 3-year
period. Indeed, Bowtech cited Bayouland’s claims for economic damages back to
2010 in support of its removal. (Rec. Doc. 1, ¶14). Bowtech also acknowledged in
its removal pre-suit communications with Bayouland’s counsel regarding the extent
of Bayouland’s claims. (Id.). Moreover, it appears that Bowtech has already
considered warranty claims spanning 2010 to 2018, as it has produced spreadsheets
relative to such claims. (Rec. Doc. 38-2).
Bayouland clarified during the telephone hearing that it only seeks warranty
information from 2010 through 2016 regarding its own claims. The Court agrees that
this information is relevant.
Bayouland submits that warranty claims for 2018 to present are relevant to
Bowtech’s contributory negligence defense blaming Bayouland for submitting the
highest rate of repair claims. Bayouland further submits that extended warranty
claims are relevant to the issue of Bowtech’s alleged “lifetime warranty.” The Court
B. Relevance of limb manufacturers and regional sales representatives.
Bayouland seeks to compel Bowtech to identify its limb manufacturers and
sales representatives assigned to Bayouland’s account. It believes such witnesses
may have information regarding the alleged defects in the bows. Bowtech contends
identities of limb manufacturers and regional sales representatives are irrelevant
because Bayouland does not have to prove the existence of defects to prevail on its
Bayouland argues that the existence of defects in the bows is relevant to prove
that it complied with Bowtech’s warranty claim process. See e.g. Rec. Doc. 43-3,
indicating that the warranty protects against failures of product due to defects in
material or workmanship, but not to damage due to abuse, misuse or modifications
to design. Further Bowtech has raised the defense of Bayouland’s comparative fault
and further states that Bayouland cannot establish the elements of its claims for
breach of warranty. Whether the bows were defective is germane to a breach of
warranty claim. Further, contrary to Bowtech’s position here, it has previously
suggested that the existence of defects is a ripe issue in the case. See e.g. Rec. Doc.
4, p. 10, wherein Bowtech argued in its Motion to Dismiss or Transfer Venue that
“all of the relevant witnesses to address whether a defect existed in the Bows, and
the process to correct the claimed defect and/or provide limb replacements, are
located in Oregon.” Although later stages of the proceeding may warrant exclusion
of certain defect evidence (especially if Bowtech stipulates that its bows were
defective), the broad scope of discovery under F.R.C.P. Rule 26 justifies allowing
Bayouland to obtain this information.
Designation of Confidential Documents
Bayouland challenges Bowtech’s designation of certain documents as
protected under the parties’ confidentiality agreement. The confidentiality
agreement deems the following documents confidential:
“any and all documents… concerning, design, manufacture, business
practices and procedures, contracts, and/or sales of any products; the
internal operating procedures of the defendants, which are proprietary;
and/or other confidential, proprietary, or trade secret information and
any personal identifying information, such as social security numbers,
dates of birth, signatures, and tax numbers, and other private medical
information as sensitive information, the disclosure of which presents
the potential for serious injury…”
(Rec. Doc. 32, p. 1-2).
The confidentiality agreement in this case is a “blanket protective order that
permits the parties to protect documents that they in good faith believe contain trade
secrets or other confidential commercial information.” Riverkeeper v. Taylor Energy
Co., LLC, 309 F.R.D. 381, 387 (E.D. La. 2015).
In reviewing a challenge to the confidential designation assigned to
a document pursuant to a blanket protective order “designed to protect
matters of private, as opposed to public, interest,” courts in this Circuit
apply a four-part test. These factors include:
(1) good cause—if good cause was shown for the original protective
order, the burden is on the party seeking modification to show good
cause for modification; if good cause was not shown for the original
protective order, the burden of showing good cause is on the party
seeking continued confidentiality protection;
(2) the nature of the protective order (i.e., narrow vs. broad, court
imposed vs. court approved upon stipulation of the parties);
(3) the foreseeability at the time of the original protective order of the
modification now requested; and
(4) the parties' reliance on the protective order.
Donahue v. Smith, No. CV 15-6036, 2017 WL 6604842, at *4 (E.D. La.
Dec. 27, 2017) (citing cases).
The objective of such protective orders is “to protect only material for which
there is a clear and significant need for confidentiality.” Blanchard & Co. v. Barrick
Gold Corp., No. 02-3721, 2004 WL 737485, at *6 (E.D. La. Apr. 5, 2004), citing
Manual for Complex Litigation (Third), at p. 69 § 21.432.
The challenged documents in this case consist of voluminous spreadsheets
and statistics breaking down the numbers and percentages of sales and warranty
claims for particular styles of bows to Bowtech’s customers. The documents also
breakdown each ship date, order number, customer name, item code, and item
description. (Rec. Doc. 38-2). Having reviewed Bowtech’s full data spreadsheet
presented for the Court’s inspection, the Court finds that the material was properly
designated confidential. The parties’ Confidentiality Agreement encompasses
information pertaining to Bowtech’s sales of numerous products and break-downs
of warranty claims per product. The Court finds that such information is
encompassed by the parties’ agreement and that such information could, if not kept
confidential, cause proprietary harm to Bowtech.
For the reasons discussed herein, Bayouland’s Motion to Compel (Rec. Doc.
38) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.
THUS DONE in Chambers, Lafayette, Louisiana on this 26th day of April,
CAROL B. WHITEHURST
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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