Vaad L'Hafotzas Sichos, Inc. et al v. Krinsky et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: Plaintiff's 175 appeal of MJ Orenstein's January 14th order is affirmed. Ordered by Judge Frederic Block on 7/25/2014. (Innelli, Michael)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
VAAD L’HAFOTZAS SICHOS, INC.,
and ZALMAN CHANIN,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Case No. 11-CV-5658 (FB) (JO)
CHAIM YEHUDAH KRINSKY,
YOSSEF B. FRIEDMAN, MERKOS
L’INYONEI CHINUCH, INC.,
MERKOS L’INYONEI CHINUCH,
AGUDAS CHASIDEI CHABAD OF
THE UNITED STATES, and “JOHN
BLOCK, Senior District Judge:
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), plaintiffs appeal a
discovery order entered by Magistrate Judge Orenstein on January 17,
2014. Since the order deals with a non-dispositive matter, the Court’s
review is limited to determining whether the order is “clearly erroneous or
contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). This highly deferential standard
of review acknowledges that a magistrate judge has broad discretion in
resolving discovery disputes. See, e.g., Mental Disability Law Clinic v. Hogan,
739 F. Supp. 2d 201, 203-04 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (noting that party challenging
discovery order “generally bears a heavy burden”).
Having reviewed the record and the parties’ submissions, the Court
concludes that Magistrate Judge Orenstein’s order was neither
erroneous—clearly or otherwise—nor contrary to law. Accordingly, it is
The Court need not recount the protracted and often contentious
procedural history of this case. It suffices to say that plaintiffs allege that
they have the exclusive right to reproduce the teachings of the late
Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (“the Rebbe”), and that
defendants have misappropriated that right. They further allege that
defendants have denied them access to the Lubavitcher Library.
During discovery, plaintiffs sought, among many other document
requests, all correspondence to and from the Rebbe. On August 17, 2012,
Magistrate Judge Orenstein denied the request as overbroad; the Court
Defendants subsequently moved to amended their answer to allege,
as an affirmative defense, that the Rebbe was the sole author of the works
at issue. Magistrate Judge Orenstein granted that motion at a status
conference on December 16, 2013. He then turned to outstanding discovery
issues, in particular the parties’ respective demands for documents in the
Rebbe’s handwriting. After expressing frustration that counsel had parsed
his prior orders to avoid compliance with their spirit, he broadly ordered
each side to disclose all documents bearing the Rebbe’s handwriting. See
Tr. of Dec. 16, 2013, at 49 (“On either side if you have the Rebbe’s
handwriting exchange them.”). When defense counsel objected that the
documents fell within the scope of the previously denied requests to
produce, Magistrate Judge Orenstein pointed out the changed
[Defendants have] introduced a new affirmative defense saying
the Rebbe is the sole author of these works. . . . If you’ve got his
handwriting, provide it. . . . On either side if you think [a
particular document] is wishing somebody well on a Bar
Mitzvah . . . it should be provided to me under seal with an
affidavit, with a translation explaining what it is and why you
don’t want to provide it.
Id. at 50.
Defendants sought reconsideration, arguing that the December 16th
order ”inadvertently ordered the production of almost 100,000 pages of
documents that contain the Rebbe’s handwriting but bear no relationship
to this lawsuit and include documents protected by the
clergy-communicator privilege.” Letter from Jonathan A. Auerbach (Dec.
30, 2013). While the motion was pending, plaintiffs submitted for in camera
inspection roughly 20 documents bearing the Rebbe’s handwriting, but of
questionable relevance. At a status conference on January 17, 2014,
Magistrate Judge Orenstein agreed that the documents—which were
principally congratulatory notes—were “absolutely irrelevant to the
dispute.” Tr. of Jan. 14, 2014, at 11.
Plaintiffs’ in camera production informed Magistrate Judge
Orenstein’s analysis of the motion for reconsideration:
It was never my intention to impose that kind of burden for
such irrelevance. If I’ve done that on the plaintiff’s side I now
see the error of doing so and I sincerely apologize for that but I
don’t want to compound the mistake.
My view of this is that regardless of whether the plaintiffs said
they wanted more discovery on the new affirmative defense or
not to the extent that the defendants are litigating the case on
the theory that the Rebbe is the sole author of the disputed
works to the extent there are documents with his handwriting
that show his editorial control those should be produced.
To the extent that there are completely irrelevant documents of
the sort that I’ve reviewed ex parte in camera from the plaintiffs
that are personal notes or personal advice is simply not part of
this litigation and I don’t want them produced either to the
defendants or -- to the plaintiffs or to me in camera for review.
That would be a useless task as would the plaintiff’s suggestion
of putting everybody in a room closed, I suppose a somewhat
airless room for three weeks to sit together which I think might
lead to more disputes that we don’t need.
So I am reconsidering and on reconsideration I limit my order
to one that the defendants produce if they have not already
done so any handwritten documents of the Rebbe’s that relate
to editorial control of the disputed works but that’s it.
Id. at 12-13. Plaintiffs sought reconsideration of the January 14th order,
which Magistrate Judge Orenstein denied. Plaintiffs then appealed.
Plaintiffs object that the January 14th order was based on an overly
narrow definition of relevance. In particular, they argue that the order’s
limitation to documents “that relate to editorial control of the disputed
works,” id. at 13, incorrectly characterizes the case as a copyright
infringement action and ignores plaintiffs’ numerous other claims.
The sole basis for allowing discovery of documents in the Rebbe’s
handwriting was defendants’ newly added affirmative defense regarding
authorship of the disputed works. But for that change in circumstances,
Magistrate Judge Orenstein quite reasonably declined to revisit his prior
ruling—affirmed by the Court—that plaintiffs’ requests for such
documents were overbroad. Since the change in circumstances was limited
to a new issue regarding authorship, the limitation to the same issue in the
January 14th order was based on a correct concept of relevance.
Plaintiffs further object that Magistrate Judge Orenstein required
them to comply with the December 16th order, while excusing defendants
from their reciprocal obligation. Magistrate Judge Orenstein candidly
acknowledged burdening plaintiffs, but his decision not to “compound the
mistake,” id. at 12, was entirely appropriate. It is nonsensical—and,
frankly, mean-spirited—to invoke some abstract concept of reciprocity to
say that one side must engage in a burdensome search for irrelevant
documents just because the other side has.
For the foregoing reasons, the January 14th order is affirmed.
_/s/ Frederic Block
Senior United States District Judge
Brooklyn, New York
July 25, 2013
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