Smithfield Business Park, LLC v. SLR International Corporation
ORDER granting 96 Motion to Amend the Scheduling Order; granting in part and denying in part 126 Motion to Compel; denying as moot 128 Motion to Stay. Counsel is reminded to read the order in its entirety for critical deadlines and information. Signed by US Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Jr. on 4/4/2014. (Edwards, S.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
SMITHFIELD BUSINESS PARK, LLC,
SLR INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION, )
MASSOUD TABRIZI, INDUSTRIAL
REALTY GROUP, LLC and SESTECH
This matter comes before the court on the following motions of Third-Party Defendant
Industrial Realty Group, LLC ("IRG") (1) motion to amend scheduling order [DE-96], (2) motion
to stay deadline to file dispositive motions [DE-128], and (3) motion to compel [DE-126].
Responsive briefing is complete and the matters raised therein are ripe for disposition. A
telephonic hearing was held March 27, 2014, at which counsel for all parties except Third-Party
Defendant Sestech appeared and participated.
Motions to Amend the Scheduling Order [DE-96] and Stay [DE-128].
IRG has moved timely to modify the discovery and dispositive motion deadlines
contained in the scheduling order as well as the trial date that is currently set in this case. [DE-96,
-128]. In support of its motion, IRG shows the court that it was added as a third-party defendant
to this case four months before the close of discovery, and that its current counsel entered the
case one month before the close of discovery. IRG shows the court further that its current
counsel has diligently pursued discovery on behalf of IRG and has otherwise been attempting to
prepare the case in compliance with the deadlines currently in place. IRG seeks additional time
to complete discovery, prepare dispositive motions and ready its case for trial. Neither Plaintiff
Smithfield nor Third-Party Defendant Massoud Tabrizi ("Tabrizi") objects to the requested
modification. SLR does not object to a reasonable extension of the discovery and dispositive
motion deadlines, but does not consent to moving the trial deadline, nor does it consent to any
extension of case deadlines as they relate to Plaintiff Smithfield. [DE-116 & 132]. According to
SLR, Smithfield has been a party to this action since its commencement on April 8, 2012, and
has had ample time to file any dispositive motion. SLR argues that it will be prejudiced if
Smithfield were allowed an extension of time to file any additional dispositive motions in order
to obtain additional evidence to support its response to SLR's pending motion for summary
For the reasons articulated in IRG's motion and those discussed during the hearing with
the parties, the court finds there is good cause to allow IRG's motion to modify the scheduling
order. As explained to the parties in the hearing, an approximate 90-day period oftime between
the dispositive motion deadline and trial date is needed in order to allow dispositive motions to
ripen and to be appropriately considered by the court. Modifying the dispositive motion deadline
here will therefore require altering the trial date in this case. Additionally, this court finds that
modification of case deadlines should extend to all parties, and declines to modify the discovery
and dispositive motion deadline only for the third party defendants. Although SLR makes a
compelling argument to extend the deadlines only as to Tabrizi and IRG, indeed no contrary
argument was articulated in the motions seeking modification, considering that the pleadings in
this case remain open and the parties' anticipation of further discovery, extending deadlines for
all parties is the preferable course for the equitable and organized management of this case.
Were discovery to be closed as to Smithfield, for example, matters may very well likely arise
during third-party discovery bearing upon Smithfield's claims or defenses that would be
precluded from its discovery. Moreover, Smithfield would arguably be included in participating
in depositions noticed before this court's ruling on the motion to extend discovery, but excluded
from those noticed after the court ruled on the motion. The consequences of such disjointed
discovery would be problematic to the fair and organized management of this case and caution
against limiting extensions oftime to the third-parties. For this reason, and other considerations
stated in the hearing, the court finds that the extension of time granted herein should extend to all
parties. Accordingly, IRG's motion to modify the scheduling order [DE-96] is ALLOWED and
the deadlines contained in the scheduling order are modified as follows:
All discovery shall be completed by June 30, 2014;
All potentially dispositive motions shall be filed on or before August 8, 2014;
The trial of this matter will be scheduled for Judge Fox's November 3, 2014 term
in Wilmington, North Carolina.
All provisions of the scheduling order not inconsistent with the foregoing shall remain in
place. The court having allowed IRG's motion to modify the scheduling order [DE-96],
therefore denies IRG's motion to stay dispositive motion deadline [DE-128] as moot.
Motion to compel discovery [DE-126].
IRG has moved to compel SLR (1) to produce and make its President and Chief
Operating Officer Mr. Steven E. Locke ("Locke") available for deposition and (2) to produce
documents responsive to IRG's Request for Production ("RPD") Nos. 13, 16 and 18. [DE-126].
During the hearing, counsel for IRG and SLR indicated an agreement had been reached
regarding the deposition of Locke and that ofiRG's President Stuart Lichter. Accordingly,
IRG's motion to compel the deposition of Steven E. Locke is DENIED AS MOOT.
IRG has moved to compel SLR to produce documents responsive to three document
requests, specifically the production ofTabrizi's employment file (RPD No. 13), correspondence
between SLR and Tabrizi related to compensation paid to or earned by Tabrizi (RPD No. 16),
and documents related to negotiations between SLR and Tabrizi regarding his employment with
SLR (RPD No. 18). 1 [DE-126 & 127]. In its response to IRG's motion to compel, SLR makes
boilerplate objection to each request on the grounds that each is overly broad, irrelevant and
unduly burdensome. [DE-134 & 135].
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure enable parties to obtain information by serving
requests for discovery upon each other, including interrogatories and requests for production of
documents. See generally Fed. R. Civ. P. 26-37. Rule 26 provides for a broad scope of
Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to
any party's claim or defense .... For good cause, the court may order discovery
of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant
information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably
calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). The rules of discovery, including Rule 26, are to be given broad and
During the hearing, SLR's counsel indicated SLR had provided all documents responsive
to RPD No. 18. Accordingly, the motion to compel as to this request is denied as moot.
liberal construction. Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 177 (1979); Nemecek v. Bd. of Governors,
No. 2:98-CV-62-BO, 2000 WL 33672978, at *4 (E.D.N.C. Sept. 27, 2000).
While Rule 26 does not define what is deemed relevant for purposes of the rule, relevance
has been "'broadly construed to encompass any possibility that the information sought may be
relevant to the claim or defense of any party."' Equal Emp 't Opportunity Comm 'n v. Sheffield
Fin. LLC, No. 1:06CV889, 2007 WL 1726560, at *3 (M.D.N.C. June 13, 2007) (quoting Merrill
v. Waffle House, Inc., 227 F.R.D. 467, 473 (N.D. Tex. 2005)); see also Mainstreet Collection,
Inc. v. Kirkland's, Inc., 270 F.R.D. 238, 240 (E.D.N.C. 2010) ("During discovery, relevance is
broadly construed 'to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other
matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case."') (quoting Oppenheimer Fund,
Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978)). The district court has broad discretion in determining
relevance for discovery purposes. Watson v. Lowcountry Red Cross, 974 F.2d 482, 489 (4th Cir.
1992); see Smithfield Business Park, LLC v. SLR Intern. Corp., No. 5:12-CV-282-F, 2013 WL
5705601, at *2 (E.D.N.C. Oct. 18, 2013).
At issue here is Tabrizi, a party to this litigation and a former SLR employee, and SLR's
claim that Tabrizi did not have authority to execute an assumption agreement with Smithfield,
the effect of which purportedly obligated SLR to perform the environmental remediation work
for Smithfield which is the subject ofthis action. [DE-l, -126-13, -127]. Additionally, it appears
the work actually performed by Tabrizi at the Smithfield site may have exceeded the scope of
work originally contemplated by the parties as part oftheir agreement. Ex. L [DE-126-13] at 2, 4.
Accordingly, the scope and performance ofTabrizi's work is directly at issue in this case.
Several courts have recognized that an employee's personnel file may be subject to discovery
especially where the employee's actions have a bearing on a party's claim or defenses. See
Morris v. Lowe's Home Centers, Inc., 2012 WL 5347826, at *9 (M.D.N.C. Oct. 26, 2012);
Eckhardt v. Bank ofAm., NA., Civil No. 3:06CV512-H, 2008 WL 111219, at *7 (W.D.N.C. Jan.
9, 2008) ("[W]here the files sought are those of employees whose action or inaction has a direct
bearing on the Plaintiffs claims or Defendant's affirmative defenses ... , personnel files are
subject to discovery."); see e.g., Moss v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kan., Inc., 241 F.R.D. 683,
698 (D. Kan. 2007) ("[G]enerally an individual's personnel file is relevant and/or reasonably
calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, and therefore discoverable, if the
individual is alleged to have engaged in the retaliation or discrimination at issue or to have
played an important role in the decision or incident that gives rise to the lawsuit."). Likewise, the
compensation earned by Tabrizi, a party to this action, during his employment with SLR is
relevant for purposes of discovery, especially where IRG informs the court that Tabrizi's bonus
was tied to his work performance. The court cannot say as a matter of law that such a discovery
request is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence as to
Tabrizi' s authority as an employee of SLR. SLR has failed to demonstrate the burdensomeness
of responding to these requests, especially where it appears Tabrizi was not employed by SLR for
a considerable period of time. IRG's motion to compel is allowed as to RPD Nos. 13 and 16, and
SLR shall provide responsive documents to these requests within twenty (20) days of this order.
Finally, to the extent the contents of the documents to be produced contain sensitive materials, a
protective order may address these concerns regarding the handling of such information.
For the reasons stated above, IRG's motion to amend the scheduling order [DE-96] is
ALLOWED, IRG's motion to stay the deadline to file dispositive motions [DE-128] is DENIED
as moot and IRG's motion to compel is ALLOWED in part and DENIED in part as moot.
So ordered, the
day of April2014.
Robert B. Jones, r.
United States Magistrate Judge
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