REHMEYER v. PEAKE PLASTICS CORPORATION et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. SIGNED BY MAGISTRATE JUDGE ELIZABETH T. HEY ON 10/4/17. 10/5/17 ENTERED & E-MAILED.(fdc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
PEAKE PLASTICS CORPORATION, et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
In this products liability action, Plaintiff, Joanne Rehmeyer (“Plaintiff”), asserts
claims of negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty against Model Pattern
Company, Inc. (“MP”), Parker-Hannifin Corporation (“Parker”), and Sidener
Engineering Company (“Sidener”) (collectively, “Defendants”), arising from personal
injuries sustained at her workplace in Felton, Pennsylvania. Doc. 1.1 Presently before
the court is Plaintiff’s motion to compel MP to produce certain documents (Doc. 58),
MP’s response thereto (Doc. 59), and subsequent letters (Docs. 63 & 64). For the reasons
stated herein, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
Defendant Sidener Engineering Company, Inc., is now SEC Ventures, Inc. (“SEC
Ventures”). See Doc. 55 (SEC Ventures’ answer to cross-claim of Defendant Model
Pattern Company, Inc.), at 1. To date, the docket has not been changed to reflect the
corporate name change.
In addition, two other defendants are named in the Complaint but have not
participated in the litigation. Default has been entered against Defendant Peake Plastics
Corporation (“Peake”) for its failure to appear or otherwise defend this action, and
Plaintiff’s motion for default judgment remains pending. Docs. 35 & 36. Similarly,
Defendant Autoform, Inc. (“Autoform”) has not appeared or otherwise defended this
The Complaint alleges that on November 7, 2014, Plaintiff was injured while
working on a trim press in the course of her employment with automotive parts maker
Key Plastics, Inc. (“Key Plastics”), when the top portion of the trim press disconnected
from its cylinder and descended, causing hand injuries. See Complaint, Doc. 1-2
(“Complaint”) ¶ 47. The trim press system at issue contained a hydraulic press connected
to a top platen and top die (also referred to as a trim die) by way of a threaded cylinder.
See Press System photograph, attached to Doc. 58 at Exh. A. It is not disputed that
Defendant MP designed, manufactured, and sold the trim die, which is a component part
of the trim press used to shape materials being cut, but MP denies that it had any role in
the design, maintenance, or inspection of the press itself. See Doc. 58 ¶ 1; Doc. 59 ¶¶ 1,
On August 18, 2016, Plaintiff initiated this products liability lawsuit in the
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, alleging parallel claims of negligence, strict
liability, and breach of warranties against Defendants. See Complaint. On October 25,
2016, Defendant Parker filed a notice of removal to the United States District Court for
the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and that court subsequently transferred the matter to
this court where it was assigned to the Honorable Harvey Bartle, III. The parties
consented to my jurisdiction on March 3, 2017, and on March 31, 2017, I issued a
Scheduling Order with a fact discovery deadline of February 2, 2018. Docs. 39 & 44.
Meanwhile, on February 1, 2017, MP served its Initial Disclosures. See Initial
Disclosures, Doc. 58-2 (partial) (“Initial Disclosures”). On May 19, 2017, Plaintiff
served MP with Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents. See
Requests for Production, Doc. 58-6 (“Requests”). The Requests define the “date of
incident” as November 7, 2014, and “product” and/or “subject product” as “the 31XX
Console Production Trim Die, Part No. 22960353, MPL Job. No. 3B94 and parts thereto”
– that is, the date of the incident which caused Plaintiff’s injury, and the trim die involved
in the incident. Requests at 2. The Requests also define the relevant time period as being
“from the date of first sale of the product of the same model type as the product at issue,
to the present.” Id.
MP responded to the Requests on June 22, 2017. See Response, Doc. 58-6 (Exh.
E) (“Response”). By letter dated June 30, 2017, Plaintiff’s counsel informed MP that she
considered the Response to be deficient, non-responsive, argumentative, and improperly
objected to. See 06/30/17 letter, Doc. 58-6 (Exh. F). By letter dated August 8, 2017, but
dictated on July 25, 2017,2 MP supplemented its response. See Supplemental Response,
Doc. 58-6 (Exh. G); Doc. 59-1 (“Supp. Response”). Without further correspondence
between the parties, on August 31, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present motion seeking to
compel production of documents which Plaintiff believes exist based in part on
documents provided by MP in its Initial Disclosures. Doc. 58. In its response filed the
next day, MP denies that it is possession of any additional responsive documents and
argues that certain of the requests are improper. Doc. 59.
The delay between counsel’s dictation and sending of the supplemental response
was due to the death of her father. Doc. 59 ¶ 6.
Following a teleconference with counsel on September 13, 2017, I gave the parties
two weeks to notify the court as to the status of this discovery dispute. By letter dated
September 27, 2017, Plaintiff informed the court that the issues raised in the motion
remain outstanding, and MP responded by letter dated September 29, 2017. See Doc. 63
& 64. Read together, the letters essentially restate the parties’ prior positions.
The scope and limits to discovery are governed by Rule 26(b) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, which permits the parties to
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.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). A party’s response to each document request must either state
that the documents will be produced or “state with specificity” the grounds for objecting.
Id. R. 34(b)(2)(B). An objection to a request for production of documents “must state
whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection,” and
an objection to part of such a request “must specify the part and permit inspection of the
rest.” Id. R. 34(b)(2)(C). A party must provide documents as they are kept in the
ordinary course of its business or organized and labeled to correspond to the categories in
the requests. Id. R. 34(b)(2)(E)(i).
“[T]he discovery rules are meant to be construed liberally so as to permit the
discovery of any information which is relevant and is reasonably calculated to lead to the
discovery of admissible evidence.” Hoffman v. Champion Power Equip., Inc., No. 151828, 2017 WL 2535954, *1 (M.D. Pa. June 12, 2017) (quoting Fid. Fed. Sav. & Loan
Ass’n v. Felicetti, 148 F.R.D. 532, 534 (E.D. Pa. 1993)). “As an initial matter, therefore,
all relevant material is discoverable unless an applicable evidentiary privilege is asserted.
The presumption that such matter is discoverable, however, is defeasible.” Id. (quoting
Pearson v. Miller, 211 F.3d 57, 65 (3d Cir. 2000)). In the context of a products liability
claim against a manufacturer, relevant information and documents include those
regarding engineering designing or manufacturing of the product, knowledge or
foreseeability of dangers, safety tests conducted, and alternative designs considered.
Fassett v. Sears Holdings Corp., 319 F.R.D. 143, 150 (M.D. Pa. 2017) (internal citations
omitted); see also Tincher v. Omega Flex, 104 A.3d 328 (Pa. 2014) (Pennsylvania applies
risk-utility test in product liability law, which includes feasibility and cost of alternative
In the present motion, Plaintiff seeks to compel production of documents in
connection with seven requests – specifically, Request Nos. 27, 29, 37, 39, 47, 48, and
As a case brought to federal court on grounds of diversity, there is no apparent
dispute that Pennsylvania substantive law applies.
49. Except as noted below, I will consider these in numerical order, rather than in the
order presented in Plaintiff’s motion.4
Request No. 27
In Request No. 27, Plaintiff requested the “Complete list of drawings for the
product.” Requests ¶ 27. Defendant MP initially responded with reference to
“documents previously produced under separate cover of letter by [MP] as part of its
required Initial Disclosures. . . .” Response ¶¶ 25-29. In its supplemental response, MP
referred to a prior response which again referenced documents already provided in its
Initial Disclosures, and then stated: “By way of additional response, a duplicate, ‘full
size’ drawing of page 86 of the Initial Disclosures is enclosed with this correspondence.”
Suppl. Response at Page Two.
Plaintiff argues that the single drawing provided by MP in response to this request
identifies component parts of the trim die, identified as a 31XX Console, but that MP has
failed to provide drawings for the trim die’s component parts. Doc. 58 ¶ 36; page 25
(ECF pagination). MP counters that it “has provided any and all drawings for the trim
die at issue it can locate at this time,” noting that additional drawings were provided in its
Initial Disclosures. Doc. 59 ¶¶ 34-35. In light of this response, Plaintiff’s motion will be
As a general matter, I note that certain of MP’s objections reflected in its
discovery responses are improper, for example directing Plaintiff to seek the information
from other sources or arguing the merits of Plaintiff’s claims.
denied as to Request No. 27, with the caveat that MP must supplement its responses if
any drawings of the trim press or its component parts are discovered.5
Request No. 29
In Request No. 29, Plaintiff requested “Minutes or notes of any and all meetings
concerning the subject product.” Requests ¶ 29. Defendant MP’s initial response was the
same as for Request No. 27, supplemented as follows: “See; emails by/between [MP] and
representatives of Key Plastics . . . and, possibly, others, which have already been
produced as part of [MP’s] Initial disclosures.” Supp. Response at Page Two.
Plaintiff argues that MP’s responses to not indicate whether there are internal
minutes or notes of discussions held by MP regarding the trim die it supplied to Key
Plastics, and that MP’s responses are therefore incomplete. Doc. 58 ¶ 30; page 25 (ECF
pagination). Defendant MP has repeatedly insisted that it has “already produced any and
all emails by and between [MP] and representatives of Key Plastics,” and avers that there
are no internal minutes or notes responsive to this request, and “if there were such
meeting minutes or notes, same would have been produced.” See Doc. 59 ¶¶ 28-30. As a
result, Plaintiff’s motion will be denied as to Request No. 29, with the caveat that MP
must supplement its responses if any responsive documents are discovered.
By letter dated September 27, 2017, Plaintiff’s counsel indicates that she
requested an Affidavit from MP’s President to the effect that MP does not have additional
documents responsive to Requests 27, 29, and 39. Doc. 63 at 1. Such a request is neither
required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, nor appropriate under the
Request Nos. 37, 47, 48, and 49
Plaintiff addresses these four requests together because they each concern MP’s
knowledge and design of guarding methods for trim dies, and because Defendant MP
raised similar challenges to each. See Doc. 28 at 22 (ECF pagination). In Request No.
37, Plaintiff requested “Design drawings for any guards, restraints, or other safety
devices used by [MP] for other trim press dies sold or designed by [MP].” Requests ¶
37. In Request No. 47, Plaintiff requested “Any and all documents showing and/or
reflecting [MP’s] knowledge of guards for trim dies before 2014.” Id. ¶ 47. In Request
No. 48, Plaintiff requested “Any and all documents reflecting and/or showing [MP’s] use
of limit switches in a trim die before 2014.” Id. ¶ 48. Finally, in Request No. 49,
Plaintiff requested “Any and all documents reflecting and/or showing [MP’s] use of
devices to eject scrap from a trim die before 2014.” Id. ¶ 49.
Defendant MP initially responded to Request No. 37 with reference to documents
it previously produced as part of the Initial Disclosures, see Response ¶¶ 32-37. MP
responded to Requests Nos. 47 through 49 inclusively, as follows:
47-50. Use of limit switches, devices to eject scrap from a
trim die, is the duty and obligation of the installer and press
user, in this case, Plaintiff’s employer. The trim die
manufactured by [MP], in accordance with the specifications
and design elements of Plaintiff’s employer, Key Plastics,
Inc., could not be “guarded” and did not need to be
“guarded.” The trim die, itself, is inanimate; a tool, which did
not move in and of itself, and had to be installed into the
press, and this was done by Plaintiff’s employer.
Response ¶¶ 47-50. In its supplemental response, MP objected to No. 37, stating that it
“seeks information which is irrelevant, and is not otherwise reasonably calculated to lead
to the discovery of admissible evidence. Without waiving said objection, [MP] was
neither contracted to provide, nor in any way guard the trim die, which is a tool, an
inanimate part.” Suppl. Response at Page Two. MP also referred to its supplemental
responses for Requests Nos. 47 through 49. For each of those requests, MP objected on
relevance and overbreadth grounds and because Key Plastics did not “request or contract
for the trim die
. . . specifically designed for use in its trim press.” Id. at Page Three.
MP then expanded on its relevance objection to each request, for example stating
the trim die at issue is, itself, a tool, a part, and in this case,
where the trim die is used as/in a cutting applique, where the
weight of the die does the cutting of a plastic part, the trim die
is not guarded. Nonetheless, the obligation for ensuring that
the trim press, itself, is safe for operation, and its
parts/components properly guarded is the duty and obligation
not of [MP], but Plaintiff’s employer.
I overrule MP’s relevance objection. Because Defendant MP knew that its trim
die would be used as part of the trim press which caused Plaintiff’s injuries, see emails at
Doc. 58-6 (Exh. H), documents regarding the type of trim die used by Key Plastics, and
MP’s trim dies in general, are highly relevant. Such documents would include, for
example, information regarding the design and manufacture of the trim die at issue, and
whether guards or other safety features exist or have been considered by MP for this or
any other type of trim die. Similarly, MP’s position that the requests are irrelevant
because Key Plastics bore the responsibility for the maintenance and safety of the trim
press is inappropriate, as that issue has no bearing on whether MP possesses documents
regarding the design and/or manufacture of trim dies and any guarding associated with
However, this does not end the present inquiry. Plaintiff notes that MP’s
supplemental response to Request No. 48 indicates that MP does provide “guarding” to
its dies in some circumstances, and that documents related to such guarding are highly
relevant. See Doc. 58 at 7 n.3 (ECF pagination). In its supplemental response, MP
challenges the relevance of other types of dies, for example differentiating a trim die,
such as that involved in this case, with “a cam die, where there is a potential risk of the
operator getting cut by an exposed, sharp edge of the die,” and explaining that whereas a
guard could be designed for a die used for cutting, “there is no such risk associated with
the instant trim die.” Suppl. Response at Page Three. The parties restated these positions
in their more recent letters to the court, see Docs. 63 & 64, with Plaintiff making the
additional argument that MP possesses documents regarding cam dies and that such
documents would “seemingly be extremely easy to produce.” Doc. 63 at 2 n.1.
I accept for purposes of analysis that cam dies have sharp edges and trim dies do
not, and that therefore the dies have different designs and purposes, and potentially
different dangers. However, the parties have explained that both types of dies attach to
cylinders and are put in motion for a myriad of industrial applications. As a result,
guarding utilized for one type of die may be relevant to determine whether similar
guarding was feasible for a different type of die. See, e.g., Horner v. Cummings, Civil
Action No. 14-0639, 2015 WL 4590959, at *6 (M.D. Pa. July 29, 2015) (overruling
relevance objections with respect to tractor-trailer trucks with different designs and
specifications than allegedly defective tractor-trailer because other tractor-trailers utilized
“the very design features identified by the plaintiff as alternatives”). Therefore, to the
extent there are cam or trim dies for which guards or limit switches have been considered,
designed and/or manufactured by MP, such documents are relevant at this stage of the
litigation, and must be produced. Admissibility will be determined at a later point.
Lastly, Plaintiff has requested documents in these categories “before 2014.”
Requests ¶¶ 47-49. Without more information regarding the history of dies or how long
MP has been in the business of designing and manufacturing them, it is impossible for the
Court to ascertain the breadth of this request. Given advances in workplace safety over
the last several decades, however, I conclude that ten years prior to the incident at issue in
this case is a reasonable time period, or from November 7, 2004, to November 7, 2014.
Request No. 39
Lastly, in Request No. 39, Plaintiff requested “All correspondence, including all
notes, memoranda, or other memorializations of phone conversations, as well as all
emails, letters, and faxes with Plaintiff’s employer [Key Plastics] and other entities,
including Co-Defendants, regarding the subject product supplied to Plaintiff’s employer.”
Requests ¶ 39. Plaintiff initially responded, “To the extent same exist, see; emails
previously produced.” Response ¶ 39. In its letter dated August 8, 2017, MP
supplemented its response as follows: “None, other than what has already been produced
as part and parcel of [MP’s] Initial Disclosure. To the extent counsel for Plaintiff is
looking for ‘responsive emails’ from Key Plastics, Inc., a subpoena may be issued
directly to that entity for same, as [MP] has produced all available and obtainable emails
regarding this ‘project.’” Suppl. Response at Page Three.
Plaintiff argues that MP produced only emails from Key Plastics – Plaintiff’s
employer and the purchaser of MP’s trim die – but no emails or correspondence from MP
to Key Plastics. Doc. 58 ¶ 32; pages 25-26 (ECF pagination). Plaintiff correctly
characterizes the non-existence of other emails or phone calls as “unlikely,” particularly
insofar as Key Plastics asked questions in some of its emails which logically required
answers from MP, and in one instance asked for a phone call. Id. Nevertheless, as with
Request No. 29 above, Defendant MP avers that it has produced all documents
responsive to this request, in this instance “its complete and entire ‘project file,’ including
any and all emails by, between, with, up, down, around any other party.” Doc. 59 ¶ 32.
The Court is hardly in position to order a party to produce documents it has averred to the
Court do not exist. As a result, Plaintiff’s motion will be denied as to Request No. 39,
with the caveat that MP must supplement its responses if any responsive correspondence,
notes, memoranda, memorializations of phone conversations, emails, letters, and/or faxes
An appropriate Order follows.
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