State Farm Fire and Casualty v. Helen of Troy, Limited et al

Filing 80

ORDER granting 58 MOTION for Sanctions And Exclusion of Weiss filed by State Farm Fire and Casualty by Judge Ricardo S Martinez. (RS)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 6 7 8 9 10 11 STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY, as subrogee for Catherine Robinson, ORDER GRANTING SANCTIONS Plaintiff, v. 12 13 14 15 16 17 Case No. C15-1771-RSM HELEN OF TROY, LLC, et al., Defendants. This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff State Farm Fire and Casualty as subrogee for Catherine Robinson (“State Farm”)’s Motion to Exclude John Weiss and Sanctions, Dkt. #58, 18 and the supplemental briefing requested by the Court, Dkts. #77 and #78. The Court stated in its 19 May 31, 2017, Order: 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 State Farm argues that Defendants have failed to produce the complete U.L. file, software, or a “written explanation” (in lieu of the Theory of Operation), despite these being subjects of State Farm’s First Set of Discovery and the subsequent Court Order. Dkt. #58 at 8. State Farm argues that these materials are available to Defendants. Defendants fail to address this issue in their Response brief. See Dkt. #66. On Reply, State Farm credibly argues that these documents go to the key issues in this case: “how the heating pad is designed, whether it was manufactured to that design and whether the heating pad caused the fire.” Dkt. #68 at 4. State Farm requests the Court impose the most drastic sanction it can, default judgment against Defendants. Id. at 5-6. 28 ORDER GRANTING SANCTIONS - 1 Defendants place the Court in a difficult position by failing to respond to this portion of State Farm’s Motion. On the other hand, State Farm fails to show how the missing documents so severely prejudice Plaintiffs as to warrant the extreme sanction of default judgment, and fails to provide meaningful guidance on how the Court could impose a less severe sanction. 1 2 3 4 5 Dkt. #76 at 5-6. The Court thus requested supplemental briefing from the parties solely on the 6 issue of how to craft an appropriate sanction under Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(ii). Id. at 6. 7 8 State Farm argues that Defendants “have impeded State Farm’s ability to prove that the 9 heating pad was defectively designed and constructed and that such defects proximately caused 10 the fire,” and that an appropriate sanction would be a judicial declaration that the heating pad at 11 issue was defectively designed and constructed and proximately caused the fire. Dkt. #77 at 1- 12 2. State Farm argues that both parts of this sanction are necessary because “[i]f there is a 13 14 determination that the heating pad was defectively designed and constructed, but no judicial 15 determination that such defects proximately caused the fire, then State Farm would be hobbled, 16 and Defendants would benefit, by non-production of the documents.” Id. at 2. In the alternative, 17 State Farm proposes a sanction under Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(ii) preventing Defendants from offering 18 any evidence as to how the heating pad was designed or constructed, preventing Defendants from 19 20 cross examining State Farm’s expert on these topics, and instructing the jury that they may draw 21 an adverse inference from Defendants’ violation of the discovery order. Id. at 3-5. State Farm 22 proposes the following instruction be given by the Court: 23 The Court ordered defendants to produce to State Farm documents regarding the design, construction, and operation of the subject heating pad. The Defendants have not produced such documents, in violation of this Court’s order. You may infer from the Defendants’ violation of this Court’s order that the documents would have content favorable to State Farm and unfavorable to Defendants. 24 25 26 27 28 Id. at 5. ORDER GRANTING SANCTIONS - 2 1 Defendants request that the appropriate sanction should be that Plaintiff’s expert “be 2 permitted to supplement or amend their reports.” Dkt. #78 at 3. Defendants argue that Plaintiff 3 now has all the information that Defendants have relied upon. Id. According to Defendants, this 4 proposed sanction “effectively cures any prejudice to Plaintiff and permits this matter to proceed 5 6 to trial on the merits.” Id. at 4. 7 The Court is not inclined to follow Defendants’ recommended sanction. First, because it 8 is not a sanction under Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(ii) as requested by the Court. Second, because it is 9 not a sanction that deters future behavior. Even if the prejudice to State Farm could be cured at 10 11 this point, allowing Defendants to go forward in this case without at least a sanction under Rule 12 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(ii) would effectively promote similar discovery violations in the future. There 13 must be consequences for violating discovery orders. 14 15 16 17 The Court has considered the sanctions proposed by State Farm, and finds that the recommended sanction under Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(ii) is appropriate. Having reviewed the relevant briefing, the declarations and exhibits attached thereto, and 18 the remainder of the record, the Court hereby finds and ORDERS that the following sanction will 19 be imposed on Defendants: 20 21 (1) Defendants are prohibited at trial from offering any evidence as to how the heating pad was designed or constructed; 22 23 24 25 26 (2) Defendants are prohibited at trial from cross-examining State Farm’s expert witness as to how the heating pad was designed or constructed; and (3) The jury will be given an adverse inference instruction similar to that proposed by State Farm, above. Such instruction will be finalized at trial. 27 28 ORDER GRANTING SANCTIONS - 3 1 DATED this 9th day of June, 2017. 2 A 3 RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER GRANTING SANCTIONS - 4

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