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

Filing 95

ORDER denying defendants' 93 Motion for Reconsideration signed by Judge Ricardo S Martinez.(RS)

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  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 8 9 10 11 12 13 STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY, as subrogee for Catherine Robinson, Plaintiff, Case No. C15-1771-RSM ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION v. 14 15 16 HELEN OF TROY, LLC, et al., Defendants. 17 This matter comes before the Court on Defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration. Dkt. 18 #93. Defendants request reconsideration or clarification of the Court’s June 9, 2017, Order, 19 20 21 Dkt. #80. This Order was based on Plaintiff’s Motion to Exclude John Weiss and Sanctions, Dkt. #58, the Court’s initial May 31, 2017, Order granting that Motion and requesting 22 supplemental briefing, Dkt. #76, and the supplemental briefing from the parties, Dkts. #77 and 23 #78. The Court summarized the relevant background in its initial May 31, 2017, Order: 24 25 26 27 28 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 ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION - 1   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. 1 2 3 4 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. 5 6 7 8 9 10 Dkt. #76 at 5-6. The Court then requested supplemental briefing from the parties solely on the issue of how to craft an appropriate sanction under Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(ii). Id. at 6. 11 In supplemental briefing, Plaintiff proposed a sanction under Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(ii) 12 preventing Defendants from offering any evidence as to how the heating pad was designed or 13 constructed, preventing Defendants from cross examining Plaintiff’s expert on these topics, and 14 15 instructing the jury that they may draw an adverse inference from Defendants’ violation of the 16 discovery order. Dkt. #77 at 3-5. Plaintiff proposed the following instruction be given by the 17 Court: 18 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. 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Id. at 5. Defendants’ supplemental briefing failed to suggest a sanction under Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(ii). Instead, Defendants suggested as a remedy that Plaintiff’s expert “be permitted to supplement or amend their reports.” Dkt. #78 at 3. According to Defendants, this 28 ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION - 2   1 2 proposed sanction “effectively cures any prejudice to Plaintiff and permits this matter to proceed to trial on the merits.” Id. at 4. 3 The Court found that Defendants’ recommended sanction was “not a sanction under 4 Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(ii) as requested by the Court," and that it “would effectively promote 5 6 7 similar discovery violations in the future.” Dkt. #80 at 3. The Court found that Plaintiff’s recommended sanction under Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(ii) was appropriate and imposed the following: (1) Defendants are prohibited at trial from offering any evidence as to how the heating pad was designed or constructed; 8 9 (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 10 11 12 (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. 13 14 15 16 Id. Defendants now argue that the Court’s sanctions above are “tantamount to case dispositive sanctions,” that Plaintiff’s initial Motion did not request a specific sanction, that 17 18 Plaintiff waited until its Reply brief to request default judgment as a sanction, and that therefore 19 Defendants were not “afforded an opportunity to respond to [Plaintiff]’s request for a 20 terminating or case dispositive sanction.” Dkt. #93. While this argument would seem to ignore 21 that the Court permitted supplemental briefing, Defendants argue that “despite the fact that the 22 23 24 Court directed the parties in its May 31, 2017 Order, to brief the issue of appropriate sanctions further, it specifically prohibited any briefing on whether case dispositive sanctions (e.g. 25 default judgment) were just or proper.” Id. at 6. Defendants also argue that a new fact, the 26 continuance of trial, “increases the feasibility of a lesser sanction.” Id. Defendants argue that 27 the conduct necessitating the above sanctions was outside their control. Id. at 7. Finally, 28 ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION - 3   1 Defendants seek in the alternative “clarification from the Court regarding whether [Defendants] 2 may introduce evidence at trial regarding the function and operation of the heating pad,” 3 arguing that testing indicates that “the heating pad could not do what State Farm is claiming.” 4 Id. at 8-9. 5 6 7 “Motions for reconsideration are disfavored.” LCR 7(h)(1). “The court will ordinarily deny such motions in the absence of a showing of manifest error in the prior ruling or a 8 showing of new facts or legal authority which could not have been brought to its attention 9 earlier with reasonable diligence.” Id. 10 11 12 As an initial matter, the Court disagrees that Defendants were somehow denied an opportunity to provide the Court with guidance as to an appropriate sanction. To the contrary, 13 Defendants failed to address this issue in initial briefing and chose to disregard the Court’s 14 instructions as to the topic in supplemental briefing. The sanctions above are not equivalent to 15 granting a default judgment, and are appropriate given Defendants’ underlying conduct. 16 Defendants have thus failed to demonstrate manifest error. The continuance of trial does not 17 18 constitute a “new fact” warranting a reduction in the sanctions; the sanctions were meant to 19 punish the underlying conduct, which has not changed. To the extent that Defendants introduce 20 new facts and arguments to excuse their underlying conduct, the Court finds that such could 21 have been introduced earlier with reasonable diligence. Finally, the Court concludes that 22 23 24 25 Defendants’ request for clarification is really a request to carve out unwarranted exceptions to the sanctions above, which are clear enough. Any further questions as to specific evidence or testimony can be addressed at trial. 26 27 28 ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION - 4   1 Accordingly, having reviewed the relevant briefing, the declarations and exhibits 2 attached thereto, and the remainder of the record, the Court hereby finds and ORDERS that 3 Defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration (Dkt. #93) is DENIED. 4 5 6 DATED this 27 day of June, 2017. 7 8 9 10 A RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION - 5

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