Belville et al v. Ford Motor Company
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER denying in part and granting in part 954 MOTION by Ford Motor Company for Protective Order and OBJECTIONS to Plaintiffs' Service of New Discovery; LIFTING the current stay; directing Ford to produce documents: 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 33, 34, 36, 37, 38, 39, and 40 by 5/24/2017; GRANTING a protective order as to the remainder of the discovery. Signed by Judge Robert C. Chambers on 5/9/2017. (cc: attys; any unrepresented parties) (mkw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
CHARLES JOHNSON, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:13-6529
FORD MOTOR COMPANY,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pending before the Court is Ford Motor Company’s Motion for Protective Order
and Objections to Plaintiffs’ Service of New Discovery. ECF No. 954. For the following reasons,
the Court GRANTS, in part, and DENIES, in part, Ford’s motion. In addition, the Court LIFTS
THE STAY issued by the Court on May 2, 2017. ECF No. 965.
Approximately one year ago, the Court directed the parties to describe with
particularity all discovery that remained outstanding. 1 Over the past year, the parties have
submitted seven joint reports describing what discovery remained, and the Court has held multiple
hearings to wrap up the discovery process as this case is now over four years old.2 Believing
On April 12, 2016, the Court entered an Order directing the parties “to confer and submit
a letter to the Court identifying what specific discovery remains to be completed. To the extent the
parties disagree, each side may state its position in the letter.” Order (Apr. 12, 2016), ECF No.
For instance, in the Court’s Order entered on August 8, 2016, the Court stated that
following Dr. Sanders’ report and the Magistrate Judge’s Order on the source codes, “the Court
expects the parties to finalize discovery deadlines.” Order (Aug. 8, 2016), ECF No. 790. The
discovery was nearly complete based upon the representations of the parties,3 the Court entered a
Partial Scheduling Order on April 4, 2017 providing, in part, that the parties shall complete all fact
discovery by June 1, 2017. ECF No. 945.
Immediately prior to the Court entering the Partial Scheduling Order, Plaintiffs
served on Ford a Sixth Set of Requests for Production of Documents (“6th Request for
Production”) on March 31, 2017. ECF No. 954-1. Thereafter, on April 12, 2017, Plaintiffs served
on Ford their Fourth Set of Requests for Admission (“4th Request for Admissions”) and their
Seventh Set of Requests for Production of Documents (“7th Request for Production”). ECF No.
954-2. Ford argues that, by serving over 363 discovery requests, Plaintiffs are stepping beyond the
bounds of mere clean-up of what discovery is remaining and, instead, seeking new discovery. Ford
claims that some of this discovery could have been requested months ago, but Plaintiffs waited
until the last minute. In fact, despite numerous joint letters and case management conferences,
Plaintiffs never indicated to the Court that they intended to serve additional extensive written
discovery on Ford. If allowed, Ford argues this discovery likely will require the June 1 discovery
completion date be extended as Jodi Schebel, its National Discovery Counsel, estimates “that it
will take upwards of 265 hours of attorney and Ford engineer time to prepare responses to the
entirety of Plaintiffs’ new discovery.” Affidavit of Jodi Schebel, at 2 (Mar. 13, 2017), ECF No.
Magistrate Judge entered her Memorandum Opinion and Order on September 1, 2016. ECF No.
In fact, in the parties’ recently proposed schedules, Plaintiffs suggested a fact discovery
deadline of June 1, 2017, and Ford proposed May 31, 2017.
954-18. Given the breadth and volume of these requests, Ford objects and seeks a protective order
pursuant to Rule 26(c)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
In their Response, Plaintiffs insist that their requests are not unduly burdensome
and were timely filed before the June 1 deadline. Plaintiffs believe Ford overestimates the number
of hours it will take to respond to discovery because there is thematic overlap. Moreover, Plaintiffs
state the Court never issued a blanket prohibition against additional discovery in its earlier Orders
or at the Case Management Conferences, and a protective order would contravene the broad and
liberal scope of discovery under Rule 26.
Rule 26(c)(1)(A) provides, in part, that a “court may, for good cause, issue an order
to protect a party . . . from . . . oppression, or undue burden or expense, including one or more of
the following: (A) forbidding the disclosure of discovery[.]” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1)(A), in part.
It is well established that the issuance of a protective order under the Rule is within the court’s
discretion. M & M Med. Supplies & Serv., Inc. v. Pleasant Valley Hosp., Inc., 981 F.2d 160, 163
(4th Cir. 1992) (stating that “[a]n order under rule 26(c) is committed to the discretion of the trial
court” (citation omitted)). Additionally, the Fourth Circuit has stated that
in response to a motion for protective order under Rule 26(c), a
district court may limit “the frequency or extent of use of the
discovery methods otherwise permitted” under the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure if it concludes that “(i) the discovery sought is
unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or is obtainable from some
other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less
expensive; (ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample
opportunity by discovery in the action to obtain the information
sought; or (iii) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery
outweighs its likely benefit.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2).
Nicholas v. Wyndham Int'l, Inc., 373 F.3d 537, 543 (4th Cir. 2004). A court may limit “the scope
of discovery requests, but ‘must be careful not to deprive a party of discovery that is reasonably
necessary to afford a fair opportunity to develop and prepare the case.’” Fangman v. Genuine Title,
LLC, No. CV RDB-14-0081, 2016 WL 560483, at *4 (D. Md. Feb. 12, 2016) (quoting Innovative
Therapies, Inc. v. Meents, 302 F.R.D. 364, 377 (D. Md. 2014) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 advisory
committee's note)). It is the movant’s burden to establish good cause with specific and particular
facts in seeking a protective order to limit discovery. Broad conclusory statements are insufficient.
In deciding this motion, the Court has carefully reviewed all of the discovery
requests. With respect to the 6th Request for Production, the Court finds that some are requests for
specific documents that should be produced because their production is not unduly burdensome,
and they fall within the type and scope of discovery contemplated by the Court in bringing this
four-year process to an end. Other requests, however, are far too broad and unduly burdensome,
which almost certainly will result in a delay to the close of fact discovery. After a prolonged
discovery process, the Court finds this last minute effort by Plaintiffs to cast such a large net to
gather additional discovery is well beyond the bounds of what has been discussed and
contemplated by the Court and the parties over the past year. The Court has permitted the parties
to engage in extensive discovery and provided Plaintiffs a reasonable and fair opportunity to
develop and prepare their case. In addition, the Court has made it abundantly clear and forewarned
the parties that discovery will come to an end.
Accordingly, based upon its review of each individual request in the 6th Request
for Production, the Court FINDS the following requests for specific documents are within the
scope of concluding fact discovery and DIRECTS Ford to produce these documents on or before
May 24, 2017: 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 33, 34, 36, 37,
38, 39, and 40. These requests identify discrete documents in specifically referenced material and
are not otherwise numerous or extensive. To the contrary and for good cause shown, the Court
finds in its discretion that the remaining requests are unduly burdensome and outweigh their likely
benefit. Therefore, the Court GRANTS Ford’s Motion for a Protective Order with respect to the
following requests: 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 29, 32, 35, and 41. These requests are broad
and open-ended and seek documents “concerning” a large number of topics or documents likely
to be voluminous and/or covering a large period.
The Court also has reviewed Plaintiffs’ 4th Request for Admissions and the related
7th Request for Production. Based upon this review and for the reasons stated above, the Court
finds that these requests are too broad and were made too late in the discovery process. The Court
finds the undue burden these requests create at this point in discovery are unlikely to outweigh
their benefit. Moreover, many of these requests could have been made months ago, but Plaintiffs
chose to wait to serve such extensive discovery until the very end. Although Plaintiffs argue Ford
overestimates the amount of time it will take to respond, the Court disagrees with Plaintiffs and
finds that Ford’s estimate of how long it will take to respond is reasonable and substantiates the
undue burden it places upon Ford. Thus, for good cause shown, the Court GRANTS Ford’s Motion
for a Protective Order with respect to Plaintiffs’ 4th Request for Admissions and their 7th Request
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES, in part, and
GRANTS, in part, Ford’s Motion for a Protective Order and Objections to Plaintiffs’ Service of
New Discovery (ECF No. 954) and LIFTS the current stay. The Court DIRECTS Ford to produce
documents: 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 33, 34, 36, 37, 38,
39, and 40 on or before May 24, 2017. The Court GRANTS a protective order as to the remainder
of the discovery.
The Court DIRECTS the Clerk to send a copy of this Order to counsel of record
and any unrepresented parties.
May 9, 2017
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?