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Grayson v. General Electric Co.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 1, 2016

GLEN GRAYSON ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, Defendant.

RULING ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO COMPEL

WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

In this putative class action, Plaintiffs claim that certain models of microwave ovens branded with defendant General Electric’s (“GE”) name were defectively designed or manufactured, causing their glass doors to spontaneously shatter. Now, pursuant to Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Plaintiffs move to compel GE to produce certain discovery, including discovery from Samsung Electrics Co., Ltd. (“Samsung Korea”), who is the manufacturer of the microwaves at issue. [Doc. # 128]. After due consideration of the moving papers and the response, the Court hereby grants the Motion to Compel in part and denies it in part.

Background

Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel seeks four categories of documents:

Category One: Documents in Samsung Korea’s possession relating to the design and manufacture of the microwaves at issue.
Category Two: Additional information from GE’s Factory Service Database, which records customer complaints and service requests relating to the microwaves at issue.
Category Three: Customer service documents that GE produced in a different legal matter. Plaintiffs claim that these documents relate to GE’s procedures for collecting consumer relations information.
Category Four: Copies of any GE policies or procedures “that GE contends are relevant to any issue in this litigation.” GE has objected to this request as overly broad and unduly burdensome.[1]

Plaintiffs’ motion seeks an order compelling the above, or in the alternative excluding GE from relying on this discovery at trial with all adverse inference drawn in Plaintiffs’ favor.

Discussion

Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure outlines the scope of discovery. Under the Rule, parties “may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Relevance involves a consideration of “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). Even when a request seeks relevant matter, the court can limit such discovery when “the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C). See During v. City Univ. of New York, No. 05 CIV. 6992(RCC), 2006 WL 2192843, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 1, 2006) (“Even if the information sought is relevant, courts have the authority to forbid or to alter discovery that is unduly burdensome.”).

Category One:

It is well-established that “a party is not obliged to produce … documents that it does not possess or cannot obtain.” Shcherbakovskiy v. Da Capo Al Fine, Ltd., 490 F.3d 130, 138 (2d Cir. 2007). Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 34, a party may serve on another party a request “to produce … items in the responding party’s possession, custody, or control.” A party “controls documents that it has the right, authority, or ability to obtain upon demand.” Scott v. Arex, Inc., 124 F.R.D. 39, 41 (D.Conn.1 989) (citations omitted). Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing that the documents are in GE’s control. See Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Kern Int'l, Inc., 239 F.R.D. 62, 66 (D. Conn. 2006). This is a “fact specific” inquiry that goes beyond the “particular form of the corporate relationship” and instead looks at the “nature of the transactional relationship” between the entities. Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Courts must also look to whether there is a “practical ability of the [requested] party to obtain these documents.” Id. (citing Power Integrations, Inc. v. Fairchild Semiconductor Int’l, Inc., 233 F.R.D. 143, 145 (D.Del.2005) (emphasis in original) (citation omitted)).

GE argues that Samsung Korea’s documents are not in its possession, custody, or control. The Court agrees. The relationship between GE and Samsung Korea does not evidence GE’s legal entitlement to the documents: they are completely different entities; GE is not a parent of Samsung Korea, and does not have any ownership interest in it. Even in cases where there is a parent/subsidiary relationship between entities, which is not the case here, courts look for “a showing that the two entities operate as one, demonstrated access to documents in the ordinary course of business, and an agency ...


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