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Powell v. South Jersey Marina

August 1, 2007

ROBERT J. POWELL, DEBRA POWELL AND FISHIN FOR A GOOD TIME CHARTERS, LLC PLAINTIFFS
v.
SOUTH JERSEY MARINA, INC. T/A SOUTH JERSEY YACHT SALES, OCEAN YACHTS, INC. PERFORMANCE DIESEL, INC. AND MAN ENGINES AND COMPONENTS, INC. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie

MEMORANDUM

This matter is before the Court on the Plaintiffs' motion to compel (a) the deposition of Defendant Ocean Yachts' ("Ocean Yachts") President, John Leek, III ("Leek"), and (b) the production of 12 issues of Ocean Yachts' bi-annual customer newsletter, "Passages," produced from 2001 to 2006. Following an effort to resolve the issue without judicial involvement, Plaintiffs filed this motion on March 2, 2007. Ocean Yachts responded on March 19, 2007, with a brief in opposition to the motion to compel. Plaintiffs filed a reply brief in support of the motion to compel on March 28, 2007. Because the noticed deposition is not likely to lead to any relevant evidence not already produced in this protracted case, that part of the motion will be denied. Because Ocean Yachts has not substantiated its claim of undue burden and lack of relevance with respect to the document request, that part of the motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

On or about March 11, 2002, Robert J. Powell and Debra Powell purchased a boat from South Jersey Marina, Inc. t/a South Jersey Yacht Sales. (See Notice of Removal - Ex. A (Complaint), Dkt. Entry 1 at 10.) They dubbed this boat "Reel Justice." Ocean Yachts, Inc., the primary manufacturer of "Reel Justice," built the vessel in 2001. (See Br. in Opp., Dkt. Entry 168 at 1.) MAN Engines and Components, Inc., constructed the two engines that powered "Reel Justice." (Id.) Performance Diesel, Inc., a MAN distributor, sold the engines to Ocean Yachts, including the bolts and "cushy mounts" that secured the engine. (Id. at 1-2.)

On May 5, 2004, at approximately 3:05 pm, about twenty (20) miles from the coast of San Salvador, "Reel Justice" began taking on water. (Notice of Removal - Ex. A (Complaint), Dkt. Entry 1 at 11, ¶ 14.) The ship's Captain stabilized the vessel and proceeded to Rum Cay, Bahamas, for repairs, where inspection revealed that the Starboard engine had broken free of the engine mount system and sprung forward, revealing that all six (6) of the engine mounts/isolator bolts had sheared and/or broken. (Id., ¶¶ 14-15.) Further inspection indicated that five (5) of the six (6) Port engine mount/isolator bolts had also broken. (Id., ¶ 17.)

B. Procedural Background

Robert J. Powell, Debra Powell, and Fishin For a Good Time Charters, LLC ("the Plaintiffs") filed this action on November 19, 2004, in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, alleging that "Reel Justice" was manufactured improperly, "rendering... [it] defective and unreasonably dangerous," and leveling claims against a variety of companies that took part in the production and sale of the vessel. (See Notice of Removal - Ex. A (Complaint), Dkt. Entry 1 at 10, ¶ 12.) Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages (including incidental and consequential damages), reasonable attorney's fees (including filing fees and costs of suit), diminution of value, punitive damages, and "any further relief" the Court finds "just and proper." (See id. at 19, ¶ 67.) On December 3, 2004, Ocean Yachts removed the case to this Court, exercising its right under 28 U.S.C. §1441(b), as there is complete diversity between opposing parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. (See id. at 2, ¶ 9.)

At issue here is Plaintiffs' conflict with Ocean Yachts regarding the deposition of Ocean Yachts' President and the production of 2001-2006 issues of "Passages," Ocean Yachts' biannual customer newsletter. On November 22, 2006, Ocean Yachts objected to the deposition, with counsel writing that he viewed the Plaintiffs' "ethics to depose Mr. Leek as nothing more than harassment." (See Pl.'s Mot. Compel - Ex. C, Dkt. Entry 163-5.) On November 29, 2006, Ocean Yachts served Plaintiffs with their document discovery objections, indicating that the requests were "overbroad, and not reasonably calculated to secure any evidence in any way related to any matter at issue." (See Pl.'s Mot. Compel - Ex. G, Dkt. Entry 163-8 at 1.) On December 1, 2006, Plaintiffs responded regarding the putative deposition, indicating that their request was appropriate due to the President's alleged knowledge of "defects and deficiencies caused by the manufacturing process," which they inferred from comments made by his son, reported in the Winter 2005 edition of "Passages." (See Pl.'s Mot. Compel - Ex. D, Dkt. Entry 163-6.) On December 14, 2006, Ocean Yachts replied in a very curt message that they "remain[ed] completely unpersuaded" that deposition of its President was appropriate, averring that the "Passages" article catalyzing the deposition request did not support such discovery, but rather "completely undermine[s] any basis you have for seeking the deposition..." (See Pl.'s Mot. Compel - Ex. E, Dkt. Entry 163-7.) Both parties expressed their arguments during a telephone conference on December 20, 2006, in which the Court suggested that Plaintiffs file a motion to compel if they believed further discovery was warranted.

Plaintiffs did so, creating the controversy now before the Court.*fn1 Plaintiffs argue their requests are appropriate given the broad scope of discovery in FRCP 26(b)(1), while Ocean Yachts contends that the limitations of FRCP 26(b)(2)(C) apply to both aspects of the motion.

II. DISCUSSION

A. General Legal Standard for Discovery Disputes

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are liberal with respect to discovery, permitting parties to obtain even inadmissible material, "so long as it is relevant to the claim or defense of any party, unprivileged, and reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."City Line Construction Fire & Water Restoration, Inc. v. Heffner, et al., No. CV-07-1057, 2007 WL 1377643, at *2 (E.D. Pa. May 10, 2007). When a party is served with a document or deposition request, it must produce the document or the individual to be deposed, or state specific objections to dispute those requests. See City Line, 2007 WL 1377643 at *1. A moving party may then file a motion to compel under FRCP 37(a) to garner the sought-after information. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a).

At this point the burden shifts to the party objecting to discovery to state the grounds for the objection with specificity, and not "[m]ere recitation of the familiar litany that an interrogatory or a document production request is 'overly broad, burdensome, oppressive and irrelevant.'" Momah v. Albert Einstein Medical Center, 164 F.R.D. 412, 417 (E.D.Pa. 1996), quoting, Josephs v. Harris Corp., 677 F.2d 985, 992 (3d Cir. 1982); see also, Brown v. James, No. CV-03-0631, 2007 WL 461025, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 7, 2007). To do so, the resisting party must show the requested materials do not fall within the "broad scope of relevance... or else are of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure." Brown, 2007 WL 461025, at *3, quoting, Burke v. New York City Police Dept., 115 F.R.D. 220, 224 ...


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