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Mealy v. Ryan Environmental

March 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Maurice B. Cohill, Jr. Senior United States District Judge


This action arises from an accident in which plaintiff Alicia Mealy alleges she suffered injuries after a tanker truck collided with her vehicle. Presently pending before the Court is plaintiff's "Motion to Compel Defendants' Depositions and Discovery Responses" (Doc. 72) and defendants objections thereto.

It appears to be undisputed that defendant Paccar Leasing Corporation owned the tractor and Appalachian Leasing Services, Inc. performed maintenance on the tractor. Ryan Environmental, Inc. owned the trailer and was responsible for the maintenance of the trailer. The driver of the truck was Tommy Liberati, an employee of Ryan Environmental. According to the police report, the tanker truck was going 76 miles per hour and skidded some 562 feel prior to colliding with plaintiff's vehicle.

After the motion to compel was filed, the attorneys met and conferred in an effort to resolve this multifaceted discovery dispute. Although they have reached an agreement as to certain of the discovery requests at issue in the motion to compel, numerous requests remain at issue. First, Plaintiff has noticed the corporate depositions of Paccar Leasing, Inc. and Appalachian Leasing, Inc., seeking information concerning: a) maintenance of the vehicle; b) ownership of the vehicle/trailer; c) the policies and procedures the lessor utilized in furtherance of its alleged duty to supervise and operate the vehicle in a safe and careful manner and in compliance with all applicable laws. Second, plaintiff sought discovery of certainl documents relating to any surveillance of the plaintiff. Third, plaintiff sought all documents relating to any citation or legal violation issued to Liberati, which plaintiff argues is relevant to the issue of punitive damages. Finally, plaintiff requested the personnel file of the former safety director of Ryan Environmental, including documents relating to his exit interview, prior to plaintiff's taking of the safety director's deposition.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) provides:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense . . . For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2(c) provides that

On motion or on its own, the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by these rules or local rule if it determines that:

(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from another source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; * * *

(iii) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at state in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.

1. Depositions of Paccar Leasing Corp and Appalachian Leasing Services

Defendants object to the taking of the corporate depositions on a number of grounds. They argue that such information may be obtained by way of interrogatories, and that depositions, which would have to be conducted out of state, would create an undue burden and expense, particularly "where there is no evidence to keep either of these two entities in the case." (Def. Resp. at 3). Plaintiff correctly notes that Rule 26(a)(5) expressly provides that both depositions and interrogatories are permissible methods of discovery and may be used in any sequence.

According to defendants, the issue of ownership and control is not in dispute, because, as has been allegedly answered in both discovery responses and depositions, Paccar Leasing Corporation owned the tractor being operated on the accident date and Ryan Environmental owned the trailer; the tractor owned by Paccar Leasing was then leased to Appalachian Leasing who leased it to Ryan Environmental. Defendants further object to deposition testimony of Paccar Leasing and Appalachian Leasing on the issue of maintenance of the tractor, because, as has been allegedly answered in previous discovery, Appalachian Leasing performed all maintenance of the subject tractor, and all maintenance records for the tractor have been provided to plaintiff's counsel in prior discovery responses. Finally, Defendants object to the discovery of information concerning the "supervision" because, under Pennsylvania law, there is no legal duty because a lessor of a motor vehicle is not liable for the negligence of a lessee while operating the vehicle, citing Jahn v. O'Neal and VIP Car Rental, Inc.,475 a.2d 837 (Pa. Super. 1984).

In response, plaintiff argues that, given the contractual arrangement between the parties, this case falls under the exception to the general rule announced in Jahn, i.e. liability on the lessor's part arises from the lessor's breach of a duty imposed by the lease with respect to maintenance and upkeep of the vehicle, if such breach causes injury to a third party, citing, inter alia, Evans v. Goldfine Truck Rental Service Co., Inc., 361 A.2d 643 (Pa. Super. 1976). It appears that the lessee may have obligated itself to provide accident information to the ...

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