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Panther Mountain Lodge, Inc. v. Waymart Windfarm

November 10, 2009

PANTHER MOUNTAIN LODGE, INC., PLAINTIFF
v.
WAYMART WINDFARM, L.P., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

(Magistrate Judge Carlson)

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

This action was commenced on March 14, 2008, when Panther Mountain Lodge, Inc. ("Panther Mountain" or "Plaintiff") filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County seeking to recover certain rental payments claimed to be due for Waymart Windfarm, L.P.'s ("Waymart" or "Defendant") use of Plaintiff's property in connection with a wind energy project. Waymart subsequently removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity of citizenship. Now pending before the Court is Panther Mountain's motion seeking entry of an order compelling Defendant to respond to discovery requests and extending the discovery period and other case-management deadlines in this case for 90 days. Before addressing the particulars of Plaintiff's motion, the Court will provide a brief summary of the background of the parties' contractual dealings with one another and the basis for the current lawsuit.

II. BACKGROUND

This dispute concerns Defendant's use of a certain parcel of land situated in Clinton Township, Wayne County, Pennsylvania (the "Property"). Plaintiff owns the Property in fee.*fn1 On or about October 28, 2004, Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a written agreement that granted Defendant an easement to engage in certain wind energy projects on the Property. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6; see also Doc. 53, at 2.) In connection with this easement agreement, Plaintiff alleges that it consented to the construction and existence of an operations and maintenance building ("O&M Building") on the Property, but contends that Defendant was not actually granted the right to use and occupy the structure. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8.) It appears that the easement agreement provided that Defendant was to pay Plaintiff rent in the amount of $7,800, which Plaintiff claims represented only the cost for stationing windmills on the Property and did not include or represent the fair rental value for the O&M Building.*fn2 (Id. ¶¶ 9-11.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant may be using the O&M Building as a corporate headquarters, and further claims that several of Defendant's employees meet and park their vehicles near the O&M Building. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff contends that such use is contrary to the terms of the easement agreement. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that the employees and other persons whom Defendant has permitted to enter the Property have increased the use of water on the Property, which is allegedly contrary to the terms of the easement agreement. (Id. ¶ 12.) In addition to these allegations, Plaintiff avers generally that Defendant is in breach of the terms of the easement agreement for a number of assorted reasons. (Id. ¶ 13.)

Plaintiff alleges that the fair rental value for the O&M Building and the land appurtenant thereto is $4,500 per month. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff claims that prior to commencing this action, it sent demand letters to Defendant on April 5, 2006, and again on September 21, 2006, seeking to compel payment of the rent alleged to be due. (Id. ¶ 15.) When Defendant ignored or otherwise rebuffed these demands, Plaintiff brought suit seeking to recover the amount of fair market rents it claimed were due. In sum, Plaintiff calculates the total rents due -- above and beyond those amounts actually paid pursuant to the easement agreement -- to be $220,500 through November 2008, and asserts that the alleged fair market rent of $4,500 per month is due going forward from December, 2008, onward.

Plaintiff commenced this action on March 14, 2008, and Defendant removed the action to this Court on April 23, 2008. Defendant answered the complaint, and asserted counterclaims against Plaintiff, on April 28, 2008. After Plaintiff answered the counterclaims, the parties engaged in mediation proceedings, which were not successful. (Doc. 9.) On November 14, 2008, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which Defendant answered on December 4, 2008, together with a counterclaim.

After the pleadings closed, discovery did not proceed smoothly, as reflected by docket entries showing that Defendant moved successfully to compel Plaintiff to provide complete discovery responses. Defendant also went so far as to petition the Court to sanction Plaintiff for its failure to comply with the discovery rules, though the Court denied this motion following oral argument. (Doc. 35.) This discovery dispute, now ended, has given way to the discovery dispute presently before the Court.

III. THE CURRENT DISPUTE

Shortly after this action was transferred to the undersigned judicial officer for all pretrial matters, it was Plaintiff that felt constrained to file a motion to compel Defendant to provide more fulsome discovery responses after Plaintiff concluded that it was not receiving sufficient documents and other responses to the discovery it propounded. The motion makes clear that Plaintiff takes issue with Defendant's generalized objections, but in terms of specific relief, the motion appears to request only that the Court enter an order requiring Defendant to respond more fully to requests 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 in Plaintiff's request for production of documents. Defendant responded to Plaintiff's motion by submitting its answers and objections to Plaintiff's request for documents and interrogatories. Defendant also provided a copy of the privilege log that it prepared, which appears to have been at least one basis upon which nearly 60 pieces of responsive email correspondence were withheld from Plaintiff.*fn3

Following its review of the parties' relatively abbreviated submissions in support of and opposition to Plaintiff's motion, the Court addressed the pending dispute with the parties during a conference call on September 14, 2009. During this call, the Court advised counsel for both parties that it would require supplemental briefs on Plaintiff's motion, and entered an order setting deadlines by which such motions were to be filed. The parties have submitted their briefs and the discovery dispute is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

IV. DISCUSSION

Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure supplies the scope and limitations governing the use of ...


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