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Dutton v. Todd Shipyards Corp.

November 17, 2009

RONALD DUTTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TODD SHIPYARDS CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. Rueter Chief United States Magistrate Judge

Consolidated Under

MDL DOCKET NO. 875

Transferred from the Northern District of California

MEMORANDUM ORDER

AND NOW, this 17th day of November 2009, it is hereby ORDERED that the Motion to Compel (Doc. No. 15) (the "Motion") of defendant, is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as set forth below.

Defendant, Todd Shipyards Corporation ("Todd"), filed the instant Motion requesting that the court compel numerous discovery responses from plaintiff. After two telephone conferences, there are several outstanding discovery issues on which the court must rule. Counsel for Todd has outlined the remaining issues in a letter to the court (Doc. No. 21), and the court will address these issues ad seriatim.

1. Settlement Agreements

Todd seeks the production of the settlement agreements from plaintiff's previous state court asbestos personal injury action, his worker's compensation action, and from the claims he submitted to asbestos personal injury bankruptcy trusts. Todd argues that the settlement agreements are discoverable as relevant, admissible evidence under Fed. R. Evid. 408(b). Todd avers that these documents will not be used to show liability, but rather will be used for impeachment, to establish a claim for a set-off from damages under California law, and to "avoid juror confusion by explaining to the jury why other culpable entities are not present in the case." (Doc. No. 21 at 2.) Todd further argues that to the extent that a jury might misuse this evidence, a limiting instruction could be given by the court. Id. Plaintiff responds by contending that these agreements are not relevant evidence and are not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of relevant evidence. (Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. to Compel at 9, Doc. No. 17.)

Because public policy favors the compromise and settlement of disputes, courts place the burden upon the party seeking discovery of a confidential settlement agreement "to make a particularized showing 'that the documents relating to the settlement negotiations are relevant and likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.'" Key Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. ESI-Lederle, Inc., 1997 WL 560131, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 29, 1997) (quoting Fidelity Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n v. Felicetti, 148 F.R.D. 532, 534 (E.D. Pa. 1993)). For the following reasons, the court finds that defendant has not made a sufficient showing of how production of the settlement agreements will lead to admissible evidence. The court rejects the claim that defendant needs the agreements to "impeach" plaintiff. Defendant already knows that plaintiff filed claims against other asbestos manufacturers in state courts. Defendant has access to all state court pleadings. Defendant may impeach plaintiff with his state court filings to suggest that his exposure to asbestos occurred at times and places having nothing to do with defendant's conduct. While disclosure of the settlement agreements will reveal the amount of money plaintiff received from other asbestos manufacturers, the settlement amounts cannot be used to prove the extent of plaintiff's exposure to asbestos from another manufacturer's product. See Fed. R. Evid. 408 (Evidence of settlement amounts is not admissible to prove liability for or the validity of a claim.). With respect to defendant's argument that under California law the amounts plaintiff received from settlements may be used as a set-off in the event of a jury verdict against it, that issue can be addressed after the entry of judgment, when the court would entertain defendant's set-off argument. See Lewin v. Am. Export Lines, Inc., 224 F.R.D. 389, 396 (N.D. Ohio 2004) (court refused to order disclosure of settlement amounts to be used for a set-off before a jury verdict). Finally, discovery of the amounts plaintiff received from other settling defendants is not necessary for the trial judge to explain to the jury why other culpable entities are not present in this case. The court, if it chooses, can simply explain that claims against other defendants were resolved, without mentioning the amount of monies received by plaintiff. Accordingly, the Motion is denied in so far as it seeks production from plaintiff of all settlement agreements from his prior personal injury action, his worker's compensation action and from claims he submitted to the bankruptcy trusts.

2. Bankruptcy Trust and Worker's Compensation Documentation

Todd asks the court to order the production of all documents submitted by plaintiff to bankruptcy trusts and all documents pertaining to his worker's compensation claim. From Todd's representations in correspondence with the court, as well as from telephone conferences with the parties, it is the court's understanding that plaintiff has agreed to produce these documents. Therefore, the court will require plaintiff to provide these documents to Todd within thirty days of the date of this Order.

3. Asbestos State Court Documentation

Todd requests that the court order plaintiff to produce all documents relating to plaintiff's prior asbestos personal injury suit from California state court. Plaintiff has offered to make these documents available to Todd for viewing and copying, provided Todd pay a reasonable copying fee. Todd, in its correspondence with the court, indicates that it is amenable to this offer. (Doc. No. 21 at 4.) Therefore, the court orders plaintiff ...


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