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Johnson v. Predator Trucking, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 10, 2014

ROBERT JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
PREDATOR TRUCKING, LLC; and MICHAEL PAREJA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

In this civil action invoking this court's diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiff has sued Defendants for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of an incident involving a tractor and trailer allegedly operated by Defendant Pareja and owned by Defendant Pareja's employer, Defendant Predator Trucking. Presently before the court is Plaintiff's motion to compel. For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's motion (Doc. 17) will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background[1]

Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant Pareja sounding in negligence (Count I), and against Defendant Predator Trucking sounding in negligence based on vicarious liability (Count II) and negligent hiring/retention/supervision (Count III).[2] (Doc. 1.) The parties are currently engaged in fact discovery, which is set to conclude on June 16, 2014. ( See Doc. 15.)

This case concerns an accident that occurred on January 3, 2012, at Beck Aluminum Alloy LTD's recycling center, located within the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Defendant Pareja, employed by Defendant Predator Trucking, was operating a vehicle, owned by Defendant Predator Trucking. The vehicle had been backed into the Beck Aluminum facility as the freight was being unloaded. Defendant Pareja allegedly caused the vehicle to move forward, which resulted in the rear tires of the trailer to strike Plaintiff, who was operating a forklift near Defendant Pareja's vehicle. Plaintiff allegedly suffered serious injuries as a result of the incident.

The motion sub judice concerns various documents that Defendants have refused to produce during the course of discovery. The court has previously disposed of several issues previously raised. ( See Doc. 20.) Pertinent to the outstanding dispute, Plaintiff requests[3] that the court order Defendants to produce: 1) the complete set of Michael Pareja's Driver's Logs from December 15, 2011, through January 18, 2012; 2) certain photographs taken following the incident, including a set depicting a re-enactment of the incident and a set included in a report by Defendant Predator Trucking's insurance adjuster; 3) Defendant Predator Trucking's insurance adjuster's report, dated March 10, 2012; 4) the claim file of Defendant Predator Trucking's insurance adjuster pertaining to the January 3, 2012 incident; 5) documentation of safety training, courses, certifications, and internal safety policies and materials; 6) information pertaining to electronic communication devices in Defendant Pareja's tractor at the time of the incident; and 7) DOT audits and exit reports for Defendant Predator Trucking, created from January 2007 to the present.[4] ( See Docs. 17, 18 & 23.) Pursuant to the court's order dated December 12, 2013, Defendants have submitted the outstanding documents to the court for an in camera review.[5]

II. Legal Standard

Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure defines both the scope and limitations governing the use of discovery in a federal civil action:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense - including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter. 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 trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Issues relating to the scope of discovery permitted under the Rules rest in the sound discretion of the court. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp. , 812 F.2d 81, 90 (3d Cir. 1987). This discretion is guided, however, by certain basic principles. Thus, at the outset, it is clear that Rule 26's broad definition of that which can be obtained through discovery reaches only "nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Therefore, valid claims of privilege still cabin and restrict the court's discretion in ruling on discovery issues. Furthermore, the scope of discovery permitted by Rule 26 embraces all "relevant information, " a concept which is defined in the following terms: "Relevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). The party resisting production bears the burden of establishing lack of relevancy, and must demonstrate that the requested documents either do not come within the broad scope of relevancy defined under subsection (b)(1) or else are of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption of broad disclosure. Continental Life Ins. Co. v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc. , Civ. No. 88-cv-9279, 1990 WL 209290, *2 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 13, 1990).

The work product protection, which derives from Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(3), states that "documents and tangible things otherwise discoverable, " but which were "prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial by or for another party or by or for that other party's representative" are not discoverable. Raso v. CMC Equip. Rental, Inc. , 154 F.R.D. 126, 127 (E.D. Pa. 1994). The party asserting the work product protection has the burden of demonstrating that the documents were "prepared in anticipation of litigation, " Conoco, Inc. v. United States Dep't of Justice , 687 F.2d 724, 730 (3d Cir. 1982). The mainstay of work product protection, and the gravamen of the instant dispute, lies in the deceivingly simple phrase, "in anticipation of litigation." To determine whether a document was "prepared in anticipation of litigation, " the appropriate inquiry is "whether in light of the factual situation in the particular case, the document can fairly be said to have been prepared or obtained because of the prospect of litigation." Maertin v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc. , 172 F.R.D. 143, 148 (D.N.J. 1997). Litigation need not be imminent as long as the main purpose behind the creation of the document was to aid in future litigation; however, the mere possibility of future litigation is insufficient to meet the "in anticipation of litigation" standard. Leonen v. Johns-Manville , 135 F.R.D. 94, 97 (D.N.J. 1990); United States v. Rockwell Int'l , 897 F.2d 1255, 1266 (3d Cir. 1990). Thus, a document that was prepared "in the ordinary course of business" may not be found to have been prepared in anticipation of litigation.

III. Discussion

At the outset, the court notes that several of the aforementioned requested materials are no longer in dispute. Specifically, based on Defendants' representations in their sur-reply, Defendants have fulfilled Plaintiff's requests pertaining to documentation of safety training, courses, certifications, and internal safety policies and materials and information ...


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