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Kearney v. JPC Equestrian Inc.

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

October 30, 2014

MARK EDWARD KEARNEY, Plaintiff
v.
JPC EQUESTRIAN, INC. and VARUN SHARMA, Defendants

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action the plaintiff, Mark Kearney, has sued his former employer, JPC Equestrian, and its President, Varun Sharma, alleging that the defendants wrongfully terminated his employment, and breached sales agreements with Kearney by either failing to pay him sales commissions or by paying reduced commissions that did not satisfy contractual obligations. Kearney has also alleged that Sharma tortiously interfered with Kearney’s sales representation agreement with JPC, and that he suffered damages as a result. Finally, Kearney has alleged that JPC discriminated against him on the basis of age and gender when it terminated the parties’ relationship.

The procedural history of this litigation, which has been halting at times, is familiar to the parties and does not warrant extended discussion here. The discovery period has now closed and the defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment on Kearney’s claims, and Kearney has filed a motion for partial summary judgment. (Docs. 103, 111.) Those motions are pending, and further litigation in this matter has been stayed pending the Court’s resolution of the motions.

This matter now comes before the Court on the plaintiff’s motion to compel the defendants to produce email, invoices and certain sales information, and Varun Sharma’s individual tax returns, all of which the plaintiff claims the defendants have failed to provide despite his repeated requests.[1] (Doc. 121.) In response, the defendants have represented that they have produced all responsive emails requested by the plaintiff and that there are no further responsive emails to produce. In addition, the defendants have agreed to provide Kearney with sales information that is effectively responsive to his discovery inquiries within 15 days of the date of this order, and they have requested that the Court either deny the plaintiff’s request for Sharma’s income tax statements or defer a decision until after first ruling on the defendants’ pending motion for summary judgment.

For the reasons discussed briefly below, the plaintiff’s motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. DISCUSSION

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, parties are permitted to engage in a broad range of discovery as part of the litigation process. Rule 26(b)(1) of those Rules provides as follows:

Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged 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)(1). Kearney’s motion, and the defendants’ response in opposition to this motion, call upon the Court to exercise its authority under Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure to regulate discovery in this case. 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). A court’s decisions regarding the conduct of discovery will be disturbed only upon a showing of an abuse of discretion. Marroquin-Manriquez v. I.N.S., 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983).

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.”

A. Email

Kearney first contends that the defendants have failed to produce what he generally calls “all relevant emails, ” which in his original discovery requests, were defined as “All emails that mention, or refer to the Plaintiff, however, marginally, in any way shape or form from 2002 through 2010.” (Doc. 122, Ex. C.) The defendants have provided the plaintiff with approximately 250 pages of emails dating back to 2005, but the plaintiff believes there may be more that have not been produced. The defendants flatly dispute this assertion, and have explained the way in which they searched for responsive email in their initial disclosures and in response to Kearney’s discovery request.

In order to cull responsive emails, the defendants searched the email boxes assigned to Varun Sharma and Richard Knapp, JPC’s Comptroller, as the two employees who “reasonably could have had communications with or about Kearney regarding the subject matter of this litigation.” (Doc. 124, at 10.) Kearney has suggested that other email must exist, and he argues that the defendants should scour the email accounts for since-departed employees to search for responsive email. The defendants have flatly represented that these emails “do not ...


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