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Kraus v. Alcatel-Lucent

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 22, 2019

ROBERT J. KRAUS, and MARGARET M. KRAUS
v.
ALCATEL-LUCENT, et al.

          OPINION

          JACOB P. HART, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this case, plaintiffs Robert and Margaret Kraus are suing various defendants, including Space Systems/Loral, LLC (“SSL”) with regard to damages Robert Kraus suffered from exposure to asbestos. Plaintiffs have filed a motion to compel discovery from SSL, which was assigned to the undersigned by the honorable Timothy J. Savage. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Applicable Legal Standards

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37, a party may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery after conferring, or attempting to confer, with good faith with the opposing party in an attempt to obtain it without court action. F. R. Civ. Pr. 37(a)(1). Such a motion may be filed where a party fails to answer an interrogatory submitted under Rule 33, or fails to either produce documents or permit inspection, as requested under Rule 34. Id. at (a)(3)(B). Evasive or incomplete answers and responses are treated as a failure to answer or respond. Id. at (a)(4).

         A party may also seek sanctions from the court where the opposing party has not obeyed a discovery order. Fed. R. Civ. Pr. 37(b)(2)(A). These may include directing that the matters embraced in the order be taken as established for purposes of the action. Id. at 37(b)(2)(A)(i).

         II. Discussion

         A. Interrogatories to Which Answers Were Provided

         In their discovery motion, Plaintiffs maintain that SSL “refused to answer” Interrogatory Nos. 3, 4, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 28, 33, 38 and 42. Plaintiffs' Memorandum at 4. In fact, SSL did answer all of the interrogatories except for 28, 38 and 42. The interrogatories are set forth below, followed by SSL's responses. I have excluded the approximately five pages of objections and commentary which precede all of SSL's responses, (which stand apart from the three pages of objections which precede them) except where specifically noted.

         Interrogatory No. 3: Please state whether or not you are a corporation. If so, state: (a) your correct corporate name; (b) the state of incorporation; (c) the date of your incorporation; (d) the address of your principal place of business; (e) the addresses of any other places of business; (f) whether or not you have ever held a certificate of authority to do business in this state; (g) whether or not you have a registered agent for the purpose of accepting service in this state, and if so, the name and present address of that agent; (h) state your corporate purpose; (i) state whether or not you have or have had subsidiary or predecessor corporation(s) and/or corporations whose liabilities for asbestos you have assumed hereafter predecessor [sic?] if so: (1) the name of each subsidiary and/or predecessor; (2) its date(s) of incorporation, if a corporation of each such corporation (sic?); (3) state(s) of incorporation of each such corporation; (4) the corporate purpose of such corporation.

         Response: No. SSL has also objected that the term “corporations whose liabilities for asbestos you have assumed” on the basis that it is unintelligible and it “calls upon SSL to ratify a conclusion of law, answer a question of law, contemplate a legal standard, or admit the truth of a legal conclusion.” It is obvious from SSL's name that it is a limited liability company and not a corporation.

         That is the basis for the “No” answer provided. It would have been more helpful if SSL had simply stated that it was a limited liability company, and then answered the subparts of the question to the extent that they apply to SSL. If they did not apply, SSL could simply have so stated. I will direct it to provide a response which is compliant with these suggestions.

         Further, as SSL has informed the court in its response, Plaintiffs are seeking to prove that SSL was responsible for injuries caused by electronic products attributable to a company called Philco, which later became Philco Ford, as the result of a contract between Ford and SSL. SSL's Opposition at 2-3. The more information SSL is able to provide on this subject, the more efficient the litigation process will be.

         SSL is not - of course - required to accept Plaintiffs' suggestion that it has “assumed liability for asbestos” from Philco or any other corporation or business entity. Nevertheless, where this or any other discovery request reasonably calls for this information, SSL should plainly set forth its position as to any relationship to Philco or another entity which has manufactured or sold asbestos-related or asbestos-containing products, in the form of an interrogatory response (as opposed to an indirect allusion contained within five pages of objections).

         Interrogatory No. 4: State whether you, a subsidiary, or your predecessors have at any time directly or indirectly been engaged in the mining, manufacturing, producing, processing, compounding, converting, selling, merchandising, supplying, distributing, and/or otherwise placing in the stream of commerce of raw asbestos or finished asbestos products or products designed or intended to contain asbestos. If so, be specific in your answer and state or furnish as to each such asbestos product: (a) the trade name, general name and/or other identification of each such asbestos product, raw or finished: (b) the dates during which you mined, manufactured, supplied, distributed, and/or otherwise placed in the stream of commerce each such asbestos product; (c) the intended use of each such asbestos product; (d) a complete description of each such asbestos product including the type of asbestos contained therein and the percentage of asbestos contained in said product; (e) a description of the physical appearance including color of each such asbestos product specifying whether the said product was/is sold in a solid, loose, powdered or other form; (f) identify the location of each plant or facility which produces each of the aforesaid asbestos products; (g) set forth for which of the products on plaintiff's alphabetical list of Cambria Electronic (attached) are you responsible for and if any contained asbestos.

         Response: SSL has performed a reasonable and diligent search for responsive records or information and no responsive information was obtained. On this basis, SSL responds no.

         It is unlikely that SSL does not even have any information as to whether it, in its current form, has sold or manufactured asbestos-containing products. Thus its response, though facially acceptable, may be suspect. I reiterate that vague allusions in an objection are not a substitute for a meaningful discovery response.

         I will therefore direct SSL to supplement its answer to include any information it does have which would be responsive to this interrogatory. Further, if SSL has any relationship at all with an asbestos-containing product, it should so state. If it has no such relationship, this should be stated in its response.

         Interrogatory No. 6: Did you sell raw asbestos or finished asbestos products to the Navy for the Cambria or to the GE plants on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia or Valley Forge during or immediately prior to the periods of employment of plaintiff in the Navy or at GE or asbestos containing parts for RCA televisions? If yes, identify (a) dates of sales; (b) amounts of sales; (c) names of finished asbestos ...


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