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Barnes v. Shell Exploration and Production Co. Appalachia

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 12, 2019

JESSE BARNES, Plaintiff,


          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge.

         This Court held oral argument on outstanding discovery issues on November 15, 2019. My rulings on these issues are explained below.

         I. Defendant's Motion for Protective Order (ECF No. 35)

         The parties stipulated to a confidentiality agreement that was so ordered by this Court on March 1, 2019 (ECF No. 27). That agreement contains the following language concerning the procedure for objecting to a confidentiality designation:

Either party may, within twenty (20) days of receipt of material designated by the other party as Confidential Material, challenge the designation of material as Confidential Material, by sending or giving notice to the other party's counsel, and the parties shall then attempt to resolve any challenge in good faith on an informal basis. The designating party shall respond to the challenge/objection with seven (7) days of the same and shall state with particularity the basis of the designation. If no timely response is made to the objection/challenge, the designation will be deemed to be void. If the designating party timely responds, and the parties cannot resolve the issue in good faith, then the proponent of the challenge to the designation must present the matter to the Court. The material designated as Confidential at issue shall continue to be treated as Confidential until the Court orders otherwise.[1]

         Defendants served a document production on Plaintiff on June 28, 2019, in which all pages were designated confidential and did not include a log specifying the bases for why each document was so designated. On July 5, 2019, Plaintiff challenged Defendants' designation. Defendants failed to respond within the seven days provided by the confidentiality stipulation. At oral argument, Defendants agreed that their Code of Conduct, Equal Opportunity Policy, and Harassment Policy should not be designated confidential, but that they would need to conduct a more detailed review of the rest of the documents to determine whether confidential designations are appropriate.

         Defendants shall conduct this review and produce a log “stat[ing] with particularity the basis of the designation” for each document Defendants seek to designate confidential in the June 28, 2019 production as required by the confidentiality stipulation.[2] Defendants shall produce this log within thirty days. The parties are warned that the deadlines in the confidentiality stipulation will be rigidly enforced going forward.

         II. Plaintiff's Motion of October 9, 2019 (ECF No. 55)

         This Court issued a scheduling order on September 25, 2019, compelling Plaintiff to file a motion to compel relating to any perceived discovery deficiencies by the Defendants.[3] Plaintiff complied.[4] I address the issues raised in Plaintiff's motion in turn.

         A. Personnel Files

         Plaintiff requested the personnel files for roughly half a dozen Shell managers. Defendant withheld these files on the basis that the request is overbroad.

         Personnel files often contain sensitive information.[5] For this reason, unlimited discovery of personnel files is disfavored.[6] The party seeking discovery must generally make a more particularized showing of relevance.[7]

         Here, Plaintiff has made a particularized showing of relevance for William Turney's personnel file. Turney is alleged to be the primary harasser. Because of this, his credibility is particularly salient, and the information in the file is likely to provide helpful context for Shell's investigation into Barnes's complaint. Shell has corroborated the view that such files provide insight into this case by subpoenaing similar files from Barnes's former and current employers, requests to which Plaintiff has not objected. In light of all this, Barnes is entitled to Turney's full personnel file.

         However, Barnes has not articulated a particularized need for the full personnel files of the other Shell managers. Weighed against their privacy interests in these files, I find that requests for the full files are overbroad.[8] Shell shall produce only those ...

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