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Sicurelli v. Jeneric/Pentron Inc.

May 16, 2006

ROBERT SICURELLI ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JENERIC/PENTRON INC. ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matsumoto, United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

This patent infringement action has been referred to the undersigned for general pretrial supervision. Presently before the Court is the motion of Jeneric/Pentron, Inc., Pentron Clinical Technologies, LLC and Pentron Corporation, Inc. (collectively, "Jeneric/Pentron") to compel the production of certain documents, in plaintiffs' possession. The documents were subpoenaed by Jeneric/Pentron from Hi-Rel Laboratories, Inc. ("Hi-Rel"), an entity which purportedly conducted scanning electron microscopy ("SEM") tests of Jeneric/Pentron's dental posts which are the subject of this litigation. Specifically, in addition to all documents and things considered by plaintiffs' expert, Dr. Anthony Storace, in formulating his opinion and expert report, Jeneric/Pentron seeks production of "any and all documents and things, including . . . photographs . . . exchanged between [plaintiffs' litigation counsel] Ropes & Gray and Hi-Rel . . . . [,]" and any and all documents that mention, refer or relate to the instant law suit or any of the parties thereto. (Doc. No. 183, Affirmation of Michael Burling, Esq. dated Apr. 3, 2006 ("Burling Aff."), Ex. D, Subpoena to Hi-Rel, Schedule A, ¶¶ 4-6.)

Plaintiffs do not oppose the production of all materials considered by Dr. Storace in formulating his opinion and expert report. Instead, plaintiffs assert the work product privilege as to other documents relating to Hi-Rel's testing, specifically, testing commissioned by plaintiffs both prior to and following the commencement of this litigation. (See generally, Doc. No. 182, Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Motion to Compel ("Pls. Opp'n MOL").) Plaintiffs also dispute Jeneric/Pentron's contention that all materials prepared by or otherwise exchanged between plaintiffs and Hi-Rel, regardless of whether such materials were considered by Dr. Storace, should be produced because they have been placed "at issue." (Id. at 6-10.) Dr. Storace has declared under oath:

I have no knowledge of the testing conducted by Hi-Rel with Dr. Sicurelli and Ropes & Gray, and I did not consider it in forming my opinions in this case. No person at Hi-Rel made reference in my dealings with them to any previous work having been performed for Dr. Sicurelli, Dr. Masyr, or Ropes & Gray. I have produced all materials that I considered in forming my opinions in the above-captioned matter. (Burling Aff., Ex. A, Declaration of Dr. Anthony Storace dated Mar. 30, 2006 ("Storace Decl."), ¶¶ 8-9.)

For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that (i) documents relating to plaintiffs' pre-litigation SEM testing, and plaintiffs' litigation counsel's SEM testing, of Jeneric/Pentron's dental posts are protected by the work product privilege; (ii) Jeneric/Pentron has not demonstrated the requisite "substantial need" for the privileged materials sufficient to overcome work product protection; and (iii) plaintiffs have not otherwise placed such materials "at issue" so as to have waived work product protection. Accordingly, Jeneric/Pentron's motion to compel is denied without prejudice.

DISCUSSION

The work product doctrine provides qualified protection from discovery of "documents and tangible things . . . prepared in anticipation of litigation" unless the party seeking discovery demonstrates a "substantial need of the materials in the preparation of the party's case and that the party is unable without undue hardship to obtain the substantial equivalent of the materials by other means." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3). The purpose of this doctrine is to protect from disclosure materials reflecting "the mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of an attorney or other representative of a party concerning the litigation." Id.

A. Applicability of the Work Product Doctrine

"[T]hree conditions must be met to earn work product protection. The material must (1) be a document or a tangible thing, (2) that was prepared in anticipation of litigation, and (3) was prepared by or for a party, or by or for his representative." In Re Grand Jury Subpoenas Dated Dec. 18, 1981 & Jan. 4, 1982, 561 F. Supp. 1247, 1257 (E.D.N.Y. 1982). The burden of establishing all three elements of the work product privilege rests with the party invoking the privilege. In re Grand Jury Subpoena Dated Dec. 19, 1978, 599 F.2d 504, 510 (2d Cir. 1979). There is no dispute regarding the first and third prongs of this tripartite test.

With respect to the second prong - whether the document was prepared in anticipation of litigation - this Court has previously determined that one of the SEM tests was "commissioned by and for plaintiffs in their anticipation of litigation against Jeneric," prior to the commencement of this litigation ("pre-litigation testing"). Sicurelli v. Jeneric/Pentron, No. 03-CV-4934, slip op. at 13-14 (E.D.N.Y. May 3, 2005) ("May 2005 Order"). This Court ruled that the documents relating to that test were "developed by the plaintiffs in the context of the plaintiffs' potential litigation against Jeneric . . . and [were] protected from disclosure as plaintiffs' work product and may not be disclosed . . . without plaintiffs' consent." Id.; see also Jeneric/Pentron, No. 03-CV-4934, slip op. at 9 (E.D.N.Y. June 16, 2005) ("Order on Reconsideration") (on reconsideration, holding that documents relating to the results of SEM testing of dental posts commissioned by plaintiffs were work product "because the record established that plaintiffs commissioned the test to aid them in their anticipated litigation").

Moreover, the Court finds that documents relating to the results of the SEM tests commissioned by plaintiffs' litigation counsel, Ropes & Gray, LLP, and conducted during the course of litigation, also qualify as work product. A review of plaintiffs' privilege log regarding "Withheld Documents Submitted by Third-Party Hi-Rel Laboratories, Inc.," indicates that plaintiffs' litigation counsel commissioned tests in connection with the instant action on September 9, 2004, nearly one year after the filing of the Summons and Complaint on September 26, 2003, and that Hi-Rel provided the results of its testing to plaintiffs' counsel on or about December 9, 2004. (See Doc. No. 178, Affirmation of William J. Cass, Esq. ("Cass Aff."), at Ex. A, Privilege Log.) Accordingly, plaintiffs have satisfied the elements necessary to establish the applicability of the work product privilege to the disputed documents.

B. Substantial Need for the Protected Documents

"Even where the applicability of the work product doctrine has been established, factual material may be ordered produced 'upon a showing of substantial need and inability to obtain the equivalent without undue hardship.'" In re Omeprazole Patent Litig., No. M-21-81, 2005 WL 818821, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2005) (quoting Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 400 (1981)); In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 219 F.3d 175, 190-191 (2d Cir. 2000) ("A party seeking discovery of attorney work-product must show substantial need, for fact work-product. As for work-product that shows mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of an attorney, . . . at a minimum such material is to be protected unless a highly persuasive showing [of need] is made.") (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

"Substantial need is not evaluated in a vacuum, and in order to overcome work product protection, [defendant] must demonstrate that it cannot obtain the substantial equivalent of the information it seeks." E.E.O.C. v. Carrols Corp., 215 F.R.D. 46, 52 (N.D.N.Y. 2003) (citing Horn & Hardart Co. v. Pillsbury Co., 888 F.2d 8, 12 (2d Cir. 1989)). That does not mean that a party seeking the document must show an absolute impossibility, but rather that it is significantly more difficult, time-consuming or expensive to obtain ...


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