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Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

December 3, 2009

ESTHER KIOBEL, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROYAL DUTCH PETROLEUM COMPANY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, U.S.D.J.

ORDER

There are two motions currently before the Court. Defendants in the above-captioned action renew their motion for Rule 26(g)(3) sanctions, based on Plaintiffs' counsel's alleged failure to make a reasonable inquiry into the basis for Plaintiffs' responses to Defendants' first set of interrogatories. Defendants also move to compel Plaintiffs' compliance with the Court's June 25, 2009 Order ("June 25 Order"), which directed Plaintiffs to respond to certain aspects of Defendants' second set of interrogatories.*fn1 Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., No. 02 Civ. 7618, 2009 WL 1810104, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 25, 2009).

For the reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES Defendants' motion for sanctions (D.E. 286), and DENIES Defendants' motion to compel (D.E. 292).

I. Renewed Motion for Rule 26(g)(3) Sanctions

A. Background

Defendants' first set of interrogatories sought information regarding individuals with personal knowledge of Plaintiffs' allegations of various alleged human rights abuses in Nigeria. Plaintiffs' submitted initial and then revised interrogatory responses. At a February 10, 2004 conference, Magistrate Judge Pitman deemed Plaintiffs' revised responses sufficient. (Conf. Tr. 117:5-118:10; Feb. 10, 2004.) At the conference, Plaintiffs' counsel also stated that they, rather than Plaintiffs themselves, investigated the case and identified the witnesses listed in Plaintiffs' revised interrogatory responses. (Id. at 37:15-19.)

Following the conference, Defendants deposed several of the individuals identified as having personal knowledge of Plaintiffs' allegations. According to Defendants, these depositions revealed that at least two of the deponents lacked personal knowledge of certain events that Plaintiffs' revised interrogatory responses claimed they had, and that at least three of the deponents first spoke with Plaintiffs' attorneys after Plaintiffs filed interrogatory responses describing those deponents' personal knowledge.

Defendants moved to sanction Plaintiffs, claiming that Plaintiffs' counsel's certification of Plaintiffs' revised interrogatory responses violated Rule 26(g). In its June 25 Order, the Court denied Defendants' motion without prejudice. The Court stated that it required more information to determine whether Plaintiffs' counsel's certification warranted sanctions under Rule 26(g)(3). The Court ordered Plaintiffs to submit an affidavit "summarizing when and how Plaintiffs and/or their attorneys gathered the information provided in Plaintiffs' revised interrogatory responses." The Court noted that:

To the extent that Plaintiffs filed revised interrogotary responses stating the extent of an individual's personal knowledge when Plaintiff's counsel had not yet communicated with that individual about the substance of his personal knowledge, any reasonable inquiry by Plaintiffs' counsel should have alerted Plaintiffs' counsel to the fact that Plaintiffs' revised interrogatory responses were unreasonable. If so, Plaintiffs' counsel's certification of the interrogatory responses would violate Rule 26(g)(3). 2009 WL 1810104, at *3 (emphasis added). On July 31, 2009, Plaintiffs submitted to the Court for its in camera review declarations of Stephen A. Whinston, Esq., and Mr. Anselm John-Miller. Plaintiffs also submitted to Defendants redacted versions of these declarations, as permitted by the Court's June 25 Order. On August 14, 2009, Defendants renewed their motion for Rule 26(g)(3) sanctions.

B. Discussion

1. Legal Standard

Rule 26(g)(1) requires that "[e]very disclosure . . . and every discovery request, response, or objection must be signed by at least one attorney of record in the attorney's own name."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g)(1). By signing a response to a discovery request, an attorney certifies that to the best of his "knowledge, information, and belief formed after a reasonable inquiry," the response is (1) consistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and justified under existing law; (2) not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to unnecessarily delay or needlessly increase the costs of litigation; and (3) reasonable given the importance of the issue and the circumstances of the case. Id.

An attorney's inquiry satisfies Rule 26(g) if it was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g) advisory committee's note. In making this inquiry, an attorney may rely, when appropriate, on representations by his client or communications with other counsel involved in the case. See id. Rule 26(g), however, "does not require the signing ...


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