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Michael Mcdermott v. Liberty Maritime Corp

July 6, 2011

MICHAEL MCDERMOTT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LIBERTY MARITIME CORP.,
ALLIANCE NEW YORK CITY LLC, AND
LIBERTY GLOBAL LOGISTICS, LLC, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Before the Court is Defendants' motion to reconsider the portion of my May 13, 2011 Memorandum & Order ("May 13 M&O") that precluded Defendants' de bene esse*fn1 depositions of the Virginia Beach Correctional Center personnel ("VA personnel") for any other purpose except to authenticate documents received by the center. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is DENIED.

I.Background

On May 13, 2011, I addressed a number of arguments raised by both parties relating to discovery violations. (Docket Entry No. 165.) For example, Defendants served several Fed. R. Civ. P. 45 subpoenas without prior notice, untimely disclosed documents, and untimely served Rule 45 subpoenas after the close of the June 15, 2010 factual discovery deadline. Specifically, Defendants served a subpoena on the Virginia Beach Correctional Center requesting records related to Plaintiff's incarceration and his medical files. Allegedly, the medical records show that while Plaintiff was in prison, he was evaluated and housed in the general population and he did not receive special treatment or accommodation related to any vision impairment. Plaintiff had requested, inter alia, that I preclude a number of documents received in response to Defendants' Rule 45 subpoenas. I denied the preclusion in my May 13 M&O, but admonished Defendants for their conduct. I also ordered that the parties may not conduct further discovery and that Defendants were not permitted to conduct depositions of the VA personnel for any other purpose except to authenticate the medical records because they should have conducted those depositions during the discovery period, but they negligently failed to do so. As set forth in greater detail in my May 13 M&O, the parties extended discovery many times, they had two years to conduct factual discovery, this case has been pending for over three years without delays from any dispositive motion practice, and yet, the parties are nowhere near trial.

II.Discussion

Defendants bring a motion to reconsider presumably under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) and Local Civil Rule 6.3. Rule 60(b) provides that courts may relieve parties from final judgments, orders, or proceedings for, inter alia, mistake, inadvertence, surprise, excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence, fraud, or "any other reason that justifies relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). "The standard for granting [a motion for reconsideration] is strict, and reconsideration will generally be denied unless the moving party can point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked-matters, in other words, that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court." Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995). A motion for reconsideration under Rule 60(b) rests within the sound discretion of the court and "[is] generally granted only upon the showing of exceptional circumstances." Mendell v. Gollust, 909 F.2d 724, 731 (2d Cir. 1990), aff'd, 501 U.S. 115, 111 S. Ct. 2173, 115 L.Ed.2d 109 (1991). The motion "should not be granted where the moving party seeks solely to relitigate an issue already decided." Shrader, 70 F.3d at 257.

Defendants argue that I overlooked the fact that the proposed de bene esse depositions of the VA personnel is to obtain trial testimony that would not otherwise be available because the witnesses are beyond the subpoena power of the Court. They further argue that limiting the scope of the depositions restricts the admission of what would otherwise be competent trial testimony. Defendants propose that the Second Circuit recognizes the distinction between a de bene esse deposition and a discovery deposition. Defendants deny that they are seeking to reopen discovery or obtain information of which they are unaware. They state that they have already investigated the facts and they have spoken to the VA personnel, including the Health Services Administrator. They further allege that much of the information is reflected in the records and that testimony is required to explain the significance of the entries in the records.

Plaintiff opposes the motion to reconsider and argues that Defendants are attempting to circumvent the discovery deadline and my May 13 M&O by characterizing these third-party depositions as depositions to be used for trial purposes only that can be taken after the discovery deadline and presumably, anytime before the date of trial. They also argue that the information Defendants possess should have been disclosed during the discovery period and this is another example of Defendants concealing information that they otherwise have an obligation to disclose under the federal rules.

I will admit that there is indeed some confusion among the district courts in New York whether a de bene esse deposition may proceed after the close of discovery. See Kingsway Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Pricewaterhouse-Coopers LLP, No. 03-CV-5560,2008 WL 5423316, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 31, 2008) (noting the conflict). Our circuit has never addressed the issue and there is a dearth of case law in New York concerning the topic.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 32(a) governs the uses of depositions in trial. In Manley v. AmBase Corp., 337 F.3d 237, 247 (2d Cir. 2003), the circuit held that Fed. R. Civ. P. 32(a) "draws no distinction between depositions taken for purposes of discovery and those taken for use at trial." See also Wolf v. James Miller Marine Servs., Inc., Nos. 08-CV-3636, 08-CV-4799, 2010 WL 2606469, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Jun. 21, 2010). The lower court in Manley permitted the parties to depose the defendant's former chairman "once as part of the discovery process and again pursuant to a de bene esse proceeding ordered by the court when it appeared that the eighty-year old California resident would not travel to New York for trial," the latter deposition being one taken "in anticipation of a future need." Manley, 337 F.3d at 247.

In RLS Associates, LLC v. United Bank of Kuwait PLC, No. 01-CV-1290, 2005 WL 578917, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 11, 2005),the court allowed the de bene esse deposition of the defendants' key witness to occur after the close of discovery. There, the witness was a former employee of the defendants and during the litigation, he moved from New York to Dubai. See id. at *5. The witness was unwilling to travel to NY to give live testimony. See id. The court allowed the deposition to take place de bene esse because it was clear that the deposition was to preserve testimony and there was no need for the defendants to take a deposition of their own witness during the discovery period. See id. at *7. In lieu of live testimony, the defendants were allowed to present the examination by video, in part because "contemporaneous transmission of [the witness'] testimony would be highly inconvenient, due to the large time difference between New York and Dubai." Id. at *7-8. In Kingsway Fin. Servs., the party applied to the court for leave to take de bene esse depositions after the discovery period. 2008 WL 5423316, at *2. The court said there was no controlling authority in the circuit about the issue and was inclined to allow the parties to take the de bene esse depositions after the discovery period, but denied the motion because the plaintiff did not specify the names of the witnesses or whether the witnesses have already been deposed. See id.

The cases I just described are distinguishable from the issues here. This is not a case in which the necessity to depose the VA personnel results from the need to preserve testimony that the witnesses would otherwise have given at trial, based on unforeseen events arising after the close of discovery. The witnesses are not Defendants' employees that became unavailable after the discovery deadline. Defendants knew of Plaintiff's incarceration since March 24, 2009, almost fifteen months before the close of factual discovery and they waited until the summer of 2010 to serve subpoenas requesting documents. They had sufficient notice during the discovery period that these witnesses were unavailable for trial purposes and they could have sought enforcement of a subpoena in the appropriate district under Rule 45(a)(2)(B) during the discovery period. Such a deposition could then have been available for use at trial under Rule 32. Defendants negligently failed to take the depositions at the appropriate time. See Chrysler Intern. Corp. v. Chemaly, 280 F.3d 1358, 1362 n. 8 (11 Cir. 2002) ("[P]arties who delay in taking a needed deposition and who assume that a district court will draw (when the Rules do not and if the pretrial order does not) a distinction, for pretrial scheduling purposes, between different kinds of depositions assume a risk: they cannot count on the trial court's allowing a [de bene esse] deposition to be taken closer to the trial date.").

Nor is this a case where a deposition had been taken during the discovery period and Defendants wish to take another deposition that is specifically tailored to be used as trial testimony.Defendants argue that had the witnesses been in the jurisdictional limit of the court, they could simply produce these witnesses at trial. Defendants forget, again, that they had an obligation to supplement their automatic disclosures pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(e)(1)(A) in a timely manner after they obtained the information. They state in their motion that they have the names of the personnel and they concluded their investigation. However, it appears they have not disclosed these witnesses to Plaintiff. Untimely disclosure appears to be a repetitive problem. Defendants may argue that these depositions are not for discovery purposes because they have already discovered the information, but they disregard that Plaintiff would have wanted to conduct discovery concerning these witnesses. Without disclosing the witnesses under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(1)(A)(i), Defendants wrongfully presume that they would be allowed to present the witnesses at trial. Had Defendants timely disclosed the names of the witnesses and if Plaintiff failed to depose them during the discovery period, Defendants would have a stronger argument justifying a need to take the depositions after the close of discovery.

In George v. Ford Motor Co., No. 03-CV-7643, 2007 WL 2398806 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2007), the plaintiff wanted to take the de bene esse depositions of the defendant's former employee outside of the discovery period. Similar to Defendants here, the plaintiff argued that they were not seeking to reopen discovery, but they wanted to take the deposition for trial purposes only. It argued that it "they hardly need to cite precedent before issuing a subpoena directing an out-of-state fact witness to sit for a de bene esse deposition any more than they would need special leave of court to subpoena [the witness] to appear for trial in the Southern District were he residing in Manhattan." 2007 WL 2398806, at *11. The district court denied the request, holding that "both discovery and de bene esse depositions 'are governed by the scheduling order' set by the Court, and may not be conducted after the close of discovery absent good cause to modify that order." Id. at *12 (citing Sanofi-Synthelabo v. Apotex Inc., No. 02-CV-2255, 2005 WL 469594, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2005) (adhered to on rehearing 2005 WL 816267, at *1-2 (Mar. 25, 2005))). In Sanofi-Synthelabo, the defendant wanted to take the de bene esse deposition of a non-party seventeen months after the close of factual discovery. 2005 WL 469594, at *1. The court held that "[d]epositions of fact witnesses who reside beyond the subpoena range of this Court were to have been conducted prior to the close of fact discovery, not long afterward." Id. It noted "the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure make no distinction between depositions taken for the purpose of discovery ...


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