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In Re: Air Crash Near Clarence Center

December 17, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court


This document relates to:


On February 12, 2009, while on final approach to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed into a house in Clarence Center, N.Y., killing all 45 passengers, the four-person crew, and one person in the house. By order entered October 6, 2009, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred all then-pending actions concerning the crash of Flight 3407 to this Court for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407. In Re Air Crash Near Clarence Ctr., N.Y., on Feb. 12, 2009, 655 F. Supp. 2d 1355, 1356 (J.P.M.L. 2009). Subsequently-filed actions have also been transferred here.

Presently before this Court is a motion brought by Defendants Colgan Air Inc., Pinnacle Airlines Corp., and Continental Airlines, Inc., to compel proper discovery responses from Plaintiff Xiaojun Pan. (Docket No. 144.*fn1 ) This Court has reviewed and considered the parties' motion papers and finds oral argument to be unnecessary. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff's decedent, Shibin Yao ("Yao"), was 37 years old at the time she died in the crash of Flight 3407. She left her husband, Xiaojun Pan, their three-year-old son, Zhanjun Pan, as well as Yao's mother, Yiya Pang, her father, Kaide Yao, and her sister, Shihui Yao.

Yao and her family are Chinese citizens. Yao began working for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP ("Pricewaterhouse") in Beijing, China, in 2004, and worked there as a manager until early 2007. In February 2007, Yao began a 24-month secondment in Pricewaterhouse's New York office using an L-1 non-immigrant work visa, which was issued on February 16, 2007, and was due to expire on February 15, 2009. Pricewaterhouse extended Yao's secondment to May 2010 and Yao requested that Pricewaterhouse also complete the process of extending her immigration visa.

Yao and Pan, who also works for Pricewaterhouse, lived in New Jersey during Yao's secondment and were living there at the time of the aircrash. Except for the period April through May 2007 and October through December 2008, Zhanjun remained in China with his grandparents. Yao's parents and her sister live in China. The parties dispute where Yao was domiciled on the date of the aircrash, given her contacts with both China and New Jersey.

Defendants now seek to compel Plaintiff to produce adequate and complete responses to a number of their discovery requests, which will be individually addressed below. Plaintiff maintains that the discovery he has provided is sufficient and that his objections to providing further discovery are proper under the law.


A. Discovery Standard

District courts enjoy broad discretion when resolving discovery disputes. That discretion is exercised by determining the relevance of discovery requests, assessing oppressiveness, and weighing these factors in deciding whether discovery should be compelled. See Yancey v. Hooten, 180 F.R.D. 203, 207 (D.Conn. 1998).

Discovery in federal court is broad and permissive. Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense . . . ." (Emphasis added.) Information is relevant so long as it is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. See Daval Steel Prods. v. M/V Fakredine, 951 F.2d 1357, 1367 (2d Cir. 1991)); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 26(b)(1) ("Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.").

This relevance standard is "necessarily broad in scope in order 'to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.'" LaForest v. Honeywell Int'l Inc., No. 03-CV-6248, 2004 WL 1498916, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. July 1, 2004) (quoting Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351, 98 S.Ct. 2380, 57 L.Ed.2d 253 (1978) and omitting citation); see also Breon v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New England,232 F.R.D. 49, 52 (D.Conn. 2005) ("Relevancy continues to be 'broadly construed, and a request for discovery should be considered relevant if there is any possibility that the information sought may be relevant to the claim or defense of any party.'") (citations omitted; emphasis in original).

But this permissive standard is not unfettered. For example, under Rule 26 (b)(2)(C)(I), a court must limit discovery if it finds that the discovery sought is "unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive." A court must also limit discovery if it finds that the burden or expense of the requested discovery outweighs its likely benefit. See Rule 26 (b)(2)(C)(iii).

The party seeking discovery to which it believes it is entitled may seek to compel production under Rule 37 (a). The party resisting discovery bears the burden of specifically demonstrating why the requested discovery - which for documents and things need only be described with "reasonable particularity" under Rule 34 (b)(1)(A) - is objectionable. See Obiajulu v. City of Rochester, Dep't of Law, 166 F.R.D. 293, 295 (W.D.N.Y. 1996). Objections must clearly set forth the specifics of each objection and how that objection relates to the discovery being demanded. Id. (citing Roesberg v. ...

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