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In re Air Crash Near Clarence Center, New York

United States District Court, Second Circuit

November 3, 2013



WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.


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 are three separate motions brought by Defendants Colgan Air Inc. and Pinnacle Airlines Corp., in which Defendant Continental Airlines, Inc. joins, to compel proper responses to certain discovery demands. (Docket Nos. 933, 936, 952.[1]) This Court has reviewed and considered the parties' motion papers and finds oral argument to be unnecessary. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.


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 nonprivileged 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, at2 (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)); 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. Johns-Manville Corp. , 85 F.R.D. 292 (E.D. Pa. 1980)). Pat, generic, boilerplate, and non-specific objections will not suffice. Obiajulu , 166 F.R.D. at 295.

B. Pecuniary Damages for Wrongful Death

In each of the three cases at issue, Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages pursuant to New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law ("EPTL") due to the wrongful death of their respective decedents. Such damages are limited to "fair and just compensation for the pecuniary injuries resulting from the decedent's death to the persons for whose benefit the action is brought." EPTL § 5-4.3(a); see Milczarski v. Walaszek, 108 A.D.3d 1190, 969 N.Y.S.2d 685 (N.Y.A.D. 4th Dep't 2013). The "persons for whose benefit the action is brought" include a decedent's statutory distributees, as defined in EPTL § 5-4.4(a), who are commonly referred to as "claimants." "[T]he statutory word pecuniary was used in distinction to those injuries to the affections and sentiments which arise from the death of relatives, and which, though most painful and grievous to be borne, cannot be measured or recompensed by money." Gonzalez v. N.Y.C. Hous. Auth. , 77 N.Y.2d 663, 667-8, 572 N.E.2d 598 (1991) (internal quotation marks and emphasis removed). Instead, "[l]oss of support, voluntary assistance and possible inheritance, as well as medical and funeral expenses incidental to death, are injuries for which damages may be recovered." Id . (citing Parilis v. Feinstein , 49 N.Y.2d ...

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