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In re Air Crash Near Clarence Center

United States District Court, Second Circuit

November 6, 2013

IN RE: AIR CRASH NEAR CLARENCE CENTER, NEW YORK, ON FEBRUARY 12, 2009, This document relates to: ALL CASES

DECISION AND ORDER

WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

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. Nine individual actions remain.

Presently before this Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for an Order Overruling Objections to their Second Request for the Production of Documents and Things made by Defendants Colgan Air Inc. and Pinnacle Airlines Corp. (collectively "Colgan"). (Docket No. 842.) The discovery requests relate to Colgan's pilot hiring, training, selection, and supervision, as well as to Colgan's safety records and protocols. This Court has considered the parties' motion papers and finds oral argument to be unnecessary. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiffs' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. DISCUSSION

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, 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. 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. Objections to Pilot Hiring, Training, Selection, and Supervision Requests

Plaintiffs' Second Request for the Production of Documents and Things seeks information concerning Colgan's pilot hiring, training, selection, and supervision. (See Plaintiffs' Second Request for the Production of Documents and Things, Docket No. 853-17, Requests 1-4; 7-11; 13; 15-16; 19-21; 24-25; 29-41.) Colgan objects on relevancy grounds. It argues that Plaintiffs' requests are not reasonably related to a violation of any applicable federal standard of care and are therefore beyond the scope of permissible discovery. Plaintiffs counter that their requests are relevant to whether Colgan acted carelessly or recklessly, which Plaintiffs maintain is the standard of care that governs Colgan's actions. The parties' dispute is driven by their divergent views of the applicable standard of care that flows from this Court's determination that federal law preempts state law in the field of aviation safety. See In Re Air Crash Near Clarence Center, New York, On February 12 , 2009, 798 F.Supp.2d 481, 483-486 (W.D.N.Y. 2011).

On July 18, 2011, this Court resolved Colgan's Motion for the Application of a Federal Standard of Care. See id. At issue was whether Congress intended the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (the "Aviation Act"), 49 U.S.C. §§ 40101, et seq., and its associated regulations (e.g., 14 C.F.R. §§ 21.199, et seq.) to preempt all state law standards of care relating to air safety. See id. at 484.

Based on the authority of Goodspeed Airport LLC v. E. Haddam Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Comm'n , 634 F.3d 206, 212 (2d Cir. 2011), this Court found that Congress intended the Aviation Act to entirely preempt state regulation of air safety. Id. at 485. As it pertains to the scope of the federal preemption, this Court found that the Aviation Act and the corresponding regulations constitute an "overarching general standard of care." In Re Air Crash Near Clarence Center, New York, On February 12 , 2009, 798 F.Supp.2d at 486 (citing Shupert v. Cont'l Airlines, Inc., No. 00 Civ. 2743(LMM) , 2004 WL 784859, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 12, 2004) and 14 C.F.R. § 91.13(a)). Thus, this Court found that the general standard of care set forth in 14 C.F.R. § 91.13(a), together with the numerous aviation safety regulations in Title 14, preempted state law standards of care. Id.

The issue raised by the present motion is what standard of care applies to Plaintiffs' negligence claims concerning pilot hiring, training, selection, and supervision. Plaintiffs maintain that a general reckless or careless standard of care applies, whether derived from 14 C.F.R. § 91.13 or from common law. Colgan disagrees. It argues that the applicable standards of care must be derived from specific federal regulations governing pilot hiring, training, selection, and supervision, ...


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