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In re Air Crash Near Clarence Center

United States District Court, Second Circuit

November 18, 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.

Plaintiff Ping Wang's decedent is her husband, Zhaofang Guo. (Declaration of Terrence M. Connors, Esq., Docket No. 1176, ¶ 2.[1]) Zhaofang Guo and Plaintiff have one child - Kevin Guo - who suffers from Asperger's Disorder. (Connors Decl., ¶¶ 3, 9, 10.) Asperger's Disorder is marked by "qualitative impairments in social interaction and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities." (Expert Report of Dr. Lynda Geller, Docket No. 1170-2, p. 13.) Plaintiff and Kevin Guo are the only beneficiaries under Zhaofang Guo's Will. (Connors Decl., ¶ 9.)

Presently before this Court is a motion brought by Defendants Colgan Air Inc. and Pinnacle Airlines Corp. (collectively "Colgan") to compel complete and proper discovery responses to their First, Second, Third, and Fourth Requests for Production of Documents and Things, and to their First Interrogatories. (Docket No. 1167.) Colgan also seeks an Order compelling Plaintiff to produce information from her experts, and further requests the issuance of a judicial subpoena to access the decedent's email communications. This Court has reviewed and considered the parties' motion papers and finds oral argument to be unnecessary. For the reasons discussed below, Colgan's motion is 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, 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. Previous Discovery Decisions

Two of this Court's previous decisions bear on the issues raised in ...

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