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Murillo v. Kohl's Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 8, 2016

MIGUEL MURILLO, MICHAEL BAEHMAN, and BONNIE BAEHMAN Plaintiffs,
v.
KOHL'S CORPORATION and KOHL'S DEPARTMENT STORES, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         Before the Court is the plaintiffs' motion to compel certain discovery pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26 and 37(a). (Docket #38). In their motion, the plaintiffs argue that the Court should compel: (1) the production of various documents related to the processes by which the defendants' establish merchandise prices;[1] (2) the production of documents that contain the defendants' nationwide transactional and sales data;[2] (3) the testimony of a Rule 30(b)(6) witness(s) regarding the defendants' data retention and IT systems;[3] and (4) the production of documents that have been involved and/or produced in related legal proceedings against the defendants in California.[4] (See generally Docket #39). The plaintiffs certify that-pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(1)-they have properly met and conferred with opposing counsel regarding these discovery issues prior to seeking intervention of the Court. (Docket #39 at 24).[5]

         The plaintiffs' motion to compel is now fully briefed. (Docket #38, #39, #41, #45). As explained in further detail below, the plaintiff's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         1.BACKGROUND

         On February 18, 2016, the plaintiffs filed a complaint challenging the defendants' purportedly false and misleading marketing practices. (Docket #1); see also (Docket #14) (first amended complaint). Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants have engaged in a pervasive, nationwide scheme by which they misrepresent the existence, nature, and amount of price discounts applied to “original” or “regular” item prices. (Docket #14 ¶¶ 1-9, 25-29). By fabricating or inflating their “original” prices, the plaintiff claim the defendants' “sales” or “discounts” are false and deceive consumers into believing that they get a better deal than what they actually are. (Docket #14 ¶¶ 1-9, 25-29). The plaintiffs also claim that the defendants also falsely convey to consumers the impression that their prices are significantly lower than those regularly charged for those products by the defendants or other retailers. (Docket #14 ¶ 27). As a result of this purportedly deceptive marketing scheme, the plaintiffs claim to have purchased merchandise, or paid more for merchandise, than they would have absent deceptive discount price comparisons. (Docket #14 ¶ 26).

         The plaintiffs' amended complaint alleges that they seek to represent two putative Classes of consumers consisting of: (1) “[a]ll individuals who purchased one or more items from the defendants advertised at a discount of 30% or more from a stated original ‘item price' any time during the relevant statute of limitations period…”; and (2) “[a]ll individuals who purchased one or more items from Defendants within the State of Wisconsin advertised at a discount of 30% or more from a stated original ‘item price' any time during the relevant statute of limitations period.…” (Docket #14 ¶¶ 77-89). The plaintiffs bring claims for unjust enrichment and violations of the Wisconsin Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Wis.Stat. §100.18, et seq. (“WDTPA”), violations of the consumer fraud laws of various states, and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §2201(a). (Docket #14 ¶¶ 90-129). Though the defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' amended complaint on both substantive and jurisdictional grounds (Docket #17), the Court denied that motion on June 24, 2016. (Docket #36). Now ripe for adjudication is the plaintiffs' motion to compel, filed on July 13, 2016. (Docket #38).

         2.LEGAL STANDARD

         In accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26,

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). For the purpose of discovery, relevancy is construed broadly to encompass “any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter[s] that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.” Chavez v. Daimler Chrysler, 206 F.R.D. 615, 619 (S.D. Ind. 2002) (internal citations omitted). Moreover, “[r]elevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” Id. Although the burden of demonstrating relevance is on the party seeking discovery, once relevance has been shown, it is the objecting party's obligation “to show why a particular discovery request is improper.” Sandoval v. Bridge Terminal Trans., Inc., No. 14-CV-639, 2015 WL 3650644, at *1 (E.D. Wis. June 10, 2015).

         The Court has broad discretion to grant or deny motions to compel discovery under Rule 37(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c); Sattar v. Motorola, Inc., 138 F.3d 1164, 1171 (7th Cir. 1998) (“[D]istrict courts have broad discretion in matters related to discovery.”). Moreover, courts must limit discovery if the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action, or the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(i)-(iii). Indeed, courts must keep in mind that it is also their duty to “prevent ‘fishing expeditions' or an undirected rummaging…for evidence of some unknown wrongdoing.” Cuomo v. Clearing House Ass'n, L.L.C., 557 U.S. 519, 531 (2009). Therefore, in ruling on a motion to compel, “a district court should independently determine the proper course of discovery based upon the arguments of the parties.” Gile v. United Airlines, Inc., 95 F.3d 492, 496 (7th Cir. 1996).

         3. DISCOVERY DISPUTES

         Before the Court are four discovery disputes. (See generally Docket #39). As highlighted above, the plaintiffs argue that the Court should compel: (1) the production of various documents related to the processes by which the defendants establish their pricing policies; (2) the production of documents that contain the defendants' national transactional and sales data; (3) the testimony of a Rule 30(b)(6) witness(s) regarding the defendants' data and IT systems; and (4) the production of documents involved in related legal proceedings involving the defendants in California. The Court will address each of these issues in turn.

         3.1 Pricing Policy Documents

         The plaintiffs seek to compel documents concerning the processes by which the defendants establish their “regular, ” “original, ” and “sale” prices. (Docket #39 at 13-16; Docket #40, Ex. 1 at 8). To that end, the plaintiffs have requested documents in the form of:

7. Marketing studies, research, consultant reports, sales, and other data [the defendants] used to support [their] claim that the Merchandise was sold at a bona fide dollar or percentage Discount from a bona fide “regular” or “original” item price.
8. Documents sufficient to show any analysis or focus group studies concerning the pricing, labeling, marketing, and advertising of the Merchandise.
9. Documents that [the defendants] relied on, including any study, report, evaluation, assessment, analysis, and/or similar document, concerning consumer behavior or psychology or decision making, relating to purchasing items priced at an actual or purported Discount, including [the defendants'] Merchandise priced or sold at a Discount.

(Docket #40, Ex. 1 at 8).

         Though the defendants attempt to parse these questions into oblivion by arguing that the questions are vague, confusing, and unclear (Docket #40, Ex. 3 at 6-8), the Court finds the aforementioned requests relevant, clear, and appropriate.[6] In other words, Kohls' objections tend toward obfuscation rather than genuine argumentation.[7]See Cunningham v. Smithkline Beecham, 255 F.R.D. 474, 478 (N.D. Ind. 2009) (“[An] objecting party must show with specificity that the request is improper. That burden cannot be met by a reflexive invocation of the same baseless, often abused litany that the requested discovery is vague, ambiguous, overly broad, unduly burdensome or that it is neither relevant nor reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”) (internal citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Regardless, in the context of their brief filed in response to this motion, the defendants have represented to the ...


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