United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
ADAM J. VARELAS and MICHELLE VARELAS, Plaintiffs,
CROWN EQUIPMENT CORPORATION, ABC INSURANCE COMPANY, CROWN LIFT TRUCKS, DEF INSURANCE COMPANY, and ILLINOIS NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.
STADTMUELLER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
January 12, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a motion to compel
responses to certain of their discovery requests from
Defendants Crown Equipment Corporation and Crown Lift Trucks.
(Docket #28). Defendants opposed the motion on February 2,
2018. (Docket #31). Plaintiffs replied to that opposition on
February 16, 2018. (Docket #35).
of background, this is a products liability action. Plaintiff
Adam J. Varelas worked at Sam's Club operating one of
Defendants' forklifts. Crown Equipment manufactures
forklifts, and Crown Lift was the dealer which was
responsible for servicing the machine at issue. At some
point, he was using the forklift near the edge of a loading
dock. Adam tried to change directions in the forklift by
“plugging, ” or moving the control joystick
opposite the direction of travel, but that technique did not
work. The mechanical brake in the unit also failed. Adam and
the forklift went over the edge. The machine landed in part
on his leg, which had to be amputated below the knee.
Plaintiffs allege that the accident was caused by
Defendants' poor design, manufacture, and/or maintenance
of the forklift. Plaintiffs bring claims for negligence and
strict liability against Defendants.
Rule of Civil Procedure 26 sets the scope of discovery in a
civil case. It provides that
[p]arties 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. Information within this scope of discovery need
not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) (emphasis added). 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). 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). Courts must also keep in mind that
it is 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
seek to compel responses to certain requests for production
of documents. (Docket #29 at 7-12). Defendants' primary
response to the motion is that the requests are not relevant.
See generally (Docket #31 at 8-19). They maintain
that Plaintiffs have failed to identify any particular defect
in the design, manufacture, or maintenance of the forklift at
issue. Without an identified defect, Defendants believe that
Plaintiffs' requests are an overbroad fishing expedition.
Plaintiffs counter that they have identified failures in the
forklift's electrical contactors, which control forward
and reverse movements, and its mechanical brake.
requests, particularly when narrowed to these issues, clearly
fall within the bounds of permissible discovery. Discovery is
not about what evidence will be admissible at trial, but
rather about exploring sources of factual material which may
lead to such evidence. Rule 26 limits discovery to the scope
of the pleadings. As it stands, Plaintiffs' Complaint
alleges that Defendants' forklift was defective in its
design, manufacture, and/or maintenance, and that these
defects led to Adam's injury. They are therefore entitled
to obtain discovery related to these allegations. If
Defendants believe that the claims are too expansive or are
otherwise deficient, they should have sought dismissal via
motions to dismiss or for summary judgment. The time to do so
has passed and no such motions were filed.
warped view of discovery puts the cart before the horse,
asking Plaintiffs to provide some factual support for their
allegations prior to turning over the very material which may
contain that evidence. Defendants repeatedly assert that
Plaintiffs have “the information they need to identify
the conduct, repair, or maintenance they claim Crown
performed negligently.” See, e.g., (Docket #31
at 9). Defendants are not empowered to decide what
information Plaintiffs need or are entitled to. If they were,
any attempt to litigate a civil case beyond the pleadings
stage would be a fool's errand. Plaintiffs are not
engaged in “undirected rummaging, ” but simply
present broad claims which require broad discovery to
related concern is that Plaintiffs' discovery requests
are not proportional to the needs of the case, or in other
words impose an undue burden on Defendants. The Court is, at
this stage, unmoved by this argument. To stand on such an
objection, Defendants must show that “the burden of
compliance . . . would exceed the benefit of production of
the material sought[.]” Nw. Mem. Hosp. v.
Ashcroft, 362 F.3d 923, 927 (7th Cir. 2004). Defendants
offer no evidence on this point. Instead, the Court is
presented with the bald assertions of burden in
Defendants' brief. This is not to say that
Defendants' contention is entirely meritless, but only
that it lacks support at this juncture.
these objections stripped away, there is little substance
left to Defendants' opposition to the motion. The Court
believes that the parties can cooperate to resolve any
remaining issues regarding discovery compliance. Indeed, some
of the issues may be moot as of the date of this Order.
See, e.g., (Docket #35 at 9, 12). The parties'
collaboration should include a limitation on the burden of
production to the extent possible, whether through narrowing
the scope of the subject discovery requests or by
accommodating a more streamlined manner of production. The
Court sees no reason why good lawyers, working together,
cannot accomplish this. The Court will therefore grant
Plaintiffs' motion as to the general issues discussed
herein. If a further ruling is required on the minutiae of
particular discovery requests, the parties may seek the
IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiffs' motion to compel (Docket
#28) be and the same is hereby GRANTED in accordance with the
terms of this Order; and
FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs' motion to seal (Docket
#32) be ...