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Under Rule 26(b), 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. Rulings regarding the proper scope of discovery are matters consigned to the Court's discretion and judgment.
Plaintiff Reynolds Alley alleged that he was injured by a defective snowblower-the Model Number 31A-3BAD762 5.5 HP 22-inch Two Stage Snow Thrower-that Defendants manufactured and sold. Mr. Alley alleged that he was inflating the tire of the snowblower using an air compressor when the tire's plastic rim burst, injuring Alley's hand. Thus, Alley initiated the instant lawsuit. A discovery dispute arose regarding Alley’s Amended Rule 30(b)(6) Deposition Notice and a request for production of documents. In the disputed deposition notice, Alley listed nine topics regarding Defendants' methods for storing, creating, retrieving, and retaining electronically stored information that Alley seeks in discovery. The disputed request for production of documents, Request for Documents No. 6, sought: “[a]ny document including Complaints and correspondence referencing any prior or subsequent claims against you which resulted from the same or similar circumstances as those set forth in the Complaint ... [including] any instance where an individual claims he sustained an injury as a result of use of a similar product.” Alley argued that this request for production of documents requires Defendants to produce all expert reports, deposition transcripts, and discovery responses generated in prior cases involving snowblowers that Defendants manufactured. Defendants filed the Motion for Protective Order, arguing (1) that in his Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notice, Alley sought improper "discovery on discovery" by requesting information on Defendants' storage, creation, retrieval, and retention of documents that Plaintiff seeks in discovery; and (2) that Alley’s discovery requests for documents from prior litigation involving Defendants' snowblowers were not proportional to the needs of this case under Rule 26(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Should Defendants’ motion be granted on the ground that the requested documents from prior litigation were not proportional to the needs of this case?
As to the second requisite under Rule 26(b), Alley’s requests for the production of documents from prior litigation were not proportional to the amount in controversy in this case. At the oral argument on this Motion, Defendants' Counsel stated that the total amount in controversy in this case is about $100,000, and stated that Alley incurred about $6,000 in medical bills. The total amount in controversy in this case is roughly equivalent to the cost for Defendants to comply with Plaintiff's discovery requests. Defendants submitted the affidavit of Angela Lavin, Defendants' national discovery counsel, which detailed the cost of producing discovery materials from prior lawsuits in which Defendants were involved. In her affidavit, Ms. Lavin states that it would likely cost Defendants more than $100,000 to produce the documents that Plaintiff seeks. A comparison of the amount in controversy to the cost of complying with Alley’s discovery requests weighs against production, and weighs in favor of granting Defendants' protective order. Even if Defendants overstated the cost of complying with Alley’s discovery request by several thousand dollars, the cost of producing these documents would still be disproportionately close to the amount in controversy in this case. Therefore, Alley’s request for the production of documents from prior cases is not proportional to the amount in controversy in this case.
As to the third requisite, the Court recognizes that Defendants have greater access to the discovery documents that Alley seeks. However, Defendants produced considerable information on prior cases involving the snowblower model that allegedly injured Mr. Alley. Defendants produced the names of the plaintiffs in prior cases, the courts where those cases were filed, and the names of the plaintiffs' attorneys in those cases. Alley’s counsel admitted that he had not investigated state court dockets to determine if he could obtain the sought-after documents through online document-filing systems. Thus, Alley’s counsel has sufficient information to seek out discovery materials from those prior cases on his own.
As to the fifth requisite, the documents Alley requests are not vital to resolving the issues at stake in this action. Alley argues that these documents are necessary to prove that Alley is entitled to punitive damages, which requires a showing that "Defendants were aware of the risks of their defective product and consciously disregarded said risks." However, Alley does not need discovery documents like expert reports, deposition transcripts, and responsive documents from prior cases to prove that Defendants were aware of defects in the snowblowers they produced. Defendants already provided Alley with information on prior lawsuits involving the tire rims of the snowblower model that injured Mr. Alley, thereby admitting that Defendants were on notice of problems with the tire rims. Defendants' counsel stated that these prior lawsuits generally involved "some version of putting air in the tire rims and the rims exploded [resulting in] eye or face or hand injuries." Moreover, Defendants also provided Alley with information on product recalls for the snowblower model that injured Alley, further acknowledging their knowledge of the defect. In sum, there is ample evidence that Defendants were on notice of the defective nature of the snowblower tires. Accordingly, discovery documents from prior litigation are not necessary for Alley to pursue punitive damages or to resolve any other issues in this case.
Finally, as to the sixth requisite, the burden and expense of Defendants' production of these documents clearly outweighs the likely benefit. The estimated cost to Defendants of producing discovery documents from prior litigation is overly burdensome and unduly expensive, especially in light of the amount in controversy in this case. Similarly, producing discovery documents from prior litigation is not found to be beneficial to resolving the key issues in this case.