Law School Case Brief
Oxbow Carbon & Minerals LLC v. Union Pac. R.R. - 322 F.R.D. 1 (D.D.C. 2017)
Discovery must be relevant and proportional to the needs of the case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. To determine whether a discovery request is proportional, courts weigh the following six factors: "(1) the importance of the issues at stake in this action; (2) the amount in controversy; (3) the parties' relative access to relevant information; (4) the parties' resources; (5) the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues; and (6) whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit."
Plaintiffs are five related companies (collectively "Oxbow") that mine and sell coal and petroleum coke that filed an action to recover treble damages, as well as "lost business and profits" that proximately resulted from an alleged conspiracy. They filed a complaint alleging that defendant railroad companies conspired to engage in anticompetitive conduct in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act that forced plaintiff to pay higher prices to ship coal and petcoke. Defendants filed a motion to compel plaintiffs to add the Oxbow owner as a document custodian whose records will be searched for material responsive to plaintiff’s discovery request. Plaintiffs argued that it would be unduly burdensome and disproportionate to any value the documents might possess to defendants.
Is the discovery request of defendants unduly burdensome and disproportionate to any value that plaintiffs' documents may possess to them in the litigation?
The United States District Court granted defendants' motion to compel the production of documents belonging to their CEO. The Court held that weighing the six proportionality factors of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 demonstrated that adding the owner of plaintiff companies as a custodian of documents to be searched for material responsive to defendants' discovery requests in this matter will be neither unduly burdensome nor unreasonably expensive in light of the facts. As for the first factor (The Importance of the Issues at Stake), the Court found that the importance of the issues at stake here weighed in favor of granting defendants' discovery request, which Oxbow concedes will produce documents that are relevant to the resolution of this case's claims. As for the sixth factor (Whether the Burden or Expense of the Proposed Discovery Outweighs its Likely Benefit), the Court found that the cost of reviewing and producing CEO/owner Koch's documents was not unduly burdensome or disproportionate, especially given the discovery conducted to date and the damages that plaintiff Oxbow seeks. Finally, the Court held that the circumstances did not warrant shifting the costs of doing so to defendants. Plaintiff Oxbow failed to rebut the presumption imposed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that it should bear the cost of complying with defendants' proposed discovery.
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