A defendant may not excuse itself from compliance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 34 by utilizing a system of record-keeping, which conceals rather than discloses relevant records, or makes it unduly difficult to identify or locate them, thus rendering the production of the documents an excessively burdensome and costly expedition. To allow a defendant whose business generates massive records to frustrate discovery by creating an inadequate filing system, and then claiming undue burden, would defeat the purposes of the discovery rules.
A minor was burned when his pajamas caught fire. The minor brought a products liability action against the defendants, pajamas' retailer and a manufacturer. The minor sought discovery by filing a request to produce a record from the defendants all complaints and communications concerning personal injuries caused by burning of the products they sold or marketed. The trial court granted said request over defendants’ objections. A default judgment was entered against the retailer and manufacturer for failing to comply with the court's order to produce records of claims similar to the minor's claims. The manufacturer and retailer failed to comply and the trial court entered a default judgment against them. The manufacturer and retailer filed a motion to remove the default judgment.
Whether expense and difficulty to comply are valid reasons to refuse discovery?
The court denied the motion and held that the expense and difficulty the manufacturer and retailer would encounter when reviewing their records to comply with the discovery order was not a valid reason for failing to comply with the order. The defendant may not excuse itself from compliance by utilizing a system of record-keeping, which conceals rather than discloses relevant records, or makes it unduly difficult to identify or locate them, thus rendering the production of the documents an excessively burdensome and costly expedition. Also, the court held that the law of Michigan, the state where the accident occurred, applied and under Michigan law prior injuries similar to the minor's were discoverable. Information concerning accidents similar to the one alleged in the complaint is clearly relevant to the issues of whether the pajamas allegedly marketed by the defendant were an unreasonably dangerous product and whether the defendant knew, or in the exercise of due care should have known, of that danger.