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Gassaway v. Jarden Corporation

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

September 3, 2013

JARDEN CORPORATION, et al. Defendants.


James P. O’Hara U.S. Magistrate Judge

This action arises out of a house fire that resulted in the deaths of plaintiff Coley Gassaway’s two children. Plaintiff alleges that defendant[1] Sunbeam Products, Inc. was negligent in the manufacture, design, inspection, testing, and marketing of certain “space heaters” she purchased and that the fire was caused by defects in one of the subject heaters. Plaintiff seeks wrongful death damages from defendant under theories of strict product liability, negligence, breach of warranty, and violations of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. Currently before the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge, James P. O’Hara, is a motion to compel defendant to supplement its answers to plaintiff’s first set of interrogatories (doc. 67). Plaintiff also asks that the court strike defendant’s objections to the interrogatories, award fees and costs, and impose sanctions against defendant. For the reasons discussed below, plaintiff’s motion is granted in part and denied in part.

On May 17, 2013, plaintiff served her first set of interrogatories on defendant.[2]Defendant served its answers to plaintiff’s first set of interrogatories on June 17, 2013.[3]Plaintiff sent a “golden rule” letter concerning defendant’s interrogatory answers on June 24, 2013.[4] The letter focused on defendant’s objection that it had not yet identified the specific model of the subject heater remains and its date of manufacture.[5] At this time, the subject heater is believed to be a Holmes HQH307 quartz space heater (“HQH307”). After several exchanges between the parties’ counsel, plaintiff sent a second golden rule letter to defendant, outlining her concerns with defendant’s answers and objections.[6] In response, defendant agreed to amend its interrogatory answers and objections in an attempt to address plaintiff’s concerns.[7] Plaintiff informed defendant that it had until July 10, 2013 to withdraw all of its objections and supplement all of its answers or plaintiff would seek court intervention.[8] Defendant served amended interrogatory answers on July 10, 2013.[9] After several failed attempts to resolve the discovery dispute, plaintiff filed her motion to compel discovery on July 29, 2013.[10] Defendant timely filed its response on August 12, 2013.[11] Plaintiff filed her reply on August 27, 2013.[12]

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) provides that “[f]or good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action.” When a party files a motion to compel and asks the court to overrule objections, the objecting party must specifically show in its response to the motion how each discovery request is objectionable.[13] Objections initially raised but not supported in response to the motion to compel are deemed abandoned.[14] However, if the discovery requests appear facially objectionable in that they are overly broad or seek information that does not appear relevant, the burden is on the movant to demonstrate how the requests are not objectionable.[15]

Here, plaintiff seeks an order striking defendant’s objections to plaintiff’s interrogatories and compelling defendant to supplement its interrogatory answers. With this standard in mind, the court addresses each of the objections.

I. General Objections.

In the District of Kansas, general objections are considered “overly broad and worthless unless the objections are substantiated with detailed explanations.”[16] Our courts disapprove of the practice of asserting a general objection “to the extent” it may apply to particular requests for discovery.[17]

Defendant’s answers to plaintiff’s first set of interrogatories included “general objections.”[18] Plaintiff informed defendant that these were improper and asked that the objections be withdrawn.[19] In response, defendant prepared amended objections, replacing its general objections with “objections to definitions.”[20] Plaintiff asserts “that the ‘objections to definitions’ are simply general objections and that ‘general objections’ and ‘objections to definitions’ are improper” and not permitted in the District of Kansas.[21] Defendant responds that its “objections to definitions” are proper because it provided detailed explanations for them and that therefore they should not be stricken.[22]

This debate about the propriety of general objections “appears to be an academic exercise” which the court need not belabor.[23] Nonetheless, the court will briefly address this issue since the parties were previously warned that unsubstantiated objections would not be tolerated in this case.

In Johnson v. Kraft Foods North America, Inc., the court stated:

This Court has on several occasions disapproved of the practice of asserting a general objection “to the extent” it may apply to particular requests for discovery. The Court has characterized these types of objections as “worthless for anything beyond delay of the discovery.” Such objections are considered mere hypothetical or contingent possibilities, where the objecting party makes no meaningful effort to show the application of any such theoretical objection to any request for discovery. Thus, this Court has deemed such ostensible objections waived or declined to consider them as objections at all.[24]

Defendant, as the party resisting discovery, has the burden of supporting all of its objections, including its general objections.[25] The court finds that defendant’s “objections to definitions” are nothing more than “general objections” and defendant made no meaningful effort to show how any of the general objections apply to a specific interrogatory. Even though defendant’s objections aren’t listed “to the extent” that the objection applies to any of the set of interrogatories, they are meaningless and hypothetical because they are not applied to specific interrogatories. Therefore, the court finds that defendant’s “general objections” and “objections to definitions” to plaintiff’s first set of interrogatories are waived.

II. Timeliness of Objections.

It is well settled that the failure to timely assert an objection to an interrogatory results in waiver of the objection.[26] Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(1) provides that “[t]he party upon whom the interrogatories have been served shall serve a copy of the answers, and objections, if any, within 30 days after the service of the interrogatories.” Subsection (b)(4) of the Rule further provides that “[a]ny ground not stated in a timely objection is waived unless the party’s failure to object is excused by the court for good cause shown.”[27]

Plaintiff served her first set of interrogatories on May 17, 2013.[28] On June 4, 2013, defendant asked plaintiff for a 30-day extension to respond to plaintiff’s interrogatories because defendant had not seen a significant portion of the heater remnant in the possession of the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department and had not been able to positively confirm the model number.[29] Plaintiff denied defendant’s request for an extension.[30] Defendant timely served its interrogatory answers on June 17, 2013.[31] On July 10, 2013, defendant served amended answers, to narrow and clarify its initial positions, provide specific bates numbers for responsive documents, and direct plaintiff to supporting authorities.[32] Plaintiff maintains that defendant’s amended objections to plaintiff’s interrogatories should be stricken because they are untimely by over three weeks.[33] Defendant responds that it did not assert new objections in its amended answers and that therefore, plaintiff’s request should be denied.[34]

After reviewing and comparing defendant’s original and amended answers to plaintiff’s first interrogatories, the court finds that only one new objection was asserted by defendant in its amended answers. Defendant did not assert an objection to Interrogatory No. 8 in its original answer.[35] However, defendant’s amended answer to Interrogatory No. 8 contains an objection that the question is “overly broad and vague in that it proposes a factual scenario which is incomplete.”[36] Because defendant failed to show good cause for asserting this new objection, it is deemed waived. However, the court finds that defendant’s remaining amended answers to plaintiff’s interrogatories merely narrow and clarify its original objections and answers and withdraw some of its previous objections. The court need not spend time and resources analyzing objections that have been withdrawn. Therefore, the court will only consider defendant’s amended answers and objections going forward.

III. Objection Regarding Identification of the Subject Heater.

Defendant amended its interrogatory answers and omitted the identification objection from its responses to plaintiff’s individual interrogatories. Therefore, the court need not address this objection since it has been withdrawn.

IV. Objections and Answers to Individual Interrogatories.

Under Rule 33(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the responding party must answer each interrogatory “to the extent it is not objected to.” Defendant served answers and objections to Interrogatory Nos. 2, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 13. The court has substantial discretion to determine the propriety of such requests and the sufficiency of responses.[37] An objection and answer preserves nothing and serves only to waste the time and resources of both the parties and the court.[38] As evidenced by the parties’ briefs, “such practice leaves the requesting party uncertain as to whether the question has been fully answered or whether only a portion of the question has been answered.”[39]Some courts have found that whenever an answer accompanies an objection, the objection is deemed waived and the answer, if responsive stands.[40] The court is inclined to hold defendant’s objections that are accompanied by an answer are waived. Nonetheless, the court will address the validity of defendant’s objections.

A. Overbroad Objections.

Defendant objected to Interrogatory Nos. 2, 5, 8, 9, and 11 as overly broad. As determined earlier, defendant’s objection to Interrogatory No. 8 has been waived and need not be addressed. Plaintiff argues that defendant waived its objections to Interrogatory Nos. 2, 5, 9, and 11 because defendant did not state why it believed each interrogatory was overbroad. Defendant responds that its objections are appropriate and it fully explained the grounds for each objection.

Interrogatory No. 2 asks defendant to identify all “complaints or reports of malfunctioning space heaters you have received since 2003.” Interrogatory No. 5 asks if anyone has filed suit or brought legal action against defendant for “damages arising out of the malfunction of space heaters or fires of space heaters” within the past ten years. Defendant argues that these questions are overly broad on their face because they are not limited to the same or substantially similar products and instead request claim and lawsuit information for all models of defendant’s space heaters. The court agrees with defendant that these requests, which request information on all models of defendant’s space heaters, are overly broad on their face. Defendant provided sufficient detail in its answers to explain why these requests were overbroad. Defendant may limit its answer to the HQH307 and similar quartz model heaters as it has done in response to other discovery requests. As it stands though, plaintiff’s request for the court to order defendant to withdraw these objections is denied.

Interrogatory No. 9 asks defendant to “identify all quartz heater models manufactured or sold by you since 2000” and for each model identified, state the “dates the heater was manufactured, the dates the heater was sold, the number of units sold, the suggested retail price of the heaters, the cost to manufacture and ship the heater, and the target market of the heater.” In support of its overbroad objection, defendant stated that ...

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