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Gilmore v. L.D. Drilling, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 6, 2017

L.D. DRILLING, INC., et al., Defendants.


          Teresa J. James U.S. Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Jeffrey T. Gilmore's First Motion to Compel Discovery (ECF No. 58). Plaintiff asks the Court to overrule certain objections to requests for production to each Defendant and to an interrogatory posed to Defendant L.D. Drilling, require L.D. Drilling to provide an answer to the interrogatory at issue, and require both Defendants to produce documents responsive to the respective document requests. Defendants oppose the motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion in part and grants it in part.

         I. Relevant Background

         On February 7, 2017, Plaintiff served each Defendant with his Opening Set of Interrogatories and First Requests for Production of Documents.[1] Defendants served their answers, responses, and objections on March 14, 2017. Three days later, Plaintiff's counsel sent a letter to Defendants' counsel regarding the discovery responses and requesting dates for counsel to meet and confer. Defendants' counsel sent a substantive reply three weeks later, and on April 11, 2017 counsel conferred by telephone. The parties continued to work towards resolving their differences and in the process Defendants supplemented their responses and Plaintiff sought and was granted extensions of time to file the instant motion. While their disputes have been resolved in part, the objections discussed below remain at issue.

         Plaintiff timely filed the instant motion and contends that counsel complied with the requirements of D. Kan. Rule 37.2. Defendant does not disagree. The Court finds that Plaintiff's counsel made a reasonable attempt to resolve the issues in dispute without court action, as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1) and D. Kan. Rule 37.2.

         II. Legal Standards

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) sets out the general scope of discovery. As amended in 2015, it provides as follows:

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. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.[2]

         Considerations of both relevance and proportionality now govern the scope of discovery.[3] Relevance is still to be “construed broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on” any party's claim or defense.[4] Information still “need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.”[5] The amendment deleted the “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” phrase, however, because it was often misused to define the scope of discovery and had the potential to “swallow any other limitation.”[6]

         The consideration of proportionality is not new, as it has been part of the federal rules since 1983.[7] Moving the proportionality provisions to Rule 26 does not place on the party seeking discovery the burden of addressing all proportionality considerations. If a discovery dispute arises that requires court intervention, the parties' responsibilities remain the same as under the pre-amendment Rule.[8] In other words, when the discovery sought appears relevant, the party resisting discovery has the burden to establish the lack of relevancy by demonstrating that the requested discovery (1) does not come within the scope of relevancy as defined under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), or (2) is of such marginal relevancy that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure.[9]Conversely, when the relevancy of the discovery request is not readily apparent on its face, the party seeking the discovery has the burden to show the relevancy of the request.[10] Relevancy determinations are generally made on a case-by-case basis.[11]

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff raises issues with respect to each Defendant's objections to certain interrogatories and document requests. The Court considers each in turn.[12]

         A. RFP No. 26 to Defendant L.D. Drilling

         Plaintiff requests in his motion that the Court require Defendant L.D. Drilling to produce the documents requested in RFP No. 26. Defendant L.D. Drilling contends the information contained in the documents at issue is not relevant to any claim or defense in this action, and that Plaintiff misconstrues Defendant's contentions with respect to the costs it allegedly incurred as a result of Plaintiff's conduct. The RFP and Defendant's response are as follows:

26. Each document explaining, outlining, or summarizing the cost and expenses related to each oil or gas well Defendant L.D. Drilling drilled between January 1, 2016 and June 1, 2016.
Response: Objection. Relevance. A statement of the costs and expenses related to each oil or gas well drilled by L.D. Drilling between January 1, 2016 and June 1, 2016 is unrelated to any claim or defense stated in this action. Furthermore, the documents contain confidential and private information which, if disclosed, could cause L.D. Drilling, Mr. Davis, and others annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense. Accordingly, defendant L.D. Drilling objects to disclosing these documents. If Mr. Gilmore could articulate the relevance of this information and focus the scope of this request, L.D. Drilling would reconsider its objection.

         In counsel's golden rule letter, Plaintiff provided the same explanation of relevance as is contained in his motion. According to Plaintiff, he is entitled to prove that L.D. Drilling's assertion that Plaintiff was late in delivering pipe to a well is pretext, and that because L.D. Drilling asserts Plaintiff's conduct resulted in increased costs, Plaintiff is entitled to discover the costs associated with the well in question and other wells.[13] In response, Defendant agreed to and did supplement its response by producing the billing records L.D. Drilling submitted for January 2016 for the well in question, Riebel #1-9, but declined to provide costs and expenses for other wells.[14]

         Plaintiff argues he is entitled to discover L.D. Drilling's costs for other wells (1) to see if the costs are in line with other wells drilled by L.D. Drilling in a six-month time period, and (2) to demonstrate what costs are generally associated with the drilling of a well “so as to enable the parties, and a jury, to determine whether or not Defendants' justifications were authentic or an after-the-fact rationalization to conceal its true discriminatory motivations.”[15] The Court does not find Plaintiff's argument compelling. As Defendant points out, the fact that pipe was delivered late to the well is not material. Many legitimate reasons exist for late delivery of materials to a drilling site (such as the availability of materials, mechanical issues with delivery trucks, distance of travel and road conditions), but Defendants contend Plaintiff initially refused to deliver the materials because he had been consuming alcoholic beverages while he was on ...

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