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North Alabama Fabricating Co., Inc. v. Bedeschi Mid-West Conveyor Co., LLC

United States District Court, D. Kansas

January 3, 2018

NORTH ALABAMA FABRICATING COMPANY, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
BEDESCHI MID-WEST CONVEYOR COMPANY, LLC; DEARBORN MID-WEST CONVEYOR COMPANY; LARRY HARP; and BRAXTON JONES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Teresa J. James U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Sanctions (ECF No. 78) requesting the Court impose sanctions, in the form of default judgment and monetary sanctions, upon all Defendants. Plaintiff bases its request for sanctions upon Defendants' allegedly false and misleading interrogatory answers and objections, which stated assembly of Plaintiff's fabricated steel goods was required in order for Defendants to determine whether the goods were defective, and upon Defendant Bedeschi's alleged failure to properly prepare its Rule 30(b)(6) corporate representatives by having them inspect the allegedly defective goods prior to their depositions. Finally, Plaintiff claims sanctions are warranted for Defendant Bedeschi filing its counterclaim based on alleged defects in Plaintiff's delivered goods without any supporting evidence.

         As explained below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part. Defendant Bedeschi will be sanctioned for its failure to produce prepared Rule 30(b)(6) witnesses for deposition. But the sanctions imposed are limited to allowing another deposition, at Bedeschi's expense, regarding Topics 8, 9, 11, 12, and 13 set forth in Plaintiff's Notice, including the alleged “delays and defects in the products shipped by Plaintiff, ” the nonconformance reports, and the Inspection Report subsequently produced on August 23, 2017.

         I. Relevant Facts

         Plaintiff North Alabama Fabricating Company, Inc., a structural steel fabricating company, brings claims for breach of contract and fraud against four Defendants: Bedeschi Mid-West Conveyor Company, LLC (“Bedeschi”); Dearborn Mid-West Conveyor Company (“Dearborn”), Bedeschi's president, Larry Harp (“Harp”); and Bedeschi's project manager, Braxton Jones (“Jones”). Plaintiff and Bedeschi entered into written contracts pursuant to which Plaintiff would manufacture fabricated steel equipment and support structures to be assembled into an iron ore conveyor system for Bedeschi's customer, Essar Steel Minnesota, LLC (the “Essar Project”). In this action, Plaintiff seeks payment for fabricated steel it manufactured under its contracts with Bedeschi. Plaintiff alleges Bedeschi took possession of the fabricated steel goods between December 2015 and July 2016 and shipped them to Essar's facility in Minnesota.

         Defendants' Answers[1] allege that the fabricated steel delivered by Plaintiff was defective and/or failed to comply with the contracts. Bedeschi also asserts a counterclaim alleging, inter alia, that Plaintiff “has delivered goods and materials which failed to conform to the requirements and specifications identified in the [contracts] by, among other things, delivering parts, goods and components in a disassembled or otherwise unfinished condition.”[2]

         Defendants served their Rule 26(a) initial disclosures on February 20, 2017, identifying Defendant Jones as an individual with knowledge of the “delays and defects in the products shipped by Plaintiff.” Defendants also identified Bedeschi employee Skip Moore (“Moore”) as having knowledge of “the timing and defects in Plaintiffs fabricated materials supplied to Bedeschi”[3]

         On April 27, 2017, Plaintiff served interrogatories on Defendants Bedeschi, Harp, and Jones inquiring about the alleged defects in the goods Plaintiff delivered under the contracts. Plaintiffs First Set of Interrogatories asked Defendants to identify the following:

• all non-conforming goods, if any, supplied by [Plaintiff] pursuant to the Contract Documents (Interrogatory No. 5);
• all breaches of warranty, if any, committed by [Plaintiff] under the Contract Documents (Interrogatory No. 6);
• the factual basis for Bedeschi's ‘potential claims' against [Plaintiff], as that phrase is used in Defendants' Initial Disclosures (Interrogatory No. 12); and
• all delays and defects in the products shipped by Plaintiff (Interrogatory No. 13).

         Defendants Bedeschi, Harp, and Jones served their interrogatory answers and objections on June 7, 2017.[4] In each of their answers to Interrogatory No. 5, they objected that answering the interrogatory required them “to speculate, in that there is no way to know whether [Plaintiff] supplied nonconforming goods until the goods supplied by [Plaintiff] are assembled into the final product at the project site.”[5] Defendants' other interrogatory answers likewise objected that it would be “impossible” to know if there was any breach of warranty or if the materials were properly detailed or fabricated until the goods supplied by Plaintiffs are assembled into the final product at the project site.

         Plaintiff also served its first requests for production upon Bedeschi and Harp seeking “documents related to any ‘defects in Plaintiffs fabricated materials supplied to Bedeschi'” (Request 14) and “documents related to any latent defects Defendants have discovered in product supplied by [Plaintiff] pursuant to the Contract Documents” (Request 15).[6] Bedeschi and Harp responded “[s]ee objections and responses to Interrogatories 5, 6, 12 and 13, ”[7] and did not produce any responsive documents.

         On May 8, 2017, Plaintiff served a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notice on Bedeschi, which included the following topics related to Bedeschi's counterclaim and allegation that the goods supplied by Plaintiff are defective:

• The conformance of goods supplied by [Plaintiff] pursuant to the Contract Documents (Topic 8);
• The “delays and defects in the products shipped by Plaintiff, ” as that phrase is used in Defendants' Initial Disclosures (Topic 9);
• Issues related to testing and quality control of goods shipped by [Plaintiff] pursuant to the Contract Documents (Topic 11);
• Any breaches of the Contract Documents allegedly] committed by [Plaintiff] (Topic 12); and
• The factual basis for Bedeschi's “potential claims” against [Plaintiff], as that phrase is used in Defendants' Initial Disclosures (Topic 13).

         Plaintiff deposed Bedeschi's corporate representatives, Jones and Harp, on August 2, 2017, and deposed fact witness Moore on August 3, 2017. Jones testified that Bedeschi had not inspected the goods delivered by Plaintiff to the Essar project to confirm whether any of the goods were defective.[8] Harp also testified that, at the time of this deposition, Bedeschi had not taken any measures to inspect Plaintiff's goods delivered to the Essar project.[9]

         On August 10, 2017, the week after their depositions, Jones, Harp, and Moore traveled from Missouri to Minnesota to inspect the unassembled goods. On August 23, 2017, Defendants produced the Daily Paint Inspection Report (“Inspection Report”) prepared by Moore with the findings from the August 10 inspection. The comments section of the Inspection Report states:

Visual observation and DFT verification of conveyor steel in outdoor storage at Essar site. Observations: Rust bloom on horizontal and vertical surfaces, mostly on stringer deck plates, legs, inside bolt holes and on edges.[10]

         On September 19, 2017, Plaintiff's counsel sent a letter to Defendants' counsel informing of Plaintiff's intent to file a motion for sanctions based upon Defendants' discovery and litigation abuse. Defense counsel responded by letter dated September 27, 2017, disputing that Defendants committed any discovery violations. Counsel participated in a conference call on October 5, 2017 to discuss the issues raised, but failed to reach a resolution.

         Plaintiff filed its Motion for Sanctions on October 11, 2017. The motion includes a separate certification that details its counsel's letters, emails, in-person meeting, and telephone conferences attempting to resolve the issues raised in ...


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