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Lawson v. Spirit Aerosystems, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 26, 2019

LARRY A. LAWSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SPIRIT AEROSYSTEMS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ANGEL D. MITCHELL U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the court on plaintiff Larry A. Lawson's Motion to Compel (ECF No. 56). The court held a hearing on the motion on April 23, 2019. As detailed on the record at that hearing, Mr. Lawson's motion is granted in part and denied in part. This memorandum and order is intended to memorialize the court's rulings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Defendant Spirit AeroSystems, Inc.'s (“Spirit”) alleged breach of a retirement agreement with Mr. Lawson, Spirit's former CEO. Mr. Lawson alleges that, after he retired from Spirit, he became a consultant for an investment firm that planned to install him as CEO of Arconic, Inc. (“Arconic”), an aircraft component manufacturer. Mr. Lawson alleges that, when Spirit learned of this plan, it improperly withheld his retirement benefits because Spirit claimed that he violated the non-compete provision in his retirement agreement. That provision prohibited Mr. Lawson from becoming involved in any business “that is engaged, in whole or in part, in the Business, or any business that is competitive with the Business or any portion thereof” for two years after his employment with Spirit was terminated. The provision that defines “Business” reads as follows:

We are engaged in the manufacture, fabrication, maintenance, repair, overhaul, and modification of aerostructures and aircraft components, and market and sell our products and services to customers throughout the world (together with any other businesses in which Spirit may in the future engage, by acquisition or otherwise, the “Business”).

         Mr. Lawson now seeks the court's intervention regarding discovery related to the “Business” of Spirit and Arconic. Specifically, Mr. Lawson asks the court to compel Spirit to produce (1) its contracts with Boeing and Airbus; (2) its antitrust filings relating to its planned acquisition of Asco Industries; (3) documents related to the aspects of Spirit's business that Spirit alleges overlap with Arconic's business; and (4) documents related to Spirit's relationship with Arconic.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Discovery Standards

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) governs the scope of discovery and allows parties to “obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Relevance is “construed broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.” Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). To determine whether discovery sought is proportional to the needs of the case, the court considers “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). “Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Id.

         The party resisting discovery “has the burden to establish . . . that the requested discovery (1) does not come within the scope of relevance as defined under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), or (2) is of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure.” Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lear Corp., 215 F.R.D. 637, 640 (D. Kan. 2003). Courts in this District do not favor “conclusory or boilerplate objections that discovery requests are irrelevant, immaterial, unduly burdensome, or overly broad.” Sonnino v. Univ. of Kan. Hosp. Auth., 221 F.R.D. 661, 670 (D. Kan. 2004). A party objecting to discovery “must specifically show in its response to the motion to compel, despite the broad and liberal construction afforded by the federal discovery rules, how each request for production or interrogatory is objectionable.” Id. at 670-71.

         B. Plaintiff's Discovery Requests

         The court now addresses the categories of documents Mr. Lawson seeks, which are encompassed in Request for Production Nos. 19-21, 25-30, 32, 34-38, and 40. At the hearing, Mr. Lawson clarified that he is not seeking to compel the full scope of documents sought in these RFPs, but rather only the smaller subset of documents that are the subject of his motion to compel. The court will therefore focus its discussion only on the smaller subset of documents at issue.

         1. Boeing and Airbus Contracts

         Mr. Lawson asks the court to compel Spirit to produce contracts between Spirit and its largest customers (RFP Nos. 20-21). As further detailed on the record at the hearing on April 23, the court grants Mr. Lawson's motion with respect to the portions of these contracts (or amendments, addenda, exhibits, schedules, data compilations, or lists) that relate to ...


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