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Griego v. Douglas

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 24, 2018

MICHAEL GRIEGO, Personal Representative of the Wrongful Death Estate of ALEC J. JARAMILLO, Deceased, ANDREW JARAMILLO and THERESA ROMO, Plaintiffs,
v.
LAMBERTA M. DOUGLAS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Russell E. Douglas, and STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JERRY H. RITTER U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Discovery Responses and for Sanctions (Doc. 56), filed December 22, 2017. Having considered the parties' positions and all pertinent authority, the Court will grant the Motion in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This wrongful death case arises from a collision between Decedent, Alec J. Jaramillo, and Russell E. Douglas.[1] As stated in Plaintiffs' Complaint, Mr. Jaramillo was driving his motorcycle west on Santa Fe Avenue in Grants, New Mexico, when Mr. Douglas, who was travelling east on Santa Fe Avenue, made a left hand turn in front of Mr. Jaramillo, causing the subject collision. Doc. 24 at 2. “According to the State of New Mexico Crash Report, stemming from the above-referenced collision, apparent contributing factors to the collision were Douglas' failure to yield the right of way, having made an improper turn and his driver inattention.” Id. The crash resulted in Mr. Jaramillo's death. Id. at 3.

         Plaintiffs assert that Mr. Douglas was negligent in the operation of his vehicle, but do not bring a claim for punitive damages against him. Id. Nor does Plaintiffs' complaint specifically reference or place at issue Mr. Douglas' physical or mental condition at the time of the collision. See generally Id. Defendant denies liability. See generally Doc. 25. Defendant furthermore pleads as an affirmative defense that Mr. Jaramillo's death was caused by his own “negligent and/or reckless operation of an unsafe motorcycle[.]” Id. at 3.

         The present discovery dispute involves Defendant's responses to Plaintiffs' interrogatories, which seek Mr. Douglas' financial information; and Defendant's responses to Plaintiffs' requests for production, which seek the documents underlying Plaintiffs' interrogatories as well as copies of witness statements and an executed medical authorization for Mr. Douglas. See generally Doc. 56-1 at 1-11. Defendant objected to the bulk of these requests on the grounds of various privileges, but did not produce a privilege log. See Id. Plaintiffs wrote to Defendant seeking supplemental responses to all of their interrogatories and requests, specifically targeting whether removal in this case was proper as well as “whether Mr. Douglas had any medical conditions that should have prevented him from driving etc.” Doc. 56-2. The parties then engaged in a written dialogue as to two specific topics: (1) Defendant's residency at the time of removal, and (2) whether Defendant has a legal obligation to provide a medical authorization for Mr. Douglas' health records to Plaintiffs. See Doc. 61-1. These discussions were unfruitful, and Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion.

         Plaintiffs' Motion seeks a variety of relief. First, it asks the Court to order Defendant to respond fully to requests for production numbers 7, 8 and 9, which seek Mr. Douglas' financial information and “a copy of all recorded statements of any witnesses to the subject collision, including, but not limited to, Troy Jaramillo.” Doc. 56 at 2; see Doc. 56-1 at 9-10. Plaintiffs explain that their requests related to Mr. Douglas' finances are “paramount in determining the existence of assets likely necessary to satisfy an excess judgment[.]” Doc. 56 at 2. Plaintiffs further explain that they were prejudiced by Defendant's failure to produce Troy Jaramillo's prior statement before his deposition was taken. Doc. 56 at 2.

         Finally, Plaintiffs argue that “Mr. Douglas' medical condition and especially his quality of vision are matters reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” Doc. 56 at 3. Plaintiffs explain that because Mr. Douglas claims to not be at fault for the collision, “any medical conditions, age-related cognitive defects such as memory, coordination and vision may have affected his ability to appreciate and properly respond to other motorists on the roadway, including Alec Jaramillo and are highly relevant to Defendant's contested liability in this case.” Doc. 56 at 4. Plaintiffs further explain that Mr. Douglas' medical background is relevant because drivers in New Mexico over the age of 75 have to provide a report from a physician regarding any medical conditions that might interfere with driving when renewing a driver's license. Doc. 56 at 4-5.

         Defendant's Response argues that information regarding Mr. Douglas' medical condition is privileged and not discoverable. See Doc. 61 at 1-2. Defendant further argues that Mr. Douglas' financial condition is irrelevant prior to the entry of judgment. Doc. 61 at 3. As to Plaintiff's other requests for production, Defendant's position is that “Plaintiffs never requested Defendants to supplement these responses” and that, while “Defense counsel is open to a good faith dialogue regarding supplementation[, ]” Plaintiff's motion should be denied for failure to comply with the meet and confer requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. Doc. 61 at 4. Plaintiffs did not file a Reply.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) governs the scope of discovery, providing that

[p]arties 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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). “Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Id. “[T]he scope of discovery under the federal rules is broad and …discovery is not limited to issues raised by the pleadings, for discovery itself is designed to help define and clarify the issues.” Gomez v. Martin Marietta Corp., 50 F.3d 1511, 1520 (10th Cir. 1995) (quoting Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978)).

         Parties may issue interrogatories pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33, which “may relate to any matter that may be inquired into under Rule 26(b).” Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(a)(2). “Each interrogatory must, to the extent it is not objected to, be answered separately and fully in writing under oath.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(3). A responding party may object to an interrogatory; however, the grounds for an objection “must be stated with specificity.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(4). “[A]n evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response must be treated as a failure to disclose, answer or respond.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(4). A party may move to compel the answer to an interrogatory under Rule 33 if good faith attempts to secure the answer are unsuccessful. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iii).

         Parties may issue requests for production pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34 “within the scope of Rule 26(b)[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a). Each request must be responded to or addressed by specific objection. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2). A party may move to compel a response to a request for production if good faith attempts to secure the answer are unsuccessful. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iv).

         The movant must confer or attempt to confer with the nonmovant prior to filing a motion under Rule 37. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1). “If the motion is granted … the court must, after giving an opportunity to be heard, require the party or deponent whose conduct necessitated the motion, the party or attorney advising that conduct, or both to pay the movant's reasonable expenses incurred in making the motion, including attorney's fees. But the court must not order this payment if: (i) the movant filed the motion before attempting in good faith to obtain the disclosure or discovery without court action; (ii) the opposing party's nondisclosure, response or objection was substantially justified; or (iii) other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(5)(A). If the motion is denied, the Court may, similarly, assess costs and fees against the movant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(5)(B). If the motion is granted in part and denied in part, the Court “may, after giving an opportunity to be heard, apportion the reasonable expenses for the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(5)(C).

         III. ANALYSIS

         As briefly mentioned above, Defendant argues in her response that Plaintiffs failed to informally seek supplementation of their requests for production before filing the instant Motion. As such, Defendant asks the Court to deny the Motion on procedural grounds. Doc. 61 at 4. The Court, however, finds that, in this case, Plaintiffs adequately put Defendant on notice that they would move to compel production of all of Defendant's discovery responses. This being established, the Court rejects ...


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