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Ulibarri v. Southland Royalty Company, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 15, 2019

GERALD ULIBARRI and WHITE RIVER ROYALTIES, LLC Plaintiffs,
v.
SOUTHLAND ROYALTY COMPANY, LLC Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF GERALD ULIBARRI'S MOTION TO COMPEL [1" name="FN1" id="FN1">1]

          JERRY H. RITTER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Southland's Motion to Compel [Doc. 89');">89');">89');">89]. The Court, having considered the submissions, the relevant law, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises finds that Defendant Southland's Motion is not well taken and should be denied.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Ulibarri filed his Class Action Complaint on October 16, 2015 in the Eleventh Judicial District Court in San Juan New Mexico, alleging that Defendant Southland Royalty Company, LLC (Southland) underpaid royalties to him and to other members of the putative class on natural gas produced by Southland from wells located in the state of New Mexico since January 1, 2015. [Doc. 1-1, ¶¶ 1-2]. Southland removed the action from state court on March 22, 2016. [Doc. 1]. The parties are engaged in discovery in advance of and pertaining to the class certification hearing set for September 9, 2019. [Doc. 47; Doc 121; Doc. 159].

         At issue in the instant Motion are Southland's Interrogatory No. 4 and Request for Production No. 9 to Plaintiff Ulibarri which read:

Interrogatory No. 4: Identify each Royalty Interest you own or have owned in any natural gas producing property. For each interest, state (1) the type of interest (i.e., royalty, overriding royalty interest, or unleased mineral interest), (b) the geographic location of the property by county and state, (c) the well name or number, (d) your percentage of interest, (e) the names of all payors, current and past, (f) the names of all operators, current and past (g) the name of any unit to which the interest is committed, (h) the dates of your ownership of such interests, (i) how the property was acquired, e.g., by gift, purchase, exchange, inheritance or devise, or any other method by which you acquired or claim to have acquired such interest, and if by multiple conveyances, separately identify each conveyance by grantor, grantee, date and percentage ownership conveyed, (j) the methodology used to calculate that interest, (k) the dates upon which you became aware of the methodology, (1) how you became aware of the methodology, (m) all social security numbers or taxpayer identification numbers under which you have received payments attributable to any mineral interest you claim to own, and (n) the total amount of royalties you received from each payor. ….
Request for Production No. 9: With respect to Interrogatory Number 4, (a) all documents relating to the basis for paying royalties identified in Interrogatory 4, and the method for calculating such payments; (b) all contracts, agreements, and other instruments relating to your working interests; (c) all leases, division orders, unit agreements, and other agreements relating to your payment of Royalties; and (d) all documents relating to your payment of Royalty Interests, including samples of each type of check detail or monthly statement used in making such payments.

[Doc. 89');">89');">89');">89, pp. 3-5].

         Plaintiff Ulibarri objected to these discovery requests as overly broad as they are not limited in geographical or temporal scope. [Doc. 89');">89');">89');">89-1, p. 5');">p. 5]. Plaintiff Ulibarri further objected on relevance grounds, asserting that the information sought is not relevant to the claims in this litigation, which are based on Southland's New Mexico natural gas production since January 1, 2015, or to the class certification requirements set forth by Rule 23(a). [Id.].[2]

         The parties attempted in good faith to resolve their discovery disputes. [Doc. 89');">89');">89');">89-2, p. 1; Doc. 89');">89');">89');">89-3, p. 1]. However, the parties were not able to come to an agreement relative to Southland's requests for “information about each royalty interest that [he] currently owns or has owned in any natural gas producing property, ” which Southland claims is relevant for purposes of class certification, and now seeks to compel. [Doc. 89');">89');">89');">89, p. 3].

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Relevant evidence is that which “has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. However, “[i]nformation within [the] scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1); see Regan-Touhy v. Walgreen Co., 3d 641');">526 F.3d 641, 649 (10th Cir. 2008) (“Under our rules, parties to civil litigation are given broad discovery privileges.”). Nonetheless, the Court is not required to permit the parties to engage in fishing expeditions in the hope of supporting their claims or defenses. See Landry v. Swire Oilfield Servs., L.L.C., 323 F.R.D. 360');">323 F.R.D. 360, 375 (D.N.M. 2018).

         Key considerations in determining the scope of permissible discovery include “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). Ultimately, “[c]ounsel bears the responsibility of propounding proper discovery requests, and expecting counsel to fulfill this responsibility is neither capricious nor unfair.” Punt v. Kelly Services, 3d 1040');">862 F.3d 1040, 1047 (10th Cir. 2017).

         Parties may propound interrogatories and requests for production pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 33 and 34, provided that such requests are within the scope of Rule 26(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(a); Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a). “[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 a response if good faith attempts to secure the answer are unsuccessful. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iv). The party moving to compel discovery has the burden of ...


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