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Anderson v. Pacific Crane Maintenance Company, L.P.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

August 17, 2017



          ROBERT J. BRYAN United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses. Dkt. 23. The Court has considered Defendant's Response (Dkt. 25), Plaintiff's Reply (Dkt. 27), and the remainder of the file herein.


         Facts alleged in the Complaint are recited herein because of their relevance to resolving the discovery dispute.

         Defendant employed Plaintiff as a crane mechanic at the Port of Tacoma for approximately 11 years. On September 16, 2015, Plaintiff informed a state inspector for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSHA) that a component on some cranes was blowing fuses and overheating. The safety inspector “red-tagged” the components from use until their repair, which later prevented the cranes from being used. During the next several months, Plaintiff's union took steps to confront Defendant about safety issues initially raised by Plaintiff, including threatening work stoppages. Dkt. 1-1 at ¶¶4, 6, 7.

         The Complaint alleges that Defendant took a series of actions against Plaintiff in retaliation, such as removing Plaintiff from a lead position, giving Plaintiff less desirable work assignments, and denying Plaintiff's bid for a night shift position in May 2016. It is further alleged that Defendant filed baseless “complaints” against Plaintiff, for multiple reasons: failing to report an injury, leaving work early to attend work-related meetings, improperly calling in sick, and not reporting equipment damage. The stress of Defendant's actions allegedly became intolerable, ultimately forcing Plaintiff to leave his work.

Dkt. 1-1 at ¶¶8-12.

         The Complaint alleges claims for retaliation in violation of the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, RCW 49.17, and constructive discharge/termination in violation of public policy. Dkt. 1-1 at ¶¶16-21.

         Plaintiff served Defendant with his first discovery requests on February 9, 2017. Defendant responded to the request on March 13, 2017, and produced approximately four-hundred pages of discovery. Dkt. 2t at 1, 2. The produced discovery contained a copy of Plaintiff's personnel file, including copies of performance evaluations, employee grievances, and non-privileged internal communications about Plaintiff. Dkt. 29 at 1, 2. Defendant supplemented its response on May 26, 2017 with approximately five-hundred pages of personnel and workers compensation records produced by third parties. Dkt. 26 at 2.

         Plaintiff also served a discovery request on Plaintiff's union, which produced email correspondence between Plaintiff and his managers or supervisors. Dkt. 29 at 2. These emails were not found in discovery produced by Defendant. Id.

         Prior to the filing of the motion to compel, the parties engaged in two telephonic discovery conferences. Dkt. 24 at 3. Per Plaintiff's counsel, defense counsel “told [Plaintiff's counsel] that his client refused to negotiate on any of [sic] disputed requests and would not produce responsive documents.” Id.

         At issue are Defendants' responses to Interrogatory Nos. 3, 7, and 13-16, and Requests for Production Nos. 4, 7, 13, 16. The discovery requests and responses at issue are quoted verbatim below as they are discussed.


         Courts have broad authority to conduct discovery, but are also duty-bound to follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), which governs the scope of discovery:

Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is 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 the scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). The proportionality factor is not “intended to permit the opposing party to refuse discovery simply by making a boilerplate objection that it is not proportional.” Id., Cmt to 2015 Amendment.


         A. Discovery Requests

         The Court considers and should rule on each discovery request individually. However, in general, Defendant did not demonstrate exemplary efforts. Boilerplate language appears throughout, including the phrase, “not calculated to lead to admissible evidence, ” which closely resembles an outdated standard. See Cmt. to 2015 amendment to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1); VHT, Inc. v. Zillow Grp., Inc, No. C15-1096JLR, 2016 WL 7077235, at *1, FN 4 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 8, 2016); In re Bard IVC Filters Prod. Liab. Litig., 317 F.R.D. 562, 564 (D. Ariz. 2016). Although at least two of the discovery requests are specific and directly related to key issues in the case, Defendant responded with stock language without further explanation. Defendant can and should do better.

         Interrogatory No.3 and Request for Production No. 4

         Plaintiff: Identify all claims for hearing loss made by PCMC employees from January 2010 to present, including for each whether the employee notified his or her employer of the injury in compliance with PCMSC Rule #602.

         Response: Objection. Unduly burdensome, overbroad, and not calculated to lead to admissible evidence. There are no class claims or comparator-related claims in this lawsuit and this interrogatory is far beyond the scope of the claims in dispute in this case. PCMC further objects as this interrogatory would require disclosure of personal health care information, and other confidential information for other employees that are not parties to this litigation.

         Plaintiff: Produce any and all documents pertaining to your answer to the preceding interrogatory [Interrogatory No. 3].

         Response: [Identical response to Interrogatory No. 3]

         According to Plaintiff, the purpose of these requests is to counter the Defendant's stated basis for its adverse employment actions, namely, that Plaintiff failed to report the hearing loss injury of another employee when under an obligation to do so. Plaintiff appears to theorize that other employees have filed hearing loss injury claims with the Office of Worker's Compensation Program (OWCP) without previously reporting the injury ...

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