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Peterson v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

July 25, 2008

MARIE PETERSON, SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATES OF JANE ANN MCGRATH, DECEASED, AND MOLLY MORGAN, DECEASED, ET AL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Byron G. Cudmore, U.S. Magistrate Judge

OPINION

Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Marie Cimaglia, Special Administrator of the Estate of Jane Ann McGrath, deceased, and Molly Morgan, a deceased minor, and Jon Petersen, as father and next friend of Katie Petersen, a minor, Motion to Compel Discovery and Motion for Sanctions (d/e 364), Defendant's Response (d/e 374), and Plaintiffs' Reply as ordered by the Court (d/e 389). Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Discovery and Motion for Sanctions is allowed in part and denied in part. Defendant's request for fees as part of their response is denied.

BACKGROUND

At issue in the instant motion are facts arising from a handwritten note which stated in part:

"7-23-04 Scott Gunter(cell 501-590-9230)-Union Pacific RR 12:35 pm Accident in Carlinville, Illinois (just Northeast of St. Louis).

Crossing has flashing lights. Conductor says they were working;

A witness says they were not.

Data recorder shows horn appropriate - track speed limit in area is 50 MPH. 2 deaths in van occupied by 5 people; driver has spinal injuries . . ." Id. [emphasis added]

See d/e 364, p. 2.*fn1

Plaintiffs claim that Defendant has failed to disclose the witness referenced in the handwritten note that stated the flashing lights were not in operation. Plaintiffs spend substantial time and effort in d/e 364 explaining the steps they have recently taken through discovery to learn the identity of that witness. From the Court's review of d/es 364, 374, and 389, the pertinent individuals from Defendant's perspective with knowledge of the handwritten note are Scott Gunter, Roy Reynolds, Steve Jackson, and Mike Rodriguez. The Court has reviewed the discovery responses and the deposition transcripts of Roy Reynolds, Kimberly Maguire, Scott Gunter, Michael Rodriguez, and Phillip Kennedy attached to Plaintiffs' motion (d/e 364) and located no references to any eye witness other than Ms. Maguire. The Court specifically reviewed the pertinent parts of deposition transcripts of Scott Gunter, Mike Rodriguez, and Roy Reynolds, and the affidavits of Mike Rodriguez and Scott Gunter attached to d/e 374. The Court did not see in its review any deposition transcript of the deposition of Steve Jackson, who allegedly wrote the note based upon a telephone call from Scott Gunter. The Court also did not see any records of cell phone calls or toll records from the cell phone of Scott Gunter (501/590-9230) verifying the date on which the call from Gunter was placed to Jackson.

Plaintiffs claim, that based upon the handwritten note, Defendant was aware of an eye witness on July 23, 2004 that said the flashing lights at the crossing were not functioning. Defendant's response (d/e 374), and the attached affidavits therein show that from Defendant's perspective, the witness mentioned in the note "would have turned out to be Kimberly Maguire" (see d/e 374, p.1).

Plaintiffs state that Kimberly Maguire did not surface as a witness until a date after July 23, 2004, and therefore another eye witness must exist. Plaintiffs have attached copies of an affidavit from Ms. Maguire and from a local law enforcement officer to support that claim.

ANALYSIS

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) allows parties to obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the claim or defense of any party. Relevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears to be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The rule gives the district courts broad discretion in matters relating to discovery. See Brown-Bey v. United States, 720 F.2d 467, 470-471 (7th Cir.1983); Eggleston v. Chicago Journeymen Plumbers' Local Union 130, 657 F.2d 890, 902 (7th Cir.1981); see also, Indianapolis Colts v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 775 F.2d 177, 183 (7th Cir.1985) (on review, courts of appeal will only reverse a decision of a district court relating to discovery upon a clear showing of an abuse of discretion). ". . . if there is an objection the discovery goes beyond material relevant to the parties' claims or ...


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