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Diane Parker v. Four Seasons Hotels

May 6, 2013

DIANE PARKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FOUR SEASONS HOTELS, LTD., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court are a number of discovery-related motions, including: (1) Defendant Four Seasons Hotels, Ltd. (Hereinafter, "Defendant" or "Four Seasons") Motion to Quash, for Entry of a Protective Order and for Sanctions (ECF No. 39); (2) Third Parties 900 Hotel Venture, LLC and 900 HDP, LLC's (hereinafter, collectively, "900 Venture") Motion to Quash (ECF No. 46); (3) Third Party Pat Meara's Motion to Quash and for a Protective Order (ECF No. 67); (4) Third Party William H. Gates III's ("Gates") Motion to Quash and for a Protective Order (ECF No. 42); (5) Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions (ECF No. 76); and (6) Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration of Two Court Orders (ECF No. 77). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion to Quash and for Protective Order is granted in part and denied in part. 900 Venture's Motion is granted in part and denied in part. Gates' and Meara's Motions are granted. Plaintiff's Motion to Reconsider is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

This action began as a negligence suit in Cook County Court Law Division on April 21, 2009. Plaintiff was a guest in Defendant's hotel when a sliding glass shower door shattered and injured her. Significant discovery took place in the state court action prior to Plaintiff taking a voluntary non-suit and refiling here on April 30, 2012. Despite the discovery that had taken place in the state court matter, on August 21, 2012, Plaintiff filed a motion requesting an extensive discovery plan in this action. Her plan included six phases of discovery and the inspection of thirty hotel rooms with sliding glass doors.

On September 28, 2012, this Court entered an Order (the "September Order") that sought to balance the burden that Plaintiff's excessive plan would cause while giving Plaintiff the opportunity to seek information related to new allegations in her Amended Complaint. These new allegations raised for the first time the issue of punitive damages. Defendant was ordered to produce two bankers boxes of documents referenced within their response. The Court rejected Plaintiff's plan to inspect thirty rooms at Defendant's hotel because Plaintiff gave no justification for why such an inspection was necessary. Plaintiff was ordered to "limit her discovery requests to new issues raised in the Amended Complaint, those topics that could not be discovered earlier, or those request[s] that were unreasonably denied or ignored by Defendant." See 9/28/12 Order at 3, ECF No. 35. The Court also warned Plaintiff that she would need to be able to demonstrate "how each and every request she now makes was either made and unfairly denied in state court or how it relates to new issues." Id. The Court encouraged Plaintiff to retain counsel or consult the Court's Pro Se Help Desk, as she "must still obey the Rules of Civil Procedure . . . [as] missteps in this regard could lead to a loss by Plaintiff or sanctions." Id.

What followed appears to be a gross abuse by Plaintiff of the Court's September Order allowing her to pursue limited additional discovery, as well as a failure on her part to heed the Court's warnings about adhering to the Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff issued additional document requests to Defendant and subpoenaed numerous third parties, including some with improper service and outside of this Court's subpoena power. Apparently, Plaintiff has pursued this course while failing to review the two boxes of documents Defendant made available to her pursuant to the September Order. Even more troubling, despite having her request to inspect thirty hotel rooms explicitly denied, Plaintiff attempted repeatedly to compel such inspections. Defendant has stonewalled all of Plaintiff's additional discovery requests by generically stating that they are all outside the scope of the September Order.

Defendant and some of the third parties move to quash Plaintiff's outstanding discovery. Fact discovery closed on March 31, 2013.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Discovery is not without its limits. Rule 26 states that a court, "on motion or on its own, must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed" if it determines that (1) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or can be obtained from a source that is more convenient; (2) that the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information; or (3) the burden of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. FED. R. CIV. P. 26(b)(2)(C). Rule 26 also allows a court to enter a protective order, for good cause shown, forbidding inquiry or limiting the scope of discovery into certain matters. FED. R. CIV. P. 26(c)(1).

Discovery pursuant to a Rule 45 subpoena is not unlimited. Widmar v. Sun Chem., No. 11 C 1818, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89253 at *4 (N.D. Ill. June 28, 2012). Under Rule 45, a court is required to quash a subpoena under various circumstances, including when it requires a non-party to travel more than 100 miles from where he resides, is employed, or regularly transacts business, as well as when the subpoena subjects the recipient to undue burden. FED. R. CIV. P. 45(c)(3)(a).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Defendant's Motion to Quash, For Entry of Protective Order, and for Sanctions Against Plaintiff (ECF No. 39)

1. Local Rules 7.1 and 37.2

The Court first notes that Plaintiff filed two briefs responding to Defendant's motion (ECF Nos. 48, 50), and thus failed to comply with Local Rule 7.1's requirement that no brief exceed 15 pages without approval from the Court. The Court will accommodate Plaintiff and consider both responses. However, failure by either party to abide by Rule 7.1's page limit in the future without permission may result in the Court refusing to consider the brief.

Plaintiff is not the only one having difficulty following the Court's rules. Defendant, in moving to quash, failed to abide by Local Rule 37.2, which states in part:

[the] court shall hereafter refuse to hear any and all motions for discovery and production of documents under Rule 26 through 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, unless a motion includes a statement (1) that after consultation in person or by telephone and good faith attempts to resolve differences they are unable to reach an accord, or (2) counsel's attempts to engage in such consultation were unsuccessful due to no fault of counsel's.

N.D. Ill. L.R. 37.2. This rule encourages resolution of discovery disputes without judicial involvement. Biedrzycki v. Town of Cicero, No. 04 C 3277, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16423 at *6 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 8, 2005). Defendant failed to provide a statement that any attempt was made to resolve these discovery issues. Given the mandatory language of Local Rule 37.2, the Court could deny Defendant's motion. Id. at *7. However, the Court will excuse Defendant's failure, as well.

2. Plaintiff's Additional Rule 34 Document Requests

The Court's September Order was clear that any additional discovery Plaintiff sought had to involve: (1) new issues raised in the Amended Complaint; (2) those topics that could not be discovered earlier; or (3) information that Defendant had unreasonably failed to provide. See 3/28/12 Order at 3, ECF No. 35. To justify her extensive discovery, Plaintiff now asserts that the "major issue is the amount of punitive damages to be awarded." Pl.'s 11/6 Resp. at 1, ECF No. 48. Indeed, she states that her document requests "must necessarily be broad and detailed" because she is unaware of Defendant's position with respect to "the major issue," punitive damages. Id. Plaintiff thus served on Defendant two very similar document requests within a week of one another. As Plaintiff states she intended the latter set of requests to amend the former, the 44 document requests (excluding subsections) attached as Exhibit K to Defendant's Motion to Quash are the requests at issue. See Defs.' Mot. to Quash Ex. K, ECF No. 39 PageID # 279.

Defendant makes no attempt to provide the Court with any specific objections to the document requests. Ironically, it makes the general objection that Plaintiff uses punitive damages as her general justification for the requests. This was not helpful. Plaintiff, to her credit, did what Defendant would not by attempting to justify each document request. Unfortunately, most of her requests seek information that is beyond the scope of the September Order, irrelevant, or otherwise burdensome.

a. Valid Document Requests

Plaintiff claims all of her requests are aimed toward punitive damages. There are a few ways in which the new allegations in her Amended Complaint could involve punitive damages. First, she claims that Defendant and others fraudulently concealed plans to install the type of sliding glass door that injured her when it applied for its building permit. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-27. Second, Plaintiff claims that Defendant's use of the sliding glass doors violate the Illinois Safety Glazing Materials Act, 430 ILCS 60, and the Chicago Municipal Code. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-38. Evidence concerning the regulatory or criminal penalties to which a defendant exposed itself can be helpful in considering punitive damages. See, Mathias v. Accor Econ. Lodging, Inc., 347 F.3d 672, 678 (7th Cir. 2003). Third, Defendant's net worth is relevant to punitive damages. Baldonado v. Wyeth, No. 04 C 4312, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59512 at *11-12 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 30, 2012).

In light of the above allegations, Requests 12, 13, 26, 27, 28, 42, and 43 are reasonable requests. The Court makes special note of Request 28, which seeks "[a]ll Incident Reports that refer to breakage of said [sliding glass doors]." Defs' Mot. to Quash Ex. K, ECF No. 39 PageID # 285. The Court stated in its September Order that such a report struck the Court as "highly relevant." See 9/28/12 ...


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