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Jones v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

May 1, 2014

CHRISTINE M. JONES, individually and as SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF TIMOTHY JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY and STEVEN PIGNATO, Defendants.

ORDER

GERALDINE SOAT BROWN, Magistrate Judge.

For the reasons set out in this order, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Take Limited Additional Discovery Related to Crossing Gate Malfunctions on February 12, 2014 and February 13, 2014 [83] and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Take Limited Additional Discovery Related to the Metra Train-Car Collision of February 17, 2014 [85] are denied.

Statement

Before the court are plaintiff Christine Jones's motions to take additional discovery about alleged crossing gate malfunctions on February 12 and 13, 2014 [dkt 83] and a collision between a car and a Metra train on February 17, 2014 [dkt 85]. The motions are within the scope of the District Judge's referral to this court. [Dkt 91.] For the following reasons, Jones's motions are denied.

Background

The facts summarized here are discussed in further detail in this court's order dated January 6, 2014. (Order, Jan. 6, 2014.) [Dkt 81.] In August 2010, plaintiff Christine Jones's husband was killed when his car collided with a train owned by Union Pacific Railroad Company ("Union Pacific") and operated by engineer Steven Pignato. ( Id. at 1.) The collision occurred at the River Road crossing in Des Plaines, Illinois. (Compl. ΒΆ 7.) [Dkt 4.] Jones alleges that Union Pacific negligently failed to maintain its railroad warning system and crossing gates; Union Pacific asserts that Jones was at fault because the warning lights at the crossing were active and the gates were down at the time of the collision. (Order, Jan. 6, 2014, at 2.)

Discovery began in this case in mid-2012, with an initial closing date for non-expert discovery of November 30, 2012. [Dkt 15.] That deadline was extended twice at Jones's request, until June 21, 2013. [Dkt 25, 37.] Jones moved to extend discovery a third time on June 20, 2013 [dkt 51], but the District Judge denied that request. [Dkt 59.]

Before the closure date, the parties engaged in considerable discovery. According to defendants, they disclosed 42 people who may have discoverable information, responded to seven sets of discovery requests and two sets of requests to admit, and made ten separate productions of documents. (Def.'s Resp. at 2-3.) [Dkt 87.] The parties also took 22 depositions, including the depositions of Union Pacific's Manager of Signal Maintenance and one of its signal maintainers. ( Id. at 3.) Additionally, this court issued rulings on two discovery motions. First, the court granted in part and denied in part Jones's motion to compel discovery of the hard drive from a video recorder on the train involved in the collision. [Dkt 41, 57.] Second, the court denied Jones's motion to bar a video taken from that recorder at the time of accident that does not show the vehicle but does show the gates down and the lights activated. (Order, Jan. 6, 2014.)

Legal Standard

The federal rules allow parties to "obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Nonetheless, discovery has "ultimate and necessary boundaries." Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 507 (1947). Discovery is limited to information that "appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Rule 26(b)(2)(C) also requires a court to limit discovery "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." Parker v. Four Seasons Hotels, Ltd., 291 F.R.D. 181, 183 (N.D. Ill. 2013). Further, district courts retain "broad discretion to tailor discovery narrowly and to dictate the sequence of discovery." Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 598 (1998).

Discussion

In her first motion, Jones asks for additional discovery about gate malfunctions that her attorney observed in February 2014 at the Dee Road Metra station, which is on the same train line but is not the crossing at issue here. [Dkt 83.] Jones argues that the electronic data from the Dee Road gates is relevant because it will show whether Union Pacific can reliably record whether a gate is properly functioning. (Pl.'s Reply at 4-5.) [Dkt 95.] She also argues that the video recorded from passing trains is relevant to how the train video recorders capture gate movements. ( Id. at 6.)

In the second motion, Jones seeks discovery about a collision that took place in February 2014 at the same River Road crossing at issue here. [Dkt 85.] Cellphone video from an eyewitness shows a train hitting a vehicle stuck in the crossing on a snowy day. ( Id. at 2, citing http://www.today.com/id/49063771/#54423826.) Jones speculates that a person dressed in orange in the background of the video is a Union Pacific employee who may have relevant information about a potential gate malfunction. ( Id. ) Jones also argues that data regarding the February 2014 collision is relevant because it is similar to her theory about how the collision involving her husband occurred, and the data might shed light on whether the Union Pacific's video recorders should have captured Mr. Jones's collision. ( Id. at 2-3; Pl.'s Reply at 4.)

Shortly after the two February 2014 incidents, Jones's counsel requested that Union Pacific preserve electronic data relating to the incidents. (Defs.' Resp., Ex. 2.) Defendants took steps to preserve the information, including downloading track image recordings and documentation relating to the crossing warning system. (Defs.' Resp. at 8.) Jones now seeks to pursue discovery about February 2014 incidents, including, inter alia, maintenance records and identity of persons who were performing work on the River Road crossing gates and ...


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