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Whitchurch v. Canton Marine Towing Co., Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

March 23, 2017

CANTON MARINE TOWING CO., INC., and the M/V SIR J-ETTE in rem, Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Kori Whitchurch's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses (d/e 13) (Motion). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is ALLOWED in part and DENIED in part.


         Whitchurch brings this action under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104, and general United States maritime law for injuries he allegedly suffered during an incident (Incident) on August 9, 2016, while Whitchurch was a crew member on Defendant M/V SIR J-ETTE, a vessel (the Vessel) operated on the Mississippi River near Quincy, Illinois. At the time of the Incident, Defendant Canton Marine Towing Co., Inc. (Canton), owned and operated the Vessel and employed Whitchurch as a crew member on the Vessel. See Verified Complaint in Admiralty (d/e 1) (Complaint).

         Whitchurch served Defendant Canton with Interrogatories and a Request to Produce Documents. Whitchurch received Canton's responses and privilege log on January 27, 2017. The parties met and conferred to resolve disputes regarding Canton's responses. Canton supplemented its responses on February 21, 2017. The supplemental responses did not resolve all the parties' disputes regarding the discovery. The parties met and conferred, but could not resolve the remaining disputes. Whitchurch then filed this Motion asking the Court to compel additional responses and a more complete privilege log.

         Whitchurch asks the Court to compel additional responses to Interrogatory Nos. 2, 3, and 7; additional documents in response to Requests to Produce Nos. 1, 2, and 6; and a more complete privilege log. Canton argues that it has responded appropriately, that the additional information sought is privileged, and that the privilege log is proper and complete. The Court addresses the disputed requests in order. The Court addresses the privilege log issue in connection with Request to Produce No. 2.

         Interrogatory No. 2

         Whitchurch asked the following in Interrogatory No. 2:

Identify each and every person who saw or claims to have seen Kori Whitchurch's accident or heard him describe his accident or injury in any way.

Canton Supplemental Res:

         ANSWER: See CM000041-CM000045. See also, CM000200-CM000202. Investigation continues. Motion, Exhibit 3, Defendant Canton Marine's Supplemental Answers to Plaintiff's Interrogatories (Supplemental Answers), at 1.[1]

         Documents CM000041-CM000045 are accident reports completed by all the crew members of the Vessel at the time of the Incident. Canton provided the full name and address information for these crew members in answer to Interrogatory 1. Canton states that Documents CM000200-CM000202 are dispatcher's logs. The latter documents do not identify the individual dispatchers or others who have personal knowledge of the statements in those documents. Canton is directed to disclose the names and business addresses and telephone numbers of those individuals to Whitchurch. The interrogatory also asks for the identity of anyone who heard Whitchurch “describe his accident or injury in any way.” Canton is directed to provide the names and addresses of any other individuals who heard Whitchurch make any such statements, or certify that Canton is not aware of any such additional individuals.

         Interrogatory No. 3 Whitchurch asked in Interrogatory No. 3:

Identify by quoting any safety rule(s), regardless of who promulgated such rules, which apply to the task of pulling wire from a stationary winch and for each such rule state whether you contend the plaintiff violated the rule and if so, how, and describe fully how each such violation contributed to cause his injury and for each such rule state:
a) the act(s) which the plaintiff did which you say violated the rule;
b) how, if at all, said act contributed to cause his injury;
c) specifically what the plaintiff should have done to follow said rule and avoid injury;
d) describe fully this defendant's means of obtaining data concerning employee rule violations, its analysis of employee rule violations and its enforcement mechanism for rule violations during the time that Kori Whitchurch was employed by this defendant up to and including August 9, 2016;

Canton's supplemental response to the Interrogatory stated:

ANSWER: Canton Marine objects to this interrogatory because it is vague, overly broad, and unduly burdensome. Nearly every safety rule - from wearing a life jacket to not horsing around - applies to the task of pulling wire from a stationary winch. Subject to, and without waiving these objections, see CM000006-CM000026, CM000034-CM000040, and CM000046-CM000052. See also “Deckhand's Manual” and “OSHA Safety Training Handbook” (7th Edition, J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc.), which were provided to Plaintiff by Canton Marine. Finally, employee rule violations are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Furthermore, Canton Marine is still waiting for Plaintiff to explain how his alleged injury occurred. Canton Marine will supplement this interrogatory after Plaintiff's deposition when more information becomes available. Subject to, and without waiving the above-mentioned objections, based on the currently available information, Plaintiff may have violated Rules 22, 23, and 35 of Canton Marine's “Be Safe Manual, ” which is marked as CM000046-CM000052. Investigation continues.

         Supplemental Answers, at 2.

         Whitchurch asks the Court to compel Canton to provide a more detailed response at this time. The request is denied. This is a contention interrogatory, asking what rules does Canton contend Whitchurch violated. Canton listed three, but said more may come up during discovery, particularly after Whitchurch's deposition. Contention interrogatories are often better answered after parties are near the end of discovery because they are better able to give complete responses. See Logan v. Burge, 2010 WL 4074150, at *4 (N.D. Ill. October 12, 2010); Ziemack v. Centel Corp., 1995 WL 729295, at *2 (N.D. Ill. December 7, 1995). The Court will not compel a more complete answer now. Canton, however, is hereby ordered to update this answer within 14 days after the date that it takes Whitchurch's deposition to more completely set forth the rules that it contends Whitchurch violated at the time of the Incident. Both parties, of course, must also update all responses to discovery in accordance with the Federal Rules.

         Interrogatory No. 7 Whitchurch asked the following in ...

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