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Allstate Insurance Co. v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc.

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

November 15, 2017



          Robert M. Dow, Jr., United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to quash the subpoena issued to non-party the Wright Group, Inc., filed by Plaintiff Allstate Insurance Company (“Plaintiff”) [18] and a motion to quash that same subpoena filed by non-party Wright Group, Inc. (“Wright Group”) [24]. Defendant Electrolux Home Products, Inc. (“Defendant”) opposes both motions. See [22], [26]. Plaintiff also filed a reply in support of its motion. [See 25.] For the reasons stated below, both Plaintiff's motion [18] and Wright Group's motion [24] are granted in part and denied in part. Wright Group shall produce documents responsive to the subpoena as set forth below.

         I. Background

         This products liability action relates to a fire at Plaintiff's insured's property that Plaintiff alleges was caused by a defective dryer manufactured and distributed by Defendant. [See 1.] On November 29, 2016, Plaintiff identified Michael Stoddard and Ronald Parsons of the Wright Group as its testifying expert witnesses. [13.] Plaintiff amended this disclosure on May 26, 2017, to remove Mr. Parsons's name, leaving Mr. Stoddard as the only identified expert from the Wright Group. [17.] Mr. Stoddard issued an expert report in this case dated November 23, 2016. [See 22, Exhibit B (Stoddard Report).] Mr. Stoddard was deposed on May 31, 2017. [See 22, Exhibit C (Stoddard Deposition).]

         On May 4, 2017, Defendant issued a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 45 subpoena to Wright Group requesting various categories of documents. The categories disputed in this motion request production of billing records and invoices for dryer storage and expert consulting on behalf of Plaintiff that is unrelated to the instant case, [1] corporate ownership records, [2] and information regarding the compensation of Wright Group employees.[3] Plaintiff filed a motion to quash the subpoena and for an entry of a protective order on May 26, 2017 [18], and Defendant filed an objection [22]. Wright Group then moved for entry of a protective order or to quash this same subpoena on July 25, 2017 [24], and Defendant again filed an objection [26].

         Plaintiff and Wright Group broadly argue that these requests are not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, would be unduly burdensome to comply with for Wright Group, and are seemingly meant to harass Wright Group employees.

         Defendant argues that an expert witness's potential biases are relevant and discoverable. According to Defendant, although Mr. Stoddard is Plaintiff's testifying expert here, the Wright Group produced his expert report through the collective efforts of all of its employees, including Mr. Parsons, and is therefore the true “expert witness.” To support this argument, Defendant points to deposition testimony from Mr. Stoddard indicating that Wright Group employees work together on fire analyses and developing test protocols. [See 22 at 3-8.] Defendant also points to the fact that Mr. Parsons and Mr. Stoddard have co-signed substantially similar expert reports in several factually similar cases against Defendant and argues that the report in this case, like these substantially similar reports, is really co-authored by both Mr. Parsons and Mr. Stoddard. [See id. at 2.] Defendant argues that the requested documents are relevant to the potential biases of Wright Group as an entity and are therefore discoverable. Defendant further argues that the requested categories of documents are particularly necessary because Mr. Parsons's credibility has been called into question in a motion for civil contempt pending in the Western District of Louisiana. [See 22, Exhibit M (Sonnier Motion).]

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 26(b)(1) provides that 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).[4] A district court may, “for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). The party moving for entry of a protective order bears the burden of showing that good cause exists. Global Material Techs., Inc. v. Dazheng Metal Fibre Co., Ltd., 133 F.Supp.3d 1079, 1084 (N.D. Ill. 2015); Sloan Valve Co. v. Zurn Indus., 2012 WL 5499412, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 13, 2012). The district court has broad discretion as to whether a protective order under Rule 26(c) is appropriate. Sloan Valve Co., 2012 WL 5499412, at *1.

         Rule 45 governs the issuance of subpoenas during litigation. Rule 45(a) allows a party to issue a subpoena commanding a person to produce designated documents at a specified time and place. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(a)(1)(iii). “The scope of material obtainable pursuant to a Rule 45 subpoena is as broad as what is otherwise permitted under Rule 26(b)(1).” In re Kleimar N.V. v. Benxi Iron & Steel Am., Ltd., 2017 WL 3386115, at *7 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 7, 2017) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Under Rule 45(d), the district court “[o]n timely motion” must quash or modify a subpoena that “subjects a person to undue burden.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(3)(A)(iv). A burden is considered undue when “the burden of compliance * * * would exceed the benefit of production of the material sought by [the subpoena].” Nw. Mem'l Hosp. v. Ashcroft, 362 F.3d 923, 927 (7th Cir. 2004). To assess whether such an undue burden exists, the court considers numerous factors, including “the likelihood that compliance will result in production of the information, whether the discovery is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, [and] whether the information sought is readily obtainable from another, more convenient, less burdensome (but equally reliable) source[.]” Mosely v. City of Chi., 252 F.R.D. 421, 427 (N.D. Ill. 2008). Non-parties generally are entitled to greater protection under Rule 45 when making this assessment. See Patterson v. Burge, 2005 WL 43240, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 6, 2005). A party moving to quash has the burden of demonstrating that an undue burden exists. Pac. Century Int'l, Ltd. v. Does 1-37, 282 F.R.D. 189, 193 (N.D. Ill. 2012). Ultimately, the decision whether to quash or modify a subpoena is within the discretion of the district court. See Griffin v. Foley, 542 F.3d 209, 223-24 (7th Cir. 2008); Nw. Mem'l Hosp., 362 F.3d at 928.

         III. Analysis

         A. Procedural Issues

         As a threshold matter, the Court must address the procedural objections that Defendant has raised ...

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