eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Has a “Beef” with Plaintiff’s Proportionality Argument: eDiscovery Case Law

In Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. v. Premium Beef Feeders, LLC, No. 13-cv-1168-EFM-TJJ (D. Kan. June 26, 2015), Kansas Magistrate Judge Teresa J. James granted the defendants’ motion to compel production of documents, overruling the plaintiffs’ objections to the discovery request in finding that “Plaintiff has not satisfied its burden to show that producing the requested documents would be unduly burdensome”.

Case Background

In this breach of contract case, the defendant requested in June 2014, among other production requests, “any and all Documents related to Your hedging and/or risk management strategies and/or policies for all cattle purchased pursuant to the Agreement”.   Subsequently, in April 2015, the defendant deposed a former employee of the plaintiff and learned for the first time of the existence of specific documents that the plaintiff had not produced relating to hedging and/or risk management activities of both cattle and grain pursuant to the Agreement.  After requesting those documents, the plaintiff’s lead counsel sent a letter declining to produce the requested documents as irrelevant.  She offered to schedule a time for the parties to meet and confer about the issue, but she had left the country the day before and fact discovery closed the following day, forcing the defendant to file its motion to compel.

The plaintiff argued that the defendants’ motion to compel should be denied because:

  1. Defendants failed to comply with the “meet and confer” (or was it “meat and confer”?) obligation imposed by Kan. R. 37.2;
  2. Plaintiff had already produced relevant information responsive to the request;
  3. Defendants’ motion was not proportional; and
  4. the Court should defer ruling on the motion until the presiding district judge rules on Plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment on risk management claims.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that the “Defendants had a limited amount of time in which to file their motion to compel”, Judge James found that “Defendants have complied with their Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(1)(1) and D. Kan. R. 37.2 obligations to confer. Defendants acted in a timely fashion and contacted the only Plaintiff’s attorney available before their deadline. In addition, on May 4, 2015, Defendants’ counsel attempted to discuss the issue with Plaintiff’s counsel after she had returned to the country, but she declined to do so.”

Judge James also stated that, “When the discovery sought appears relevant, the party resisting discovery has the burden to establish the lack of relevancy by demonstrating that the requested discovery (1) does not come within the scope of relevancy as defined under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1), or (2) is of such marginal relevancy that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure.”  Finding that “the relevancy of the documents is apparent on its face”, Judge James ruled that the documents were within the bounds of the production request.

Finally, with regard to the plaintiff’s proportionality argument, Judge James stated:

“The Court finds that Plaintiff has not satisfied its burden to show that producing the requested documents would be unduly burdensome. Although Plaintiff articulates the issue as one of proportionality, the only factor Plaintiff mentions is the cost of the discovery. Plaintiff does not set forth what the relative cost of production would be as compared to the amount in controversy. The Court notes that both parties seek damages/setoff in excess of $2,000,000. Plaintiff’s unsupported estimate of $4,000 to $5,000 per custodian in discovery costs does not lead the Court to find that ordering the requested discovery violates proportionality, particularly given the history, scope, and nature of this case.”

Judge James did, however, reject the defendants’ request for sanctions in the form of an award of their reasonable expenses incurred in making the motion.

So, what do you think?  Does the plaintiff have a valid “beef” with the verdict?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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