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Dutcher v. Bold Films LP

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

May 8, 2017


          Dee Benson District Judge.


          PAUL M. WARNER Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

         District Judge Dee Benson referred this case to Chief Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).[1] Before the court are Richard Dutcher's (“Plaintiff”) three motions to compel various discovery requests from Bold Films LP; Bold Films Productions, LLC; Open Road Films, LLC; NBC Universal Media, LLC; and Universal Studios Home Entertainment, LLC (collectively, “Defendants”).[2] The court has carefully reviewed the written memoranda submitted by the parties. Pursuant to civil rule 7-1(f) of the Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Utah, the court has concluded that oral argument is not necessary and will determine the motions on the basis of the written memoranda. See DUCivR 7-1(f).


         In 1999, Plaintiff wrote the screenplay for the movie Falling. Plaintiff's movie was filmed in 2007, at which time he registered a copyright with the United States Copyright Office. Plaintiff screened the movie in limited theaters in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, and he distributed a small number of DVDs. Plaintiff also planned to release the film on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2015, as well as adapt Falling for a mass-market release.

         In 2014, Defendants released the movie Nightcrawler in theaters and subsequently distributed the movie for home viewing. Plaintiff contends that Nightcrawler contains striking similarities with Falling, and that Nightcrawler either copies directly or is substantially similar to the protected elements of Falling. Thus, Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit against Defendants for copyright infringement.

         Plaintiff received Defendants' responses to his discovery requests and found them to be deficient in several respects. After an unsuccessful meet and confer, Plaintiff filed the instant three motions: (1) motion to compel supplemental responses to interrogatories; (2) motion to compel supplemental responses to discovery; and (3) motion to compel production of documents.


         Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for “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). “Relevancy is broadly construed at the discovery stage of the litigation and a request for discovery should be considered relevant if there is any possibility the information sought may be relevant” to a party's claim or defense. Smith v. MCI Telecomm. Corp., 137 F.R.D. 25, 27 (D. Kan. 1991). That said, if the requested discovery is “unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from a source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive, ” the court is required to limit the frequency or extent of discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(i). Additionally, “[t]he court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, ” by “forbidding the disclosure or discovery . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1); see also DUCivR 26-2. The court should also consider the “needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii). With these standards in mind, the court now turns to Plaintiff's motions.[3]

         I. Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Supplemental Responses to Interrogatories

         Plaintiff argues that Defendants' objections to four of his interrogatories are improper. The court will address each interrogatory and related objection in turn.

         Interrogatory No. 9: “Describe in detail the creation of Nightcrawler, including when it was created, by whom, in what capacity the author created the work, the time spent, the methodology used, and any other related information.”[4]

         Defendants contend that they have provided all of the documents in their possession related to the creation of Nightcrawler and that they do not possess any other information to supplement this interrogatory. Defendants assert that they were not involved in the creation of Nightcrawler as they acquired the screenplay after Dan Gilroy authored it; nevertheless, Defendants produced the following discovery as it relates to Nightcrawler: (1) every draft of every screenplay that was modified in any respect during the production process, (2) scripts identifying every scene that was deleted from the screenplay, (3) the film footage of every deleted scene that Plaintiff requested, (4) all footage taken for the opening credit montage, (5) a list of every cast and crew member who had any substantive involvement in the production of the film, and (6) copies of every agreement related to Bold Films's purchase of the screenplay as well as agreements involving the subsequent production and distribution of the film.

         Because the screenplay for Nightcrawler was written and completed by Mr. Gilroy before Bold Films purchased it and Defendants have already produced all documents in their possession concerning the creation and production of Nightcrawler, Defendants have nothing else to produce in response to this interrogatory. Accordingly, this portion of Plaintiff's Motion to Compel with respect to Interrogatory No. 9 is DENIED.

         Interrogatory No. 13: “For each entity listed in Robert Gale's Report of May 24, 2015 . . . in this Lawsuit that is in any way affiliated with NBCUniversal or any of its subsidiaries, predecessors, or joint venture partners, Identify all agreements, contracts, understandings, promises, memorandums of understandings, and/or letters of intent relating to the management, control, operation, financing, or payments between NBCUniversal (or any predecessor) and the entity listed in Robert Gale's Report.”[5]

         Plaintiff asserts that the requested information is relevant to the credibility of Defendants' expert witness Robert Gale. Defendants argue that the information Plaintiff seeks is outside the scope of discovery, irrelevant, and overly burdensome to produce. While Mr. Gale's financial involvement with Defendants may reflect on his credibility, NBCUniversal is part of a large corporate entity, with many affiliates, partners, and joint ventures. Tracking down every corporate affiliate of NBCUniversal cited in Mr. Gale's extensive resume to retrieve financial information is a challenging and time-consuming task. Furthermore, Plaintiff has not alleged that the internal management of NBCUniversal and its affiliates or subsidiaries has anything to do with this copyright infringement case.

         The court concludes that any potential relevance these documents might contain is not proportional to the needs of the case, and the burden of production on Defendants outweighs any likely benefit for Plaintiff. Accordingly, this portion of Plaintiff's Motion to Compel with respect to Interrogatory No. 13 is DENIED.

         Interrogatory No. 14: “For all Documents, communications, films/videos, and things identified, referred to, and/or otherwise disclosed in Defendants' Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures, including any initial, supplemental, or amended disclosures, specifically Identify by page or time number the portions of said Documents, Communications, films/videos, and/or things on which you intend to rely to support any defenses and explain in detail how said identified portions support your defenses.”[6]

         Plaintiff asserts that he is entitled to know exactly which documents will be used by Defendants at trial because the purpose of discovery is to remove trial by surprise. In their response to this interrogatory, Defendants directed Plaintiff towards the general document groups on which they intend to rely at trial and argue that anything more would be a roadmap to Defendants' trial strategy. Defendants also maintain that producing the documents would disclose attorney work product by giving Plaintiff an impermissible view into the mental impressions and legal theories of the case. Finally, Defendants argue that, as a practical matter, they have not selected exactly which documents will be used at trial, and therefore cannot provide that information at this time.

         The court is not inclined to require Defendants to choose, at this stage in the case, the exact documents they plan to use at trial. Discovery is ongoing. While both parties may know the broad strokes of their main arguments, they likely do not yet know how their arguments will be framed and/or exactly which documents, including some documents that may still be discovered, they intend to use to support those arguments. Defendants have not yet made determinations as to which documents, communications, films, videos or things they intend to use at trial, and Defendants have no plans to make those determinations until it is apparent that this matter is going to trial. Therefore, this portion of Plaintiff's Motion to Compel with respect to Interrogatory No. 14 is DENIED.

         Interrogatory 15: “Identify each person (whether an individual or entity) who provided funding or other monetary assistance for the creation, making, and/or production of Nightcrawler, including persons having an investment or ownership interest in any person who provided funding or other monetary assistance for the creation, making, and/or production of Nightcrawler, and explain in detail the nature of said persons relationship with any ...

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