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Stratton v. Thompson/Center Arms Inc.

United States District Court, D. Utah

June 12, 2019

ZANE STRATTON, and individual, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMPSON/CENTER ARMS, INC.; SMITH &WESSON CORP.; SMITH & WESSON HOLDING COMPANY; CABELA'S INC., and DOES 1-X, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER MOOTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART [66] PLAINTIFF'S SHORT FORM MOTION TO COMPEL INTERROGATORY RESPONSES AND DOCUMENTS

          PAUL KOHLER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         District Judge David Nuffer Magistrate Judge Paul Kohler

         Plaintiff Zane Stratton (“Plaintiff”) moved for an order (the “Motion”)[1] compelling Defendant Thompson/Center Arms (“Thompson”) to produce documents identified in initial disclosures and to provide complete responses to interrogatories and requests for production.

         After Plaintiff filed the Motion, in which Plaintiff demonstrated that Plaintiff attempted to meet and confer and obtain the requested information in good faith, [2] Thompson provided a responsive letter (“Letter”) to Plaintiff's request. The Letter clarified the status of documents identified in its initial disclosures and provided supplemental responses to the interrogatories and requests for production.[3] Thompson then filed an opposition to the Motion (“Opposition”), [4] in which Thompson raised objections to two of the interrogatories and to one request for production.[5]

         District Judge David Nuffer referred this case to Magistrate Judge Paul Kohler under 28 U.S.C. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).[6] After reviewing the Motion and the Opposition, oral argument-although requested[7]-is determined to be unnecessary and the Motion will be resolved on the provided briefing under DUCivR 7-1(f). Because the Letter addresses the majority of the subject request of the Motion and because Thompson's asserted objections are sustained, the Motion is MOOTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         “When ruling upon a motion to compel, the court generally considers those objections which have been timely asserted and relied upon in response to the motion.”[8] At the outset, it must be noted that Thompson's responsive Letter-although provided after Plaintiff had to file the Motion-renders much of the Motion moot. Thompson has provided the majority of the requested additional information (or explained why that information has already been provided or was in Plaintiff's possession from the outset) and expanded responses that Plaintiff sought after in the Motion.

         But Thompson has asserted objections to Plaintiff's Interrogatories nos. 4 and 9 and Request for Production no. 4.[9] The following decision will therefore only focus on resolving these few objections and determining whether Thompson should be compelled to respond. Again, due to Thompson's Letter, the remainder of the Motion will be mooted.

         The Tenth Circuit has established that a district court becomes involved in discovery “when a party objects that discovery goes beyond that relevant to the claims or defenses[.]”[10] In resolving these objections, the district court:

[H]as discretion in determining what the scope of discovery should be. The actual scope of discovery should be determined according to the reasonable needs of the action. The court may permit broader discovery in a particular case depending on the circumstances of the case, the nature of the claims and defenses, and the scope of the discovery requested.[11]

         Here, Plaintiff's claims against Thompson arise out of injuries that Plaintiff suffered when the barrel of a muzzleloader rifle-an Omega 0.50 Caliber Muzzleloading Rifle to be exact[12]-exploded in Plaintiff's hands.[13] Plaintiff alleges in the Complaint that the barrel exploded because of defects in the rifle's design and manufacturing.[14] Plaintiff's Interrogatory No. 4 “requested model names/No. of all Thompson muzzleloader rifles with barrels made of the same metal as the subject rifle.”[15] Plaintiff's Interrogatory No. 9 and Request No. 4 requested information and documents concerning barrel failures of Thompson muzzleloaders.”[16]

         As to Interrogatory No. 4, Thompson objected on the grounds that Plaintiff's request pertains to firearms of dissimilar design from the Omega 0.50 Caliber rifle, specifically that these other firearms feature differing barrel thicknesses, lengths, and dimensions.[17] In response to Interrogatory No. 9 and Request No. 4, Thompson did provide information as to other similar incidents involving Omega 0.50 Caliber rifles.[18] But Thompson objected that the request to produce similar information as to any other rifles Thompson has manufactured is overbroad.[19] Thompson also objected to these requests on the grounds that Plaintiff's demand regarding these other firearms was not limited in scope or time.[20]

         In products liability cases, when a party requests information during discovery regarding other products or incidents, it must be determined whether the request seeks information that is “substantially similar” to the incident that is the focus of the complaint.[21] As the Tenth Circuit has explained:

Substantial similarity depends upon the underlying theory of the case. Evidence proffered to illustrate the existence of a dangerous condition necessitates a high degree of similarity because it weighs directly on the ultimate issue to be decided by the jury. The requirement of substantial similarity is relaxed, however, when the evidence of other incidents is used to demonstrate notice or awareness of a potential defect. Any differences in the accidents not affecting a finding of substantial similarity go to the weight of the evidence.[22]

         The “underlying theory of the case” is the key language here as other courts have understood this to mean that discovery of “substantially similar” incidents is limited to those involving the same product ...


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