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Blount v. Major

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

November 1, 2016

JAMES P. BLOUNT Plaintiff,
v.
KEITH S. MAJOR, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DAVID D. NOCE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This action is before the court on the motion of defendants Matthew Miller, Albert Napier, and Zachary Nicholay to compel discovery. (ECF No. 115). Specifically, defendants Miller, Napier, and Nicholay seek to compel plaintiff to disclose the terms of the settlement agreements he made with defendants dismissed from this case. The court heard oral argument on September 21, 2016.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 16, 2015, plaintiff James P. Blount filed his First Amended Complaint before this court, naming Casino One Corporation, Ezell Cody, Hudson Services, Matthew Harmon, Keith Major, Matthew Miller, Albert Napier, and Zachary Nicholay, Nicholas Shelton, and Erich VonNida, among others, as defendants. (ECF No. 41). In their responsive pleadings, defendants Miller, Napier, and Nicholay each pled set-off as an affirmative defense to plaintiff's claims:

If a defendant or another party or entity makes a settlement with Plaintiff, or if Plaintiff receives anything of value from any party, individual or entity, the amount of such payment or consideration should be treated as a payment in full satisfaction of the damages of Plaintiff, or in the alternative, that the amount of such payment or consideration should be a set off against any judgment that may be entered herein.

(ECF Nos. 28 at 14; 29 at 14; 53 at 16; 54 at 26; and 55 at 26). On August 31, 2016, plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss the following defendants with prejudice, pursuant to one or more settlement agreements: Casino One Corporation, Ezell Cody, Hudson Services, Matthew Harmon, Keith Major, Nicholas Shelton, and Erich VonNida. (ECF No. 111). On September 16, 2016, plaintiff made a settlement demand of defendants Miller, Napier, and Nicolay. Remaining defendants Miller, Napier, and Nicolay have requested the terms of the settlement agreements. Plaintiff has resisted production on the grounds that (1) the settlement agreements contain confidentiality clauses and (2) the agreements are not relevant to a pre-judgment defense of set-off. The parties have conferred in good faith, and plaintiff now moves to compel the disclosure of the settlement agreements.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 allows for the discovery of 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). Plaintiff has not claimed privilege as a protection from discovery. A concern for protecting confidentiality does not equate to privilege, and several courts have found that settlement agreements are not shielded from discovery simply because they are confidential. See, e.g., Transp. All. Bank, Inc. v. Arrow Trucking Co., 2011 WL 4964034, at *1-2 (N.D. Okla. Oct. 19, 2011); Heartland Surgical Specialty Hosp., LLC v. Midwest Div., Inc., No. 05-2164-MLB-DWB, 2007 WL 1246216, at *5 (D. Kan. Apr. 27, 2007); Cadmus Commc'ns Corp. v. Goldman, 2006 WL 3359491, at *3-4 (W.D. N.C. Nov. 17, 2006); DIRECTV, Inc. v. Puccinelli, 224 F.R.D. 677, 684 (D. Kan. 2004); Bennett v. La Pere, 112 F.R.D. 136, 140 (D.R.I. 1986).

         The cardinal question, therefore, is whether the terms of the settlement agreements are relevant to this lawsuit. “Relevancy is broadly construed, and a request for discovery should be considered relevant if there is any possibility that the information sought may be relevant to the claim or defense of any party.” Puccinelli, 224 F.R.D. at 684 (citations omitted). The party seeking discovery must make a threshold showing of relevance, Hofer v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 981 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir. 1992), at which time the party resisting discovery “must demonstrate to the court that the requested documents either do not come within the broad scope of relevance defined pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1) or else are of such marginal relevance that the potential harm occasioned by discovery would outweigh the ordinary presumption in favor of broad disclosure.” Frey v. Fed. Reserve Bank of St. Louis, No. 4:15 CV 737 CEJ, 2015 WL 8276932, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 8, 2015) (citations omitted). Evidence need not be admissible to be discoverable. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants Miller, Napier, and Nicolay contend that plaintiff's settlement amount is critically important to their affirmative defense of set-off, and some or all of the settlement may set off any claim against them, as provided by Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.060. They also argue that the settlement amount is discoverable to show what, if any, damages plaintiff may still allege, as well as the defendants' ability to respond to plaintiff's September 16, 2016 settlement demand. They assert that without this information, they are unable to properly evaluate the demand. Finally, they argue that disclosure of the settlement is necessary to evaluate witness bias. Plaintiff responds that the set-off defense applies only to judgments, not settlements, and compelling plaintiff to disclose terms of the settlement would have a chilling effect on settlement negotiations.

         Missouri's contribution statute provides in part:

Defendants in a judgment founded on an action for the redress of a private wrong shall be subject to contribution, and all other consequences of such judgment, in the same manner and to the same extent as defendants in a judgment in an action founded on contract.

Mo. Rev. Stat. ยง 537.060. This statute, and defendants' set-off defense, is predicated on the court issuing a judgment. The court agrees that defendants cannot invoke ...


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