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Complaint of American River Transportation Co.

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

February 27, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF AMERICAN RIVER TRANSPORTATION COMPANY FOR EXONERATION FROM, OR LIMITATION OF, LIABILITY.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CAROL E. JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of the United States to compel American River Transport Company (ARTCO) to respond to document requests and interrogatories. ARTCO has filed a response in opposition and the issues are fully briefed.

         I. Background

         On March 6, 2011, four barges separated from the M/V Julie White, a towboat owned by American River Transportation Company (ARTCO), and allided with Lock and Dam 25 before sinking. The United States notified ARTCO of the damage, and ARTCO commenced this action under the Limitation Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501 et seq., seeking limitation of its damages to $1, 322, 837.85, the value of the M/V Julie White together with its barges and the freight. The United States asserts that ARTCO is not entitled to exoneration from or limitation of liability and seeks damages in excess of $10, 000, 000.00.

         At issue in the present motion are ARTCO's objections to document requests and interrogatories, its failure to produce a privilege log, and its responses to specific document requests and interrogatories.[1]

         II. Discussion

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), litigants 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, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). “Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Id.

         The scope of discovery under Rule 26(b) is extremely broad. Gowan v. Mid Century Ins. Co., 309 F.R.D. 503, 508 (D.S.D. 2015) (citing 8 Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2007, 3637 (1970)). “Mutual knowledge of all the relevant facts gathered by both parties is essential to proper litigation. To that end, either party may compel the other to disgorge whatever facts he has in his possession.” Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 507 (1947).

         Relevancy in this context “has been construed broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.” Jo Ann Howard & Assocs., P.C. v. Cassity, 303 F.R.D. 539, 542 (E.D. Mo. 2014) (citation and quotation omitted). After the proponent of discovery makes a threshold showing of relevance, the party opposing a motion to compel has the burden of showing its objections are valid by providing specific explanations or factual support as to how each discovery request is improper. Id. (citing Hofer v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 981 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir. 1993), and St. Paul Reinsurance Co., Ltd. v. Commercial Fin. Corp., 198 F.R.D. 508, 511- 12 (N.D. Iowa 2000)). The party must demonstrate to the court “that the requested documents either do not come within the broad scope of relevance defined pursuant to Rule 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.” Id. (quoting Burke v. New York City Police Department, 115 F.R.D. 220, 224 (S.D.N.Y. 1987)).

         A. Meet-and-Confer Obligations

         The government has certified, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(1) and Local Rule 3.04, that it made a good-faith effort to confer with the opposing party. [Doc. # 73-2]. ARTCO suggests that the government has not complied with the good-faith requirement because the parties were still negotiating ARTCO's responses to specific requests when the motion was filed on January 12, 2017. The government's discovery requests were served in June 2014[2] and August 2016. The parties have been engaged in discussions to resolve this dispute since July 2016. ARTCO's assertion that the government failed to meet its meet-and-confer obligations is not persuasive.

         B. E-mails and Other ...


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