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Cook v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

April 30, 2018

CAROL COOK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CRACKER BARREL OLD COUNTRY STORE, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER ON DISCOVERY DISPUTE

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This is a personal injury suit in which Plaintiff Carol Cook (“Cook”) alleges that Defendant Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. (“Cracker Barrel”) negligently caused her to fall and injure herself at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Now before the Court is a discovery dispute concerning Cracker Barrel's objections to two of Cook's Requests for Production of Documents (“RFP”). After reviewing the parties' memoranda regarding the dispute (Docs. 33 and 38) and hearing counsel's argument during a teleconference April 26, 2018, the Court sustains in part Cracker Barrel's objections.

         Background

         On March 24, 2017, Cook was dining at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Independence, Missouri. She alleges that Dan Smotherman, the on-duty Cracker Barrel manager, negligently ran into her and knocked her to the ground, causing multiple injuries. Cook's complaint alleges that Cracker Barrel was negligent by (relevant here):

(a) negligently and carelessly running into Carol Cook, knocking her to the ground;
(b) negligently and carelessly failing to keep a careful lookout;
(c) negligently and carelessly failing to give Carol Cook warning that she was going to be run into;
(d) negligently and carelessly training and/or failing to supervise employees, agents and/or servants to protect against potential injuries to customers; and
(e) negligently and carelessly failing to maintain proper protocols and procedures to ensure customer safety.

Cook's Second RFP asked for (1) “a copy of Dan Smotherman's complete personnel file and/or employment file, ” and (2) “any and all documents that discuss, set forth or relate to any disciplinary action taken by or on behalf of Defendant Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., as to Dan Smotherman.” Pl's Mem. Regarding Disc. Dispute Ex. A., 1. Cracker Barrel objected, arguing that the requested materials are irrelevant and overly invasive.

         In the ensuring Rule 37.1(a)(1) conference, Cook agreed to limit the RFP to Smotherman's employment file related to “(1) disciplinary records, (2) misconduct, (3) write-ups, and (4) performance reviews only.” Id. at 1. Cracker Barrel maintains its objection.

         Discussion

         Cracker Barrel argues that Cook's RFP seeks materials “wholly irrelevant to any issues in dispute simply in an apparent effort to improperly invade its employee's privacy for the purpose of suppositional, collateral impeachment.” Def's Disc. Conf. Memo, 1. As support, it cites State ex rel. Delmar Gardens North Operating, LLC v. Gaertner, 239 S.W.3d 608, 612 (Mo. banc 2007), which found that “[p]ermitting discovery of a witness' entire personnel file solely for a collateral matter such as impeachment would eviscerate the right of privacy that employees enjoy as to those records.”

         Gaertner is distinguishable in two important ways. First, Cook does not seek Smotherman's “entire personnel file, ” but rather “(1) disciplinary records, (2) misconduct, (3) write-ups, and (4) performance reviews only.” Def's Disc. Conf. Mem., 1 (emphasis in original). Additionally, the RFP in Gaertner sought employment records from “merely . . . a witness” to the events at issue. Gaertner, 239 S.W.3d at 612 (“Permitting discovery of a witness' entire personnel file . . . could also discourage witnesses from reporting incidents of misconduct.” (emphasis added)). Here, Smotherman is not only an agent of the single named defendant, but also his alleged negligence is the basis for Cook's claim. Gaertner's rationale for ...


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