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United States v. City and County of San Francisco

March 9, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, HETCH HETCHY WATER AND POWER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis L. Beck United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL (Documents 15, 18)

Plaintiff United States of America ("USA") filed the instant discovery motion on October 7, 2008. After the parties stipulated to continue the hearing date several times, the matter was heard on March 6, 2009, before the Honorable Dennis L. Beck, United States Magistrate Judge. Catherine Swann appeared on behalf of USA. Mark Lipton appeared on behalf of Defendant City and County of San Francisco, Hetch Hetchy Water and Power ("Hetch Hetchy").

BACKGROUND

USA filed the instant action to recover monetary damages incurred in connection with the "Early Fire," which ignited on or about August 9, 2004, on National Forest System ("NFS") land in the Stanislaus National Forest. USA contends that the fire ignited through negligent acts or omissions of Hetch Hetchy. Specifically, USA alleges that the fire was caused by an electrical discharge from a power line owned and operated by Hetch Hetchy to a tree that had grown to within two to four feet from the subject power line. USA further alleges that Hetch Hetchy failed, and continues to fail, to perform hazard reduction around its high voltage power lines as required by law.

The complaint alleges causes of action under California and federal law. USA requests compensation for fire suppression costs and damages, recovery of administrative costs, prejudgment interest and penalties under the Debt Collection Act, and injunctive relief.

USA originally filed the instant motion to compel on October 7, 2008. The motion has been continued numerous times due to the parties' attempts to resolve the dispute and their participation in mediation. The meet and confer process has been ongoing since August 2008.

DISCUSSION

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) provides that a party "may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any books, documents, or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter."

A. Responses Indicating that Document Production is Ongoing

In response to a majority of the requests at issue, Hetch Hetchy simply states that it is in the process of compiling documents. In many instances, this statement is qualified with general objections.

During the hearing, the Court explained the problems in responding with boilerplate objections and qualified responses- it is impossible to determine whether the responding party is withholding any documents based upon the stated objections. Therefore, in response to all interrogatories to which Hetch Hetchy indicated that it was in the process of compiling documents, both with and without the qualification of the general objections, Hetch Hetchy shall provide a complete response that unequivocally states whether, after a reasonable search, all documents have been produced. The response should clearly state whether documents are being withheld based on an objection.

B. Specific Interrogatories

Request for Production of Documents, Set Three, Numbers 51-58; Interrogatories, Set Two, Numbers 25 and 31

Based on the parties' joint statement and/or discussions at the hearing, these discovery ...


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