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Gene Edwards, On Behalf of Herself and v. Ford Motor Company

February 17, 2012

GENE EDWARDS, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND
ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara L. Major United States Magistrate Judge

[ECF No. 39]

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL

Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Compel [ECF No. 39, "Pl.'s Mot."], Defendant's Opposition to the motion [ECF No. 46, "Def's Opp."], Plaintiff's Reply [ECF No. 49, "Pl.'s Reply"], and Defendant's Sur-Reply [ECF No. 54, "Def's Sur-Reply"]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Compel.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who is suing under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law, filed a complaint in this matter which was removed to this Court on May 13, 2011. ECF No. 1-2 ("Compl."). In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that her vehicle, a 2006 Ford Freestyle, "repeatedly surged forward and stalled while her foot was on the brake and she was bringing the vehicle to a stop." Id. at 5. Plaintiff further alleges that this type of problem with the Freestyle was widespread and the result of a safety defect in 2005-2007 Ford Freestyles and was known by Defendant but not disclosed to its customers. Id. According to Plaintiff, the surging and stalling problems in the Ford Freestyle are the result of a defective Electronic Throttle Control ("ETC"). Id. at 9. The ETC consists of an electronic throttle body ("ETB"), powertrain control module, gas pedal assembly, sensors, and associated wiring. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was aware of the defective ETC system as early as April 2005 and that Defendant continued to sell the vehicles without informing customers of the defect and related safety risks. Id.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally allow for broad discovery, authorizing parties to obtain discovery regarding "any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Also, "[f]or good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action." Id. Relevant information for discovery purposes includes any information "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence," and need not be admissible at trial to be discoverable. Id. There is no requirement that the information sought directly relate to a particular issue in the case. Rather, relevance encompasses any matter that "bears on" or could reasonably lead to matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be presented in the case. Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). District courts have broad discretion to determine relevancy for discovery purposes. See Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 751 (9th Cir. 2002). Similarly, district courts have broad discretion to limit discovery where the discovery sought is "unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C). Limits should be imposed where the burden or expense outweighs the likely benefits. Id.

A party may request the production of any document within the scope of Rule 26(b). Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a). "For each item or category, the response must either state that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested or state an objection to the request, including the reasons." Id. at 34(b)(2)(B). The responding party is responsible for all items in "the responding party's possession, custody, or control." Id. at 34(a)(1). Actual possession, custody or control is not required. Rather, "[a] party may be ordered to produce a document in the possession of a non-party entity if that party has a legal right to obtain the document or has control over the entity who is in possession of the document. Soto v. City of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 619 (N.D.Cal. 1995).

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37, "a party may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery." Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(1). The party seeking to compel discovery has the burden of establishing that its request satisfies the relevance requirement of Rule 26. Soto, 162 F.R.D. at 610. Thereafter, the party opposing discovery has the burden of showing that the discovery should be prohibited, and the burden of "clarifying, explaining, and supporting its objections." DIRECTV, Inc. v. Trone, 209 F.R.D. 455, 458 (C.D. Cal. 2002) (citing Blankenship v. Hearst Corp., 519 F.2d 418, 429 (9th Cir. 1975)).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff seeks to compel Defendant to produce "each 8D, G8D, 14D, 6-Panel, or other reporting method, including drafts and unfinished or informal versions, that refers to the . . . Electronic Throttle Control in Class Vehicles."*fn1 Pl.'s Mot. at 3 & ECF No. 39-2, Exh. A at 7, Plaintiff's Second Set of RFPs. According to Plaintiff, the 8D, 14D and 6-Panel documents are "reporting methods" (also referred to as summaries or standardized reports) used by Defendant to gather information when vehicle-related problems arise. Pl.'s Mot. at 2. Plaintiff argues that the documents she seeks are relevant because they will provide information that will aid in determining if a defective ETC system caused the large number of surging and stalling incidents that have occurred, and when Defendant first learned about the defect. Pl.'s Reply at 4. Plaintiff further argues that Defendant's statements that it has "produced all summaries related to the Electronic Throttle Control to the extent they also pertain to unstable idle speed control" does not satisfy Plaintiff's request because it improperly limits the scope of the produced reports to those involving "unstable idle speed control" when the alleged surging and stalling may involve other issues or be described in other ways. Finally, Plaintiff contends that Defendant should not be excused from producing the requested discovery because the request is too burdensome because Defendant has failed to provide enough information to properly assess the burden. Id. at 8. Plaintiff asks that the Court overrule Defendant's objections and require Defendant to search for and produce all requested documents within thirty days. Id. at 11.

Defendant responds that Plaintiff's request is not relevant because "the discovery Plaintiff seeks simply does not relate to the claims she is asserting." Def's Opp. at 2. In support, Defendant argues that it has produced all of the reporting methods relating to the subject matter of the complaint and that refer to the ETC system. Id. at 8. Therefore, anything else that Plaintiff is seeking is an attempt to gain summaries of other issues that may have nothing to do with surging. Id. Defendant notes that it has consistently used the term "unstable idle speed" to describe the issue that is the subject of the litigation. Def's Sur-Reply at 2. Defendant further states that "Plaintiff has made no attempt to show that her request is related in any way to the 'surging' issue alleged" in the complaint. Def's Opp. at 9. Defendant also contends that Plaintiff's request is unduly burdensome. Id. Defendant requests that the Court deny Plaintiff's motion and award Defendant its expenses in opposing the motion. Id. at 11.

A. Relevance

Contrary to Defendant's claim, Plaintiff's request seeks information directly related to the subject matter of the litigation and Plaintiff has satisfied her burden of establishing that her request meets the relevance requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. Plaintiff requests all "8D, G8D, 14D, and 6-Panel, or other reporting methods, including drafts and unfinished or informal versions, that refers to the . . . Electronic Throttle Control in Class Vehicles." ECF No. 39-2, Exh. A at 7, Plaintiff's Second Set of RFPs. Because Plaintiff alleges that her 2006 Ford Freestyle experienced surging and stalling that was corrected by replacing her ETB, which is part of the ETC, and because the class of plaintiffs in the case is defined as "All persons in California who own or leased a 2005-2007 Ford Freestyle, and all persons in ...


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