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Ang v. Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

May 14, 2014

ALEX ANG and LYNN STREIT, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs.
v.
BIMBO BAKERIES USA, INC., Defendant.

ORDER RE: DISCOVERY DISPUTES Re: Dkt. No. 76

NATHANAEL M. COUSINS, Magistrate Judge.

In this putative class action, plaintiffs claim that Bimbo Bakeries sold misbranded and misleading baked products in violation of state and federal law. The current deadline to file a motion for class certification is January 28, 2015, with an anticipated trial date of November 9, 2015. Dkt. No. 75. This case was referred for all discovery purposes to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Dkt. No. 60.

On April 9, 2014, the parties submitted a joint letter brief seeking resolution of several discovery issues related to Bimbo Bakeries' responses to document requests and interrogatories propounded by plaintiffs. Dkt. No. 68. After holding a hearing, the Court issued tentative rulings on some of the matters raised and directed the parties to further meet and confer and submit an updated joint letter brief and proposed orders. Dkt. No. 72. Having considered the parties' written submissions and arguments made at the hearing, as well as the record in this case, the Court GRANTS the relief sought by plaintiffs as set forth below.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

In general, "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Furthermore, "[f]or good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action." Id. Information is relevant for discovery purposes if it "appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Id. However, even when the information sought by the parties in a civil lawsuit is relevant, the Court must limit the scope of discovery if it determines that (1) "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"; (2) "the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action"; or (3) "the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C). In other words, the Court seeks to "strike[] the proper balance between permitting relevant discovery and limiting the scope and burdens of the discovery to what is proportional to the case." Kaiser v. BMW of N. Am., LLC, No. 12-cv-01311 DMR, 2013 WL 1856578, at *3 (N.D. Cal. May 2, 2013).

II. DISCUSSION

The parties' updated joint letter brief, Dkt. No. 76, raises three outstanding discovery issues, which the Court addresses in turn.

1. Pre-Class Period Discovery

First, the parties dispute whether Bimbo Bakeries' responses to plaintiffs' discovery requests should be limited to the class period alleged in the second amended complaint (four years prior to the filing of the original complaint). Many of the interrogatories and document requests propounded by plaintiffs are not limited in time. See Dkt. Nos. 65-3; 65-4.

Plaintiffs contend that information pertaining to Bimbo Bakeries' intent, motive, and knowledge will likely predate the class period and that the relevant discovery period begins shortly before the initial decisions by Bimbo Bakeries to incorporate the alleged unlawful marks and representations on its products. Dkt. Nos. 68 at 2; 76 at 2. Plaintiffs assert that, because the timing of those decisions is presently unknown as that information is in the sole possession of Bimbo Bakeries, the Court should set a discovery period going back eight years, subject to adjustment as further information comes to light. Dkt. No. 76 at 2. Plaintiffs also assert that similar pre-class period discovery has been allowed, citing to Ogden v. Bumble Bee Foods, LLC, 292 F.R.D. 620, 627-28 (N.D. Cal. 2013) (permitting discovery regarding defendant's marketing and labeling decisions dating back to four years before the statute of limitations, but finding that "information such as sales numbers, advertising expenditures, profits, costs, or other information not tied to the marketing decisions is not relevant beyond the limitations period"). The Court agrees with the Court's holding in Ogden that information about defendant's marketing and labeling decisions concerning the products in this food misbranding case would either be relevant to plaintiffs' claims or could lead to admissible evidence supporting their claims. 292 F.R.D. at 628.[1]

Bimbo Bakeries asks the Court to limit discovery on the basis that the burden or expense of the pre-class period discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Dkt. No. 76 at 4-5. Bimbo Bakeries argues that "aside from evidence of actual purchases of the products, the product labels during the Class Period are the key pieces of evidence necessary to establish or refute Plaintiffs' claims" and that discovery outside the class period is "unnecessary" and of "minimal relevance." Id.; Dkt. No. 77 at 2. Bimbo Bakeries further argues that, while evidence of its intent could be relevant to willfulness for punitive damages under the CLRA, such evidence is premature. Dkt. No. 68 at 6.

The Court previously indicated that it was inclined to order Bimbo Bakeries to provide pre-class period discovery, but directed the parties to meet and confer first about the appropriate time limitation as to each discovery request in light of the anticipated burden and benefit. Dkt. No. 72. In response, Bimbo Bakeries makes the blanket assertions that no such discovery is appropriate because it would impose an "extreme" and "immense" burden and require it "to comb records of myriad custodians." Dkt. No. 76 at 5. Bimbo Bakeries has failed to propose any way to limit the scope of the requested discovery to minimize its burden. The Court finds that Bimbo Bakeries' unsubstantiated assertions of burden do not demonstrate that the burden or expense of the proposed pre-class period discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

Accordingly, by May 28, 2014, Bimbo Bakeries must serve plaintiffs with amended responses to interrogatories Nos. 1-6 and document requests Nos. 3-24, 32-46, 50-55, and 58-69.[2] The amended responses and document production must not be limited in scope to information from the class period and must include any responsive ...


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