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Bakersfield Pipe & Supply, Inc. v. Cornerstone Valve, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 28, 2016

BAKERSFIELD PIPE & SUPPLY, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
CORNERSTONE VALVE, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO COMPEL THE PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS AND FURTHER RESPONSES TO INTERROGATORIES BY DEFENDANT NITESH GUPTA (DOC. 47)

          Jennifer L. Thurston UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Bakersfield Pipe & Supply, Inc. asserts Cornerstone Valve and Nitesh Gupta, the owner and president of Cornerstone, are liable for deceit and concealment, and for breaching a purchase order. (Doc. 23) Plaintiff seeks to compel discovery related to Gupta’s financial status. (Doc. 47) Because the financial information is relevant to Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages, as discussed below, Plaintiff’s motion to compel is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         The operative pleading claims that the defendants fraudulently induced the plaintiff into entering into a contract through deceit and concealment. (Doc. 23 at 4-7) The plaintiff seeks punitive damages on this claim. Id. at 6, 7. Defendants have resisted discovery into their financial statuses because, they claim, punitive damages are not awardable in this action. In this motion, the plaintiff seeks to compel responses to discovery into this topic.

         II. Scope of Discovery and Requests

         The scope and limitations of discovery are set forth by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Evidence. Rule 26(b) provides:

Unless otherwise limited by court order, parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged manner that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense - including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things. . . For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the accident. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

         Relevant evidence is defined as “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. Further, relevancy is interpreted “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.” Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 427 U.S. 340, 351 (1978).

         A. Interrogatories

         A party may propound interrogatories relating to any matter that may be inquired to under Rule 26(b). Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(a). A responding party is obligated to respond to the fullest extent possible, and any objections must be stated with specificity. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(3)-(4). In general, a responding party is not required “to conduct extensive research in order to answer an interrogatory, but a reasonable effort to respond must be made.” Haney v. Saldana, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93447, at *9 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2010) (citing L.H. v. Schwarzenegger, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73753 (E.D. Cal. Sep. 21, 2007)). Further, the responding party must supplement a response he later obtains the information sought or discovers the previous response requires correction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(e)(1)(A).

         B. Requests for Production of Documents

         A party may request documents “in the responding party’s possession, custody, or control.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a)(1). Similarly, a party may serve a request “to permit entry onto designated land or other property possessed or controlled by the responding party, so that the requesting party may inspect, measure, survey, photograph, test, or sample the property . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a)(2). A request is adequate if it describes items with “reasonable particularity;” specifies a reasonable time, place, and manner for the inspection; and specifies the form or forms in which electronic information can be produced. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b). Thus, a request is sufficiently clear if it “places the party upon ‘reasonable notice of what is called for and what is not.’” Kidwiler v. Progressive Paloverde Ins. Co., 192 F.R.D. 193, 202 (N.D. W.Va. 2000) (quoting Parsons v. Jefferson-Pilot Corp., 141 F.R.D. 408, 412 (M.D. N.C. 1992)); see also Schwarzer, Tashima & Wagstaffe, California Practice Guide: Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial (Rev. #1 2011) Discovery, para. 11:1886 (“the apparent test is whether a respondent of average intelligence would know what items to produce”).

         The responding party must respond in writing and is obliged to produce all specified relevant and non-privileged documents, tangible things, or electronically stored information in its “possession, custody, or control” on the date specified. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a). Actual possession, custody or control is not required. “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, 620 (N.D. Cal. 1995). Such documents include documents under the control of the party’s attorney. Meeks v. Parson, 2009 WL 3303718 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 18, 2009) (involving a subpoena to the CDCR); Axler v. Scientific Ecology Group, Inc., 196 F.R.D. 210, 212 (D. Mass. 2000) (a “party must produce otherwise discoverable documents that are in his attorneys’ possession, custody or control”). In the alternative, a party may state an objection to a request, including the reasons. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(A)-(B).

         If a party “fails to respond that inspection will be permitted - or fails to permit inspection - as requested under Rule 34, ” the propounding party may make a motion to compel production of the documents. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iv). Further, “an evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response must be treated as a failure to disclose, answer or respond.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(4). A moving party has the burden of demonstrating “actual and substantial prejudice” from the denial of discovery. Hallet v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 751 (9th Cir. 2002)).

         III. Discussion and Analysis

         In this action, the disputed discovery requests related to Nitesh Gupta’s financial information. Specifically, in its Request for Production No. 1, Plaintiff requested Gupta produce “[a]ll documents sufficient to show [his] net worth, ” including:

a. bank statements, money market statements, bond accounts, and other investment accounts as of July 31, 2015, ...

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