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Mendoza v. General Motors LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 3, 2018

MIRIAM MICHELLE MENDOZA, Plaintiff,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS LLC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR ADDITIONAL INSPECTION OF THE SUBJECT VEHICLE (DOC. 58)

          JENNIFER L. THURSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Miriam Michelle Mendoza was severely injured after the Chevrolet Astro van in which she was riding, was involved in a collision. (Doc. 1-2 at 10) Plaintiff contends the “defendants designed and manufactured” the vehicle “in such a way that it could not withstand the type of rear end collision in which plaintiff was injured.” (Id.) Defendants now seek additional discovery for further inspection of the subject vehicle. (Doc. 58) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         On July 26, 2014, Plaintiff was a passenger in the third row of a 2002 Chevrolet Astro Van traveling on California State Highway 99, near Bakersfield, California. (Doc. 10 at 2; Doc. 68 at 2) According to Plaintiff, her “father was driving … at approximately 5-10 miles per hour in heavy stop-and-go traffic, when a smaller Volkswagen Passat hit the van from behind.” (Doc. 68 at 2) She asserts “[t]he energy or (or delta-V) of the collision was approximately 20 miles per hour.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff was transported by paramedics to Kern Medical Center, where “doctors determined that Michelle's cervical spine had been fractured and she was paralyzed from the neck down.” (Doc. 68 at 2) Plaintiff alleges that she “and the other occupants in the Astro van were all using the safety restraint systems provided by GM, ” and “no one was permanently injured, except Michelle Mendoza.” Plaintiff alleges the defendants “knew or should have known about the lack of crashworthiness of the vehicle but sold it to the public anyway.” (Doc. 1-2 at 10) In addition, Plaintiff asserts “the defendants did not do sufficient testing as to rear end crashworthiness of the vehicle, nor of the seats and seat backs of the vehicle and put the vehicle on the market with full knowledge of the defects.” (Id.) Accordingly, Plaintiff filed a complaint in Kern County Superior Court Case No. BCV-16-100919-SPC on April 26, 2016 (Doc. 1-1 at 11), which she amended on June 21, 2016 (Doc. 1-2 at 5).

         On July 6, 2016, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal, thereby initiating the matter with the District Court. (Doc. 1) The Court held a Scheduling Conference with the parties on October 7, 2016. (Doc. 12) At that time, the parties were ordered to complete all non-expert discovery no later than October 2, 2017, and all expert discovery no later than December 8, 2017. (Doc. 12 at 1) Plaintiff was directed to disclose all expert witnesses “on or before September 1, 2017, and to disclose all rebuttal experts on or before October 30, 2017.” (Id. at 3, emphasis omitted). In addition, Defendants were ordered to “disclose all expert witnesses in writing on or before October 2, 2017.” (Id. at 3, emphasis omitted).

         In August 2017, Defendants made “a verbal request” during an expert's inspection[1] of the vehicle to remove and detrim the seat in which Plaintiff had been sitting at the time of the accident. (Doc. 68 at 3) Plaintiff denied the request. (Id.)

         The same month, Plaintiff and Defendants filed a joint motion to amend the scheduling order, reporting that “a GM LLC corporate representative deposition could not be scheduled before Plaintiff's September 1, 2017 expert disclosure deadline.” (Doc. 25 at 2) Therefore, the parties requested an extension of the discovery deadlines. (Id. at 2-3) The Court granted the joint request in part, and ordered “[a]ll expert discovery… be completed no later than January 19, 2018.” (Doc. 26 at 2) Plaintiff was directed to “disclose her experts no later than November 3, 2017 and the defendant [t] disclose its experts no later than November 29, 2017.” (Id., emphasis omitted) In addition, Plaintiff was directed to disclose any rebuttal experts on or before December 22, 2017. (Id.)

         In November 2017, Defendants filed a motion to amend the scheduling order (Doc. 43), with a motion for an order shortening time, which was opposed by Plaintiff (Doc. 44). On November 29, 2017, the Court held a teleconference with the parties regarding Defendants' request for additional time to disclose their experts. (Doc. 50) Following the conference, the Court issued an order noting: “counsel agreed that the defendants would have four additional weeks to make the disclosure despite that the defendants preferred six weeks. This agreement was with the understanding that the plaintiff would have additional time to make her rebuttal disclosures and that the non-dispositive motions deadline would be extended.” (Doc. 51 at 1) Pursuant to the agreements reached during the conference, the Court ordered Defendants to “disclose their experts no later than December 27, 2017” and for any rebuttal experts to be disclosed by Plaintiff “no later than January 24, 2018.” (Id., emphasis omitted) The Court directed the parties to file any non-dispositive motions no later than February 28, 2018, to be heard no later than March 28, 2018. (Id.) However, the Court inadvertently failed to include the agreement related to the extension of time to complete expert discovery by February 21, 2018.

         On January 24, 2018, Plaintiff disclosed her rebuttal expert report prepared by Mark Pozzi. (Doc. 58 at 2; Doc. 68 at 3) Defendants contend that in that rebuttal report, Mr. Pozzi “criticized GM LLC's experts for ‘failing' to conduct what he considered to be an ‘adequate investigation' of the van.” (Doc. 58 at 2) In addition, Defendants assert, “In their rebuttal reports, plaintiff's witnesses conducted additional inspections of the subject van and other van components.” (Id. at 2-3) The defendants contend that Mr. Pozzi's “rebuttal reports contain new and more detailed information about the seat's condition.” (Id. at 3) Defendants argue that the removal “and de-trimming (taking the cushions off) the seat will provide crucial additional evidence on these issues.” (Id. at 3)

         On February 23, 2018, “GM LLC's counsel sent Ms. Mendoza's counsel a meet and confer letter” regarding the “renewed request to allow [Defendants'] to remove and detrim the third-row seat.” (Doc. 68 at 4)

         At the hearing, the defendants reported that if they were permitted a further inspection of the vehicle, their experts would first use a “lipstick” camera to try to observe the seat's track and structure of the seat. If that failed to provide a sufficient view of the area at issue, they would seek to detrim the seat cushion and, only if that failed would they seek to remove the seat from the vehicle. Counsel reported that the defendants did not intend to remove the headliner or disturb it in any manner.

         The plaintiff argues that removing the seat would destroy the jury's ability to view the interior of the van as it looked after the collision and, in doing so, destroy the jury's ability to understand the spatial relationships inside the van.

         I. Scope of Discovery

         The scope and limitations of discovery are set forth by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In relevant part, Rule 26(b) states:

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 ...

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