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Cannon v. Cherry Hill Toyota

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


July 26, 1999

LOETTA CANNON, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED,
PLAINTIFFS,
V.
CHERRY HILL TOYOTA, INC.,
DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge:

Honorable Jerome B. Simandle

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on the appeal by defendant, Cherry Hill Toyota Inc., pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.1(c)(1)(A), of Magistrate Judge Robert B. Kugler's April 22, 1999 Order requiring Cherry Hill Toyota, inter alia, to make available for inspection and copying the deal jackets of each class member, with the exception of documents relating to the credit history of any class member. Because the court finds no abuse of discretion in Magistrate Judge Kugler's ruling, the court affirms his April 22, 1999 Order.

DISCUSSION

A magistrate judge's adjudication of a non-dispositive motion will be set aside only if it is found to be "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); Local Civ. R. 72.1(c)(1); see also Cippolone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108, 1113 (3d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 976 (1987). Thus, a district court reviews a magistrate judge's findings of fact for clear error. Lo Bosco v. Kure Eng'g Ltd., 891 F. Supp. 1035, 1037 (D.N.J. 1995.) A finding is clearly erroneous "when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Id. (quoting United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). A district court conducts a plenary review of a magistrate judge's conclusions of law. Id.; see also Haines v. Liggett Group, Inc., 975 F.2d 81, 91 (3d Cir. 1992)("the phrase `contrary to law' indicates plenary review as to matters of law").

When a magistrate judge is authorized to exercise his or her discretion, the magistrate judge's decision will be reversed only for an abuse of discretion. Lithuanian Commerce Corp. Ltd. v. Sara Lee Hosiery, 177 F.R.D. 205, 214 (D.N.J. 1997). Thus, a magistrate judge's ruling on a discovery motion "is entitled to great deference and is reversible only for abuse of discretion." Kresefsky v. Panasonic Communications and Systems, Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 64 (D.N.J. 1996). This deferential standard of review is "especially appropriate" when, as here, the magistrate judge "has managed [the] case from the outset and developed a thorough knowledge of the proceedings." Public Interest Research Group v. Hercules, Inc., 830 F. Supp. 1525, 1547 (D.N.J. 1993), aff'd in part and rev'd in part on other grounds, 50 F.3d 1239 (3d Cir. 1995).

In the present case, Cherry Hill Toyota seeks relief from that part of Magistrate Judge Kugler's April 22, 1999 Order requiring Cherry Hill Toyota to make available for inspection and copying the deal jackets of each class member, with the exception of documents relating to the credit history of any class member. Cherry Hill Toyota has already produced redacted versions of the retail sales installment contract and service contract or warranty relating to the credit transaction each class member entered into with Cherry Hill Toyota, and Cherry Hill Toyota does not object to Magistrate Judge Kugler's April 22, 1999 Order to the extent it requires Cherry Hill Toyota to produce un-redacted versions of these documents. Cherry Hill Toyota argues, however, that none of the other documents contained in the deal jackets of the class members are relevant to plaintiffs' claims against Cherry Hill Toyota and that it will incur unnecessary and unduly burdensome expense in preparing the deal jackets for inspection and copying by class counsel. (See Affidavit of Joseph Purcell ¶¶ 2-9.)

This court finds no abuse of discretion in Magistrate Judge Kugler's April 22, 1999 ruling. Class counsel are looking for documents that might reveal how much of the amount shown on the retail sales installment contract as having been paid to a third party for the service contract or warranty each class member purchased when he or she purchased a car from Cherry Hill Toyota was actually retained by Cherry Hill Toyota. There is no doubt that Magistrate Judge Kugler's determination that class counsel have a right to inspect and copy all deal jacket documents is not an abuse of discretion under the discovery standards of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) and (2). In addition to more fully describing the deal, these documents may also assist in locating class members (such as through drivers license information) who have moved, assisting the class notice process. Cherry Hill Toyota's concern about confidential information contained in the deal jackets can be addressed by execution of an appropriate confidentiality agreement. The court is not persuaded that the time and expense involved in preparing the deal jackets for inspection and copying by class counsel is disproportionate to the importance of the information class counsel seek.

CONCLUSION

For these reasons, the court affirms Magistrate Judge Kugler's April 22, 1999 Order requiring Cherry Hill Toyota to make available for inspection and copying the deal jackets of each class member, with the exception of documents relating to the credit history of any class member. This discovery shall go forward forthwith. The accompanying Order is entered.

JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge

ORDER

THIS MATTER having come before the court on the appeal by defendant, Cherry Hill Toyota Inc., pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.1(c)(1)(A), of Magistrate Judge Robert B. Kugler's April 22, 1999 Order requiring Cherry Hill Toyota, inter alia, to make available for inspection and copying the deal jackets of each class member, with the exception of documents relating to the credit history of any class member, and the court having reviewed the submissions of the parties, and for the reasons expressed in the accompanying Memorandum Opinion;

IT IS on this 26th day of July, 1999, hereby ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Kugler's April 22, 1999 Order is AFFIRMED.

JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge

19990726

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