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Raritan Baykeeper, Inc. v. Nl Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 1, 2014

RARITAN BAYKEEPER, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NL INDUSTRIES, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER RECEIVED

DOUGLAS E. ARPERT, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on a Motion by Plaintiffs Raritan Baykeeper, Inc., et. al. (collectively, "Raritan") [dkt. no. 293], to compel NL Industries, Inc. and NL Environmental Management Services, Inc. (collectively, "NL") to (1) clarify whether it has withheld documents or failed to search for certain categories of documents on the basis of NL's objections[1]; (2) produce documents responsive to 25 requests which NL contends are not relevant and/or are outside the scope of discovery; and (3) produce e-mails which have not been included in its production, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(4). NL opposed Raritan's Motion [dkt. no. 294] and Raritan filed a reply brief [dkt. no. 296]. In addition, NL filed a Cross-Motion for a Protective Order [dkt. no. 294], which Raritan opposed [dkt. no. 296]. Oral Argument was heard on June 16, 2014 [dkt. no. 299]. For the reasons specified below, Raritan's Motion to Compel [dkt. no. 293] is DENIED; NL's Cross-Motion for a Protective Order [dkt. no. 294] is GRANTED; and the Court will STRIKE Raritan's Supplemental Brief in Support of its Motion to Compel [dkt. no. 298].

I. BACKGROUND

Since the parties are familiar with the facts and procedural history of this dispute, the Court need not recite them at length. Of relevance to the present Motion, NL operated a titanium dioxide pigment manufacturing facility on a portion of a 440-acre site in Sayreville, New Jersey from approximately 1935 to 1982. See Def.'s Br. at p. 5, dkt. no. 294. In 1988, NL commenced an environmental investigation at the site under what is known as the Industrial Site Recovery Act ("ISRA"), N.J.S.A ยง 13:1K-11.4, et seq. Id . NL worked with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ("NJDEP") to identify and remediate most of the environmental issues throughout the site. See Def.'s Br. at p. 6.

On June 24, 2004, NJDEP issued an opinion letter stating that NL should refrain from performing any remedial action concerning the contaminated river sediment at that time because "any remedial efforts targeted adjacent to the [site] would be short lived and of little ecological significance as recontamination, due to sedimentation, would occur within a relatively short period of time." Id . While the ISRA proceedings were continuing, the Sayreville Economic and Redevelopment Agency ("SERA") initiated eminent domain proceedings and took legal title to the site in March 2005. Id . SERA entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the NJDEP which required SERA to take over responsibility for completing the cleanup of the remaining areas of concern at the site (the Tertiary Lagoon System, the North Ditch, and the groundwater). Id. at p. 7. Sayreville Seaport Associates, L.P. ("SSA") agreed by private contract with SERA to perform the cleanup activities required of SERA. Id.

On August 11, 2009, Raritan brought this citizens' suit seeking declarations that NL violated provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA") and the Clean Water Act ("CWA"). See Plaintiffs' Complaint, dkt. no. 1. In addition, Raritan seeks mandatory injunctions directing remediation of sediments in the river and cessation of alleged unpermitted discharges into the river from the three "source" areas on-site. Id . On July 15, 2013, U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano granted a stay as to Raritan's claims related to the alleged on-site source areas and denied the stay as to Raritan's claims seeking injunctive relief with respect to Raritan River sediments adjacent to the site. See dkt. no. 268.

Early in the case, the Court ordered SSA and SERA to produce documents to Raritan related to the contamination at the site and the historical and ongoing environmental investigation and remediation efforts. See Def.'s Br. at p. 9. SSA and SERA had these historical documents because when it assumed responsibility for remediation of the site, SSA conducted a comprehensive review and copying of the documents generated and maintained by NL's environmental consultants in connection with the investigation and remediation of the site. See dkt. no. 233 at p. 5. Raritan then served NL with 129 separate Document Requests covering the river sediments, the alleged on-site "source" areas, and other areas of the site that Raritan has not alleged are impacting the river. See Pl's Br. at p. 1. NL produced documents related to (1) NL's historical operation at the site, (2) NL's investigation of Raritan River sediments, (3) any discharges from the site into the Raritan River, and (4) permits for outfalls from the site into the river. See Def.'s Br. at p. 13. However, NL objected to twenty-five of Raritan's Document Requests. See Pl.'s Br. at p. 10. In addition, NL moves for the Court to issue a Protective Order precluding Raritan from seeking further document production from NL. See Def.'s Br. at p. 28.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

It is well established that the scope of discovery in federal litigation is broad. See FED. R. Crv. P. 26(b)(1). Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense. Id .; see also Pearson v. Miller, 211 F.3d 57, 65 (3d Cir. 2000). Moreover, information sought by the parties need not be admissible at trial if it is "reasonably calculated" to lead to discovery of admissible evidence. FED. R. Crv. P. 26.

During the course of discovery, "[a] party may serve on any other party a request within the scope of Rule 26(b)" to produce documents "in the responding party's possession, custody, or control." FED. R. Cry. P. 34(a)(1). Of course, the responding party is not obliged to produce documents that it does not possess or cannot obtain. See Bumgarner v. Hart, Civ. No. 05-3900, 2007 WL 38700, at *5 (D.N.J. 2007) (holding that the Court cannot order production of documents that are not in the responding party's possession or control); see also Societe Internationale Pour Participations Industrielles Et Commerciales, S.A. v. Rogers, 357 U.S. 197, 204 (1958) (acknowledging that Rule 34 requires inquiry into whether a party has control over documents). Not only must the requested documents be in the responding party's possession or control, they must also be relevant. The precise boundaries of the Rule 26 relevance standard depend upon the context of each particular action, and the determination of relevance is within the discretion of the District Court. See Barnes Found. v. Twp. of Lower Merion, 1996 WL 653114, at *1 (E.D. Pa. 1996).

While the scope of discovery is undoubtedly broad, the Federal Rules also provide that a Court "must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed" if it concludes that: (1) the discovery sought is 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. FED. R. Cw. P. 26. Further, "the Court has a responsibility to protect privacy and confidentiality interests" and "has authority to fashion a set of limitations that allow as much relevant material to be discovered as possible... while preventing unnecessary intrusions into legitimate interests that may be harmed by the discovery of material sought." Schmulovich v. 1161 Rt. 9 LLC, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59705, at *3-4 (D.N.J. 2007); see also Pearson, 211 F.3d at 65; Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c).

Rule 37(a) allows a party to file a motion to compel discovery where the opposing party fails to respond adequately to a document request propounded pursuant to Rule 34. FED. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iv). Ultimately, it is within the discretion of the Court to grant a motion to compel disclosure for good cause shown. In re Cendant Corp. Sec. Litig., 343 F.3d 658, 661 (3d Cir. 2003).

Rule 26(c) allows the Court to issue, for good cause, an order that protects a party from undue burden or expense by forbidding the disclosures or forbidding the inquiry into certain matters. FED. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1). Rule 26(c) places the burden of persuasion on the party seeking a protective order to show good cause by demonstrating a particular need for the order. See Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108, 1121 (3d Cir. 1986).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Raritan's Motion to Compel

In the present Motion, Raritan moves under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a) to compel discovery responses from NL to the Document Requests as to which NL has asserted objections. See dkt. no. 293. At the outset, the Court notes that Raritan has withdrawn its request to compel further clarification as to the documents NL has withheld inasmuch as NL asserts it has produced all non-privileged documents in response to the Document Requests. See Pl.'s Reply Br. at p. 33, dkt. no. 296. In addition, Raritan has withdrawn its Document Request 2 inasmuch as the indemnification agreements would not divest responsible parties of liability and, therefore, the documents are not necessary to proving Raritan's claim. Id. at p. 11. At the outset, the Court notes generally that Raritan's Document Requests are overbroad and that it appears many of the requested documents have already been produced. The Court will address Raritan's specific Requests in turn.

1. Raritan's Specific Requests

Raritan's Motion to Compel includes 25 specifically enumerated Requests. The Court has categorized the Requests for ease of reference.

Request Nos. 1, 12, 13, 14, 20 and 22

The Court will address the Document Requests concerning the possession, control and/or use of the Sayreville Site ...


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