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Debjo Sales, LLC v. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 4, 2017

Debjo Sales, LLC d/b/a Book-It Distribution
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co.,



         Dear Counsel:

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to overrule two of the Special Master's discovery rulings and for leave to file a third amended complaint. [ECF No. 96.] The motion is opposed. The Honorable John M. Vazquez, U.S.D.J., has referred the motion to me. After consideration of the papers submitted, Plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint is GRANTED. Plaintiff's motion to overrule Special Master Cavanaugh's rulings is DENIED.

         The parties are familiar with the facts. Plaintiff's primary business involves entering into contracts with school districts to pick up textbooks ordered by the districts from Defendant and other publishing companies and deliver them. Plaintiff claims that Defendant enacted policy changes-first in January 2014, then a second time in January 2015-for the sole purpose of eliminating Plaintiff as a competitor for the shipment of textbooks. The operative complaint, the Second Amended Complaint, contains three counts: (1) violation of federal antitrust law; (2) intentional interference with contract; and (3) and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage. Additional details can be located in prior opinions. See, e.g., Debjo Sales v. Houghton Mifflin, 2015 WL 1969380 (D.N.J. Apr. 29, 2015).

         Plaintiff's Objections

         The parties' discovery history is contentious and resulted in the appointment of Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh, U.S.D.J. (ret.) as a Special Master. [ECF No. 95.] Following hearings on September 12 and October 11, 2016, Judge Cavanaugh entered an Order dated November 28, 2016, that, among other things: (1) provided that “the relevant time period for Plaintiff's discovery of Defendant ends on January 1, 2015” (“Ruling One”); and (2) ordered Defendant to respond to Plaintiff's interrogatory number 2 by “identifying by name and title each current employee of Defendant that Defendant believes has knowledge of the reasons for Defendant's implementation of its 2014 shipping policy . . . . (“Ruling Two”).”

         With respect to Ruling One, Plaintiff claims that Judge Cavanaugh should not have limited the time period for discovery to January 1, 2015, because it precludes discovery into the alleged January 2015 policy change, which it contends is alleged in the Complaint. (Defendant disputes the scope of the pleading, which is discussed below.)

         With respect to Ruling Two, Plaintiff contends that Defendant should also be compelled to identify all former employees with knowledge.

         In addition to the discovery disputes, Plaintiff has requested leave to file a third amended complaint to “specifically reference the alleged 2015 policy change.”


         A. The Discovery Disputes

         The primary focus of the discovery dispute is based on the parties' ongoing disagreement as to what is encompassed in the Complaint. Plaintiff contends that the Second Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant enacted two policy changes-one in January 2014, and a second in January 2015. However, Defendant contends that the Second Amended Complaint only addresses one policy change in January 2014. The parties apparently argued this issue in front of Judge Cavanaugh, who concluded that discovery would be limited to January 1, 2015. Plaintiff contends this is wrong because a prior Judge handing the case, the Honorable Madeline C. Arleo, U.S.D.J., supposedly relied on post-January 2015 emails in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff claims that Judge Arleo's decision infers that the Complaint states viable claims for both the alleged 2014 and 2015 policy changes. Plaintiff also refers to comments that I made that suggested I would allow discovery beyond January 2015. (See Pl's Ex J.)

         Plaintiff's objection to Judge Cavanaugh's discovery rulings is denied. Neither Judge Arleo nor I ever expressly found that the Complaint alleged a violation involving the 2015 policy, and no motion to amend to clarify this issue had been previously sought. In fact, the pleading is not clear and contains many statements referring only to the 2014 policy. (See Def.'s Br. at 32-33 (citing the Second Amended Complaint's repeated references to a 2014 policy)). Judge Cavanaugh's interpretation of the pleading, which repeatedly and expressly refers to a 2014 policy, was plainly reasonable. Likewise for Judge Cavanaugh's conclusion that Defendant need only identify current employees with knowledge. As Defendant explains, it is reasonable to conclude, as Judge Cavanaugh did, that Defendant's inquiry as to which individuals have knowledge be limited to those that Defendant can properly direct the inquiry to, which are those in its employ. The Court agrees with Judge Cavanaugh's conclusion that Defendant should not be required to seek information from former employees no longer within its control.

         B. Plaintiff's ...

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