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Thompson Automotive Labs, LLC v. Illinois Tool Works, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

December 11, 2017

THOMPSON AUTOMOTIVE LABS, INC., Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant,
v.
ILLINOIS TOOL WORKS INC., Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff.

          ORDER

          JAMES E. GATES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case comes before the court on a motion (D.E. 79) by plaintiff/counter-defendant Thompson Automotive Labs, LLC ("plaintiff) to compel supplemental responses to interrogatories nos. 11, 13, 15, and 18 and requests for production of documents nos. 21-25, 62-68, 79, 82, 85, and 91-96 in its first set of discovery requests to defendant/counter-plaintiff Illinois Tool Works Inc. ("defendant" or "ITW"). Defendant opposes the motion, which has been fully briefed., For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs claims arise from an Exclusive Supply Agreement (the "Agreement") entered into by the parties. See 1st Supp. Compl. ("complaint") (D.E. 21) ¶¶ 1. Specifically, under the Agreement, defendant agreed to purchase a certain number of plaintiff s Combustion Performance Test Tools, or CPT Tools. Id. ¶¶ 1, 29. After an attempt by defendant to purchase plaintiffs CPT Tool technology was not successful, plaintiff contends that defendant breached the Agreement and marketed and sold a competing product, the AutoEKG, a product which it contends infringes plaintiffs trademarks and trade dress. Id. ¶¶ 60, 75. In its complaint, plaintiff asserts claims for breach of contract (id. ¶¶ 104-07); trademark and trade dress infringement (id. ¶¶ 108-18); inducement of trademark and trade dress infringement (id. ¶¶ 119-24); false advertising and unfair competition (id. ¶¶ 125-33); violations of the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75.1-1 et al. (id. ¶¶ 134-39); and cancellation of United States trademark registration no. 4, 771, 676 (id. ¶¶ 140-49). Defendant asserts a number of affirmative defenses as well as counterclaims for breach of contract (Am. Aff. Defs. & Counterclaims (D.E. 43) ¶¶ 47-52); fraudulent misrepresentation (id. ¶¶ 53-62); fraudulent concealment (id. ¶¶ 63-73); negligent misrepresentation (id. ¶¶ 74-83); violations of the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (id. ¶¶ 84-90); and rescission based on unilateral mistake (id. ¶¶ 91-98) or alternatively, rescission based on mutual mistake (id. ¶¶ 99-108). Plaintiff denies the material allegations of the counterclaims. See generally Ans. to Am. Counterclaims (D.E. 44).

         Plaintiff served its first set of interrogatories (Interrogs. (D.E. 80-1)) and first requests for production of documents (Prod. Reqs. (D.E. 80-2)) on 26 January 2016. On 29 February 2016, defendant served its responses to the discovery requests. See Resp. to Interrogs. (D.E. 80-3); Resp. to Prod. Reqs. (D.E. 80-4). Defendant objected to all the discovery requests at issue. In response to interrogatory no. 11, it stated that it would provide no additional information; in response to interrogatories nos. 13 and 15, it stated that it would provide information after entry of an acceptable protective order; and in response to interrogatory no. 18, it provided some of the information requested. See Resp. to Interrogs. Nos. 11, 13, 15, 18. In response to production requests nos. 22, 24, 91, 93, and 95, defendant stated that it would produce some documents requested after entry of an acceptable protective order; and in response to the other production requests that it would not produce any of the documents requested. See Resp. to Prod. Reqs. Nos. 21-25, 62-68, 79, 82, 85, 91-96. A protective order was entered on 3 October 2016 (D.E. 66). On 8 February 2017 and 9 February 2017, plaintiff notified defendant of alleged deficiencies in defendant's responses. See 8 Feb. 2017 Ltr. (D.E. 80-5); 9 Feb. 2017 Ltr. (D.E. 80-6). Defendant served supplemental responses to interrogatories nos. 13, 15, and 18 on 27 February 2017. Supp. Resp. to Interrogs. (D.E. 80-7) Nos. 13, 15, 18. Defendant did not serve any supplemental responses to the production requests. In an email sent 15 May 2017 (consisting of pp. 2-3 of D.E. 82-4), plaintiff requested that the discovery requests at issue in its motion be included in a telephonic discovery conference with the court which defendant had requested pursuant to § II.D of the Case Management Order ("CMO") (D.E. 32) (see 3 May 2017 Email (consisting of pp. 7-8 of D.E. 82-4)).

         The conference was held on 23 May 2017. See Minute Entry on 23 May 2017 Conf. In a written order entered that day memorializing deadlines stated during the conference, the court permitted plaintiff to file by 6 June 2017 a motion relating to the matters presently at issue if they were not resolved by that date by the parties. See Ord. on 23 May 2017 Conf. (D.E. 77) ¶ 3. Plaintiff filed the instant motion to compel on that date.

         Again, the discovery requests as to which plaintiff seeks an order compelling supplemental responses are interrogatories nos. 11, 13, 15, and 18 and requests for production of documents nos. 21-25, 62-68, 79, 82, 85, and 91-96. These discovery requests relate to (1) financial information concerning defendant's liquids, supplies, or other related products, and (2) technical data regarding defendant's AutoEKG. Defendant opposes the motion, arguing that it is untimely and seeks production of information and documents not relevant under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         II. APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure enable parties to obtain information by serving requests for discovery on each other, including interrogatories and requests for production of documents. See generally Fed. R. Civ. P. 26-37. Rule 26 provides for a broad scope of discovery:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

         The district court has broad discretion in determining relevance for discovery purposes. Seaside Farm, Inc. v. United States, 842 F.3d 853, 860 (4th Cir. 2016); Watson v. Lowcountry Red Cross, 974 F.2d 482, 489 (4th Cir. 1992). The party resisting discovery bears the burden of establishing the legitimacy of its objections. Eramo v. Rolling Stone LLC, 314 F.R.D. 205, 209 (W.D. Va. 2016) ("[T]he party or person resisting discovery, not the party moving to compel discovery, bears the burden of persuasion." (quoting Kinetic Concepts, Inc. v. ConvaTec Inc., 268 F.R.D. 226, 243 (M.D. N.C. 2010))); Brey Corp. v. LQMgmt., LLC, No. AW-1 l-cv-00718-AW, 2012 WL 3127023, at *4 (D. Md. 26 Jul. 2012) ("In order to limit the scope of discovery, the 'party resisting discovery bears the burden of showing why [the discovery requests] should not be granted." (quoting Clere v. GC Servs., LP., No. 3:10-cv-00795, 2011 WL 2181176, at *2 (S.D. W.Va.3 June 2011))).

         Rule 33 governs interrogatories. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33. It provides that "[u]nless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, a party may serve on any other party no more than 25 written interrogatories, including all discrete subparts." Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(a)(1). Rule 33 requires that a party served with interrogatories answer each fully under oath to the extent that the party does not object to the interrogatory. Id. (b)(3). Objections not made timely are waived, subject to the court excusing the untimeliness for good cause. Id. (b)(4).

         Rule 34 governs requests for production of documents. A party asserting an objection to a particular request "must specify the part [to which it objects] and permit ...


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