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Patient A v. Vermont Agency of Human Services

United States District Court, D. Vermont

March 1, 2016

PATIENT A, Plaintiff,
v.
VERMONT AGENCY OF HUMAN SERVICES, VERMONT DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH, PAUL DUPRE, COMMISSIONER OF DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH, in his individual and official capacity, CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS, VERMONT DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, and ANDREW PALLITO, COMMISSIONER OF DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT CORRECT CARE SOLUTIONS'S MOTION FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER QUASHING OR MODIFYING PLAINTIFF'S RULE 30(B)(6) DEPOSITION NOTICE (Doc. 101)

Geoffrey W. Crawford, Judge.

Plaintiff has filed suit against Defendants for alleged deficiencies in the psychological and physical care provided to him while he was incarcerated at Southern State Correctional Facility in 2013 and 2014. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Correct Care Solutions ("CCS")-the company which contracted with the Department of Corrections ("DOC") to deliver medical and mental health care to inmates-committed malpractice in failing to provide sufficient and appropriate mental health services to him.

Pending before the court is CCS's Motion for Protective Order under Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 101.) CCS requests relief from the obligation to comply with Plaintiffs Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notice. Defendant's Motion (Doc. 101) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. Analysis

The 2015 amendments to Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure clarify that the scope of discovery extends only to nonprivileged matters that are both (a) relevant to a claim or defense and (b) "proportional to the needs of the case" (emphasis added).[1] In making proportionality determinations, the court must consider "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." Id. However, "the [c]ourt is not obligated to make formal and explicit findings regarding each of the[se] factors." Meeker v. Life Care Ctrs. of Am., Inc., No. 14-cv-02101-WYD-NYW, 2015 WL 7882695, at *3 (D. Colo. Dec. 4, 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The court can manage the financial costs and other burdens of discovery in several ways. For example, the court can limit discovery if it determines that the proposed discovery is outside the scope permitted by Rule 26(b)(1), "unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, " or "can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C).

Additionally, where "good cause" is demonstrated, the court may forbid otherwise permissible discovery "to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). Rule 26(c) "confers broad discretion on the trial court to decide when a protective order is appropriate and what degree of protection is required." U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Parnon Energy Inc., 593 F.App'x 32, 36 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 36 (1984)). If the evidence sought is relevant, "the burden is upon the party seeking non-disclosure or a protective order to show good cause." Penthouse Int'l, Ltd. v. Playboy Enters., Inc., 663 F.2d 371, 391 (2d Cir. 1981). "Good cause is established by demonstrating a particular need for protection." Rosas v. Alice's Tea Cup, LLC, No. 14 Civ. 8788(JCF), 2015 WL 4097947, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 6, 2015) (international quotation marks and citation omitted).

CCS claims that Plaintiffs proposed Rule 30(b)(6) deposition seeks broad discovery on topics neither relevant nor proportional to the needs of his case. It argues that because the requested topics lie outside the scope of permissible discovery, and because preparing a witness on these issues will impose unnecessary and undue burden and expense on CCS, good cause supports issuance of a protective order. CCS also asks that if any of the contested discovery is permitted, it be reframed in interrogatory form. In response. Plaintiff contends that the requested information is relevant and proportional to his medical malpractice claim and that CCS has not sufficiently justified its need for protection. Plaintiff also opposes CCS's request for reframing the proposed discovery as interrogatories.

A. Topic 1: Corporate Structure and Finances

Plaintiff seeks discovery as to CCS's "[c]orporate structure and finances including overall profitability, regional profitably, and contract-based profitability regarding the contract with the State of Vermont." (Doc. 101-4 at 2.) Plaintiff claims that this information is relevant to both his malpractice claim, as well as his claim for punitive damages.

The court agrees with CCS that its corporate structure and finances are irrelevant to Plaintiffs malpractice claim. However, the general financial condition of CCS is relevant to Plaintiffs claim for punitive damages. See One Source Envtl, LLC v. M W Zander, Inc., No. 2:12-cv-145, 2014 WL 5090855, at *5-6 (D. Vt. Oct. 9, 2014); see also Gust v. Wireless Vision, L.L.C., Case No. 15-2646-KHV, 2015 WL 9462078, at *5 (D. Kan. Dec. 24, 2015) ("Generally, information about a party's current net worth or financial condition is relevant to the issue of punitive damages."). Though CCS contends that Plaintiff has not yet alleged a plausible claim for such damages, "the vast majority of federal district courts which have addressed the discoverability of financial information before a claim for punitive damages has been clearly established have held that such information is discoverable." Christy v. Ashkin, 972 F.Supp. 253, 253 (D. Vt. 1997); see Searcy v. Esurance lns. Co., Case No. 2:15-cv-00047-APG-NJK, 2015 WL 9216573, at *1 (D. Nev. Dec. 16, 2015) ("The majority approach is that a plaintiff is not required to make a prima facie showing of merit on its punitive damages claim before permitting discovery of a defendant's net worth." (citation omitted)).

However, the court is mindful of CCS's concerns in preparing a Rule 30(b)(6) deponent on such a broad topic. See Searcy, 2015 WL 9216573, at *2 (in punitive damages case, court opines that plaintiff could have obtained sufficient discovery through less burdensome means, including "a targeted request for [financial data] limited to information for a few years"). Accordingly, the court limits the discovery of CCS's financial information to data concerning its overall net worth, from 2013 (the start of Plaintiff s incarceration) to the present. Any information disclosed will be subject to the parties' confidentiality agreement. (Doc. 72.)

B. Topic 2: Contract with DOC


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