United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division
IN RE 3M COMBAT ARMS EARPLUG PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION, This Document Relates to All Cases
Casey Rodgers Judge
R. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel
Discovery. ECF No. 798. Defendants filed a response in
opposition to Plaintiffs' motion, ECF No. 804, and
Plaintiff filed a reply memorandum, ECF No. 811. The motion
is therefore ripe for the Court's consideration, and for
the reasons discussed below, Plaintiffs' motion is due to
be GRANTED IN PART.
have noticed for deposition twelve witnesses who are
Defendants' current or former employees. In anticipation
of these depositions, Plaintiffs requested Defendants produce
each witness's personnel file, “specifically the
documents generally maintained by the employee's
supervisor or human resource department relating to that
employee's work on 3M Earplugs,  including job performance
evaluations, self-evaluations, salary and compensation
information, and bonus and incentive information.” ECF
No. 798 at 5. Defendants objected to the requested production
as irrelevant, unduly burdensome, disproportionate to the
needs of the case, and improperly seeking private and highly
sensitive information. ECF No. 798-2 at 21.
assert that Defendants' objections are factually and
legally unfounded. Plaintiffs argue, in their motion, that
the portions of the witnesses' personnel files Plaintiffs
have requested Defendants to produce are relevant to
“core issues” in this matter, including:
(i) 3M employees' internal roles, involvement, and
responsibilities with the 3M Earplugs, as described by them
or their superior contemporaneous with their activities, (ii)
the attribution, credit, and accomplishments claimed or given
to particular 3M employees for various relevant aspects in
the development, sale, and monitoring of the 3M Earplugs
(including, inter alia, their
discovery/testing/creation, managing/deflecting safety or
performance problems, or overcoming sales
challenges/obstacles), and (iii) the goals, objectives, and
financial incentives-personal and corporate-that drove
relevant actions, inactions, and decisions with regard to the
ECF No. 798 at 6. Plaintiffs further contend that the request
is not unduly burdensome, is proportionate to the needs of
this litigation, and does not seek private or sensitive
information typically included in an employee's personnel
file. Id. at 6-7, 9-12.
resist on the basis that Plaintiffs fail to satisfy a
heightened legal standard that would allow for production of
“private and highly sensitive personnel files” in
this matter. ECF No. 804 at 4-5. Defendants point to the
language utilized by Plaintiffs-for example, Plaintiffs
request the “goals, objectives, and financial
incentives” that “drove relevant actions”
for 3M Earplugs-and contend the requests are too broad to
discern which portions of the witnesses' personnel files
would be responsive or relevant. Id. at 7-8.
Defendants also argue that the production of personnel files
is not warranted because Plaintiffs have failed to
demonstrate this information is otherwise unobtainable and
based on more than speculation. Id. at 9-10. Lastly,
Defendants offer to provide the Court with redacted versions
of the personnel files for in camera review so that
the undersigned may determine the scope of disclosure to
Plaintiffs, if any. Id. at 10-13.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit discovery limited to
nonprivileged matter that is “relevant to any
party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of
the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Relevancy is
construed “broadly to encompass any matter that bears
on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter[s] that
could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the
case.” Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437
U.S. 340, 351 (1978); see also Ford v. Gov't Emps.
Ins. Co., No. 1:14-cv-180-MW-GRJ, 2015 WL 11109373, at
*1 (N.D. Fla. Apr. 3, 2015). Determining whether discovery is
proportional requires consideration of “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).
as here, a party objects to the production of documents in
discovery, the requesting party may file a motion to compel.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B). This Court has “broad
discretion … to compel or deny discovery.”
Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc.,
662 F.3d 1292, 1307 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P.
26(b)). Generally, the objecting party must establish that
the requested discovery (1) is not relevant under Rule
26(b)(1), or (2) is marginally relevant, such that production
would cause potential harm outweighing the presumption in
favor of broad disclosure. Am. Fed'n of State, Cty.
and Mun. Emps. (AFSCME) Council 79 v. Scott, 277 F.R.D.
474, 477 (S.D. Fla. 2011); Gober v. City of
Leesburg, 197 F.R.D. 519, 521 (M.D. Fla. 2000); see
also Pediatric Servs. of Am., Inc. v. Kendrick, No.
3:18-cv-1372-RV-CJK, 2019 WL 580786, at *2 (N.D. Fla. Jan.
17, 2019). If the requested discovery's relevance is not
apparent, however, the party seeking the production must
demonstrate relevancy. S.E.C. v. BankAtlantic Bancorp,
Inc., 285 F.R.D. 661, 666 (S.D. Fla. 2012).
suggest this Court impose a heightened legal standard for the
discovery of personnel files because “strong public
policy considerations weigh against disclosure of this
information.” ECF No. 804 at 5. Although some district
courts in the Eleventh Circuit impose this more demanding
standard, see, e.g., Coker v. Duke &
Co., 177 F.R.D. 682, 685 (M.D. Fla. 1998), the Court is
not persuaded it applies here. Personnel files are generally
discoverable when the request satisfies Rule 26(b)(1).
B-K Cypress Log Homes, Inc. v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co.,
No. 1:09-cv-211-MP-GRJ, 2011 WL 13227990, at **4-5 (N.D. Fla.
Nov. 8, 2011). Any presumption against disclosure means it is
improper for a party to ask for the wholesale production of a
witness's personnel file, which will typically (if not
always) include private and sensitive information such as the
witness's social security number or medical diagnoses.
Plaintiffs have requested categories of documents divorced
from this private and sensitive information, ECF No. 798 at
13, and any incidental disclosure of such information, which
is unlikely, will be subject to the parties' protective
order. The Court will therefore apply the ordinary discovery
principles discussed above, namely addressing the question of
whether the discovery Plaintiffs request is relevant.