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Primarque Products Co., Inc. v. Williams West & Witt's Products Co.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 18, 2016



          David H. Hennessy United States Magistrate Judge

         By Order of Reference dated September 2, 2016 (Docket #47), and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), this matter was referred to me for a ruling on Plaintiff Primarque Products' Motion to Compel Answers to Interrogatories and Production of Documents (Docket #41). Defendant Williams West & Witt's Products Company (“WWW”) filed an opposition to the motion, which includes a request for attorney's fees. (Docket #45). A motion hearing was held on October 11, 2016. (Docket #53). This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Compel Discovery is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as is set forth below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Primarque and Defendant WWW had a business relationship for over thirty years. (Docket #18 at ¶ 6). Pursuant to the business arrangement, WWW manufactured soup base products and Primarque was the exclusive distributor of WWW's soup products throughout New England. (Id. at ¶ 7). Primarque asserts that it had an agreement with WWW whereby (1) WWW was required to give Primarque ninety days' notice before terminating the business relationship, and (2) WWW would not solicit any business from Primarque's customers directly. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 13). The customers to whom Primarque delivered WWW's soup products are referred to as “drop-ship” customers.

         In or about May of 2014, Joanne Steiger became a sales representative for WWW, and around that time the business relationship began to deteriorate. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16). Primarque asserts that Steiger became “unusually combative, hostile and antagonistic in her communications with Primarque, marking what appeared to be a personal vendetta against the owner of Primarque, ” and that Steiger threatened to solicit business from Primarque's customers directly, in contravention of their business agreement. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17). Primarque outlines some examples of Steiger's alleged hostility, including an instance where she closed an email by saying, “Please contact me if you have any questions. Although I do not look forward to your reply . . . .” (Docket #41 at 3-4). Unrelated to the issues with Steiger, Primarque contacted WWW's Director of Regulatory Compliance with a quality control concern sometime around October of 2014. (Docket #18 at ¶¶ 18-19). Primarque contends that Steiger was “infuriated” when she learned that Primarque had contacted another officer of WWW. (Id. at ¶ 20).

         By letter dated March 12, 2015, and without advanced notice, WWW terminated its business relationship with Primarque. (Id. at ¶ 21; Docket #45-1). Primarque contends that on the same day as the termination notice, WWW began to directly solicit business from Primarque's customers. (Docket #18 at ¶ 23; Docket #41 at 4). As a result of the termination, Primarque was unable to obtain soup base products for a number of its customers, and it asserts that some of those former customers now obtain soup products from WWW directly. (Docket #41 at 4).

         On May 19, 2015, Primarque filed an amended complaint against WWW, asserting claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and intentional interference with business relations, among other things. (Docket #18). On January 19, 2016, WWW filed its answer and asserted counterclaims for (1) breach of contract for goods delivered and (2) conversion, based on Primarque's alleged failure to pay for twelve deliveries totaling $97, 843.22. (Docket #31-1 through #31-12).

         Primarque and WWW issued written discovery on May 13, 2016, and May 16, 2016, respectively. (Docket #45 at 9). On June 24, 2016, WWW served its Objections and Responses to Primarque's First Request for Production of Documents, and on June 27, 2016, WWW served its Objections and Answers to Primarque's First Set of Interrogatories. (Docket #45 at 9-10).

         Primarque's discovery requests can be separated into three categories: discovering relating to WWW's: (1) sales to Primarque's former drop-ship customers, including Interrogatory No. 18 and Document Request Nos. 9, 15, and 19; (2) national sales and profit records, including Document Request No. 18; and (3) alleged solicitation breaches, including Interrogatory No. 17, and Document Request Nos. 10 and 23. The crux of this discovery dispute implicates the following question: What is the proper time period after the termination of the alleged contract for which WWW is required to disclose certain data and documents.

         II. STANDARD

         The scope of discovery generally extends to:

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.[1]

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). If an objection is raised as to the relevancy of discovery, the court may “become involved to determine whether the discovery is relevant to the claims or defenses.” In re Subpoena to Witzel, 531 F.3d 113, 118 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1)). In this regard, Rule 26(b)(1) “vests the trial judge with broad discretion to tailor discovery narrowly.” See Cutter v. HealthMarkets, Inc., No. 10-11488-JLT, 2011 ...

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