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Fields v. Wright Medical Technology, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division, Lafayette

July 19, 2017

MERRILY JEAN FIELDS, Plaintiff,
v.
WRIGHT MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY, INC., and WRIGHT MEDICAL GROUP, INC., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. MARTIN MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Compel [DE 37], filed by Plaintiff on February 21, 2017. Plaintiff asks the Court to compel Defendants to more fully respond to a number of Plaintiff's requests for documents. Defendants filed a response on March 14, 2017, and Plaintiff filed a reply on March 21, 2017.

         I. Standard

         A party may seek an order to compel discovery when an opposing party fails to respond to discovery requests or provides evasive or incomplete responses. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) permits discovery “regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Furthermore, the Rule provides that “[r]elevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” 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 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) (citing Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 501 (1947)). A party may seek an order to compel discovery when an opposing party fails to respond to discovery requests or provides evasive or incomplete responses. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a). A party objecting to the discovery request bears the burden of showing why the request is improper. See McGrath v. Everest Nat. Ins. Co., 625 F.Supp.2d 660, 670 (N.D. Ind. 2008). The Court has broad discretion when deciding whether to compel discovery. Thermal Design, Inc. v. Am. Soc'y of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Eng'rs, Inc., 755 F.3d 832, 837 (7th Cir. 2014); Rennie v. Dalton, 3 F.3d 1100, 1110 (7th Cir. 1993)).

         II. Analysis

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint seeks recovery for injuries stemming from allegedly defective hip implant components. The components were marketed as the PROFEMUR hip stem system and consisted of a PROFEMUR Plasma Z stem and PROFEMUR CoCr modular neck. Plaintiff alleges that she required revision surgery and that there was corrosion in the system at the stem-neck interface, so the cobalt chromium neck was replaced with a Titanium Alloy PROFEMUR long neck. Plaintiff alleges that this device also failed at the stem-neck interface.

         Plaintiff requests documents relating to other versions of the titanum and CoCr PROFEMUR modular necks, copies of communication with the FDA regarding fretting, fracture, or corrosion of PROFEMUR hip devices, and a request for definition of the term “heavyweight patients” in Defendant's advertising. Defendants object that the request for information about other models of PROFEMUR stems is overbroad because the models differ significantly from each other and from those implanted in Plaintiff. They also object that the time period of the document request is too large and insufficiently targeted to the allegations in this case, and that Plaintiff's interrogatory regarding “heavyweight patients” is insufficiently clarified and without context that would allow Defendants to respond.

         The opening paragraph of Plaintiff's Motion includes a list of numbers that she represents are requests that Defendants have inadequately responded to; however, although the attachments include both a list of interrogatories and a list of requests for production, many of the same numbers appear on both lists. The parties' briefs address categories of objections to discovery without identifying which specific outstanding request belongs in which category, so the Court likewise addresses their arguments generally as to categories of documents and will not compel any specific responses by number.

         A. Other PROFEMUR Products and Methods of Failure

         Defendants object to providing information about other models of PROFEMUR products than those which were implanted in Plaintiff, arguing that they have provided full information about the products directly at issue in this case. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's request for more information is a fishing expedition and that her request is overbroad and burdensome, not appropriately tailored to the issues in this case. They argue that the models in the product line are not the same, that the different sizes are intended to cover different patient anatomies and that those different anatomies also affect the complications and injuries the patients suffer. Plaintiff argues that information about other PROFEMUR models is relevant because those devices are substantially similar to the devices implanted in Plaintiff and that the mechanism of failure between the different versions is the same.

         Plaintiff argues that Defendants did not distinguish between the versions of the modular necks or stems in their advertising, instead emphasizing the interchangeable nature of the PROFEMUR system without making any performance distinction. In addition, Plaintiff points to the adverse event database published by the Food and Drug Administration, noting that it does not distinguish between PROFEMUR neck models, and to the approval Defendants sought from the FDA, which likewise did not differentiate between the necks.

         As Plaintiff argues, discovery into similar products with the same component parts or structural defects is generally permitted in products liability cases. See, e.g., Piacenti v. Gen. Motors Corp., 173 F.R.D. 221, 224-25 (N.D. Ill. 1997) (describing cases). Particularly given that Defendants do not appear to distinguish between the different PROFEMUR models when describing their safety, and given that this is a question of what information is discoverable, not what evidence can be admitted at trial, Defendants have not borne their burden of establishing that the information on other PROFEMUR models is improper. Accordingly, Defendants must respond to Plaintiff's requests as to all PROFEMUR neck models. To the extent that Plaintiff is seeking information about completely different products, Defendants have sufficiently demonstrated that requiring them to produce documents pertaining to non-modular neck products is unduly burdensome and not sufficiently targeted to lead to relevant information.

         Similarly, Plaintiff also seeks documents relating to failure due to fracture and fretting, in addition to corrosion, and argues that Defendants' marketing documents reflect that Defendants believe fretting or corrosion lead to fracture. Defendants argue that materials pertaining to fretting and fracture are irrelevant, and the burden of producing them is not proportional to the needs of the case.

         Defendants particularly object to providing documents and communications between Defendants and the FDA that include discussion about modular neck corroding, fretting, or fracturing and any reports to or from the FDA for incidents of corroding, fretting, or fracturing. Defendants argue that they have sufficiently complied with this request by providing documents regarding the products that were implanted in Plaintiff and producing the complaint file and adverse event reports for Plaintiff's alleged injuries. They argue that complaint files and adverse event reports for other patients are not relevant, too burdensome to produce, and publically available. Defendants argue that the burden of searching its files for all ...


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