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Watkins v. Trans Union, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

June 15, 2018

RICHARD WATKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
TRANS UNION, LLC, Defendant. GUERINO JOHN CENTO, Interested Party.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS AND TO COMPEL

          Mark J. Dinsmore Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions and to Compel. [Dkt. 185.] For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES AS MOOT IN PART Plaintiff's Motion.

         I. Background

         In this Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) action, Plaintiff asserts Defendant mixed credit information belonging to another consumer (in this case, Plaintiff's son) into Plaintiff's credit file and failed to adequately correct the issue. Plaintiff contends that the inaccurate information was then included by Defendant in consumer reports about Plaintiff resulting in the loss of credit opportunity. In this discovery dispute, Plaintiff primarily seeks the documentation relied upon by Defendant when it determined Plaintiff had a “mixed file” - that is a credit file that had become intermingled with another consumer's file. Defendant has refused to produce the information, first asserting that Plaintiff agreed to depose a key employee (Lynn Prindes, formerly Lynn Romanowski) regarding the investigation in lieu of receiving the responsive documents. Defendant also argues that because Ms. Prindes based her decision upon a review of data from Defendant's electronic database, as opposed to physical documents, no documents exist that are responsive to Plaintiff's request. Unable to resolve the dispute informally or during a discovery conference with the Court, Plaintiff filed this motion.[1]

         II. Discussion

         Before proceeding to the merits of Plaintiff's Motion, the Court must first address the General Objections and Objections to Definitions and Instructions asserted by Defendant and the extensive use of boilerplate objections within its responses. When a party raises objections to discovery requests, the objecting party bears the burden to explain precisely why its objections are proper given the broad and liberal construction of the federal discovery rules. In re Aircrash Disaster Near Roselawn, Inc. Oct. 31, 1994, 172 F.R.D. 295, 307 (N.D. Ill. 1997); see also Cunningham v. Smithkline Beecham, 255 F.R.D. 474, 478 (N.D. Ind. 2009).

         General objections to discovery requests that merely recite boilerplate language without explanation do not meet this burden, and courts within the Seventh Circuit consistently overrule them or entirely disregard such objections. See Novelty, Inc. v. Mountain View Mktg., Inc., 265 F.R.D. 370, 375 (S.D. Ind. 2009) (“‘general objections' made without elaboration, whether placed in a separate section or repeated by rote in response to each requested category, are not ‘objections' at all-and will not be considered”); Burkybile v. Mitsubishi Motors Corp., 2006 WL 2325506, at *9 (N.D. Ill. 2006) (overruling boilerplate objections made generally and without elaboration).

         Defendant's “kitchen sink” General Objections, and in fact, general objections by their very nature, make no attempt to articulate a basis specific to a request. As other Seventh Circuit district courts have noted, “[m]aking general objections is a dangerous practice, as the party who offers such general objections runs the risk of having them summarily denied.” Avante International Technology, Inc. v. Hart Intercivic, Inc., 2008 WL 2074093 at *2 (S.D. Ill. 2008). That is precisely what this Court will do. Defendant's General Objections to both the interrogatories and requests for production and Objections to Definitions and Instructions within the interrogatories are OVERRULED in their entirety.

         Defendant also asserts numerous boilerplate objections with regard to the particular interrogatory and request for production at issue in this motion. In its response to Interrogatory No. 3, Defendant objected that the term “mixed file” was not defined by Plaintiff (even though Defendant also asserted blanket objections to Plaintiff's definitions). Defendant asserted, without explanation, the interrogatory was overly broad, unduly burdensome and not proportional to the needs of case. Defendant likewise baldly asserted the interrogatory sought confidential trade secret information and information protected by attorney-client and work product privilege. These objections make no attempt to explain with specificity why the interrogatory is improper. As such, the Court OVERRULES Defendant's objections to Interrogatory No. 3. See Novelty, Inc. v. Mountain View Marketing, Inc., 265 F.R.D. 370, 375 (S.D. Ind. 2009) (failure to make specific legitimate objections to discovery requests may result in the court deeming the objections waived).

         Defendant's response to Request for Production No. 37 likewise included a litany of baseless objections, including an objection on the grounds that the terms “electronically stored information, ” “reviewed, ” “used, ” “viewed, ” “considered, ” and “relied upon” are vague and ambiguous and an objection based upon burden that is wholly unsubstantiated. Defendant also asserted this blanket objection to the request: “Trans Union objects to this Request to the extent it seeks confidential, proprietary and/or trade secret information and/or information protected by the attorney-client privilege, the attorney work-product doctrine or any other applicable privilege.” [Dkt. 186-2 at 12.] Again, these objections fail to provide the opposing party, and the Court, with any specificity as to how the objection applies to the information sought. Additionally, if it was Defendant's intent to withhold any documents from this less than forthcoming response (as it clearly has done), it was Defendant's obligation under Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b))(2)(C) to specifically identify any documents being so withheld. The Court OVERRULES each objection Defendant asserts specific to Request for Production No.3.

         A. Interrogatory No. 3 and Request for Production No. 37

         At issue in this motion are Defendant's responses to Interrogatory No. 3 and Request for Production No. 37. Interrogatory No. 3 asked whether Plaintiff had a “mixed file” and to identify the information Defendant relied upon in making that determination. [Dkt. 186-1 at 5-6.] The related later-served request for production (No. 37) sought “Any documents or electronically stored information reviewed, used, examined, viewed, considered, or relied upon by Lynn Romanowski as referenced in Defendant's response to Interrogatory No. 3.” [Dkt. 186-2 at 11.]

         Defendant served an answer [Dkt. 186-1 at 6], a first supplemental answer [Dkt. 186-3 at 2], and a second supplemental answer [186-4 at 2] to Interrogatory No. 3. Each response begrudgingly offered slightly more information on the process Ms. Prindes underwent to determine Plaintiff had a mixed file. However, none of the responses identified the information relied upon by Ms. Prindes in making that determination, as requested by the interrogatory. Instead, Defendant states that “relying upon information located within Trans Union's database, Ms. Prindes was able to determine when the two files were combined and then what caused the two files to combine.” [Dkt. 186-4 at 2.] Defendant nevertheless maintains this response is complete.

         After asserting a litany of objections overruled by the Court above, the following is Defendant's remaining substantive response to Request for Production No. 37: “Trans Union states that it has made reasonable inquiry and the information it knows or can readily obtain at this time is insufficient to enable it to determine whether any responsive materials are being withheld because Lynn Romanowski cannot recall specific documents or ...


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