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OrthoAccel Technologies, Inc. v. Propel Orthodontics, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

April 4, 2017

ORTHOACCEL TECHNOLOGIES, INC.
v.
PROPEL ORTHODONTICS, LLC

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff OrthoAccel Technologies, Inc.'s Motion to Compel Propel's Financials (Dkt. #317). The Court, having considered the motion and relevant pleadings, finds the motion should be granted in part.

         BACKGROUND

         This motion comes before the Court as the parties' latest discovery dispute. On November 17, 2016, the Court ordered both OrthoAccel Technologies, Inc. (“OrthoAccel”) and Propel Orthodontics, LLC (“Propel”) to produce financial statements for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016 by November 21, 2016. In response, Propel produced a one-page “Statement of Operations” for each year. OrthoAccel, dissatisfied with the information contained in these reports, requested via email and at a meet and confer “detailed financial information from January 2015 to present” including Propel's trial balance, QuickBooks, or other financial accounting statements and reports. OrthoAccel also requested Propel's general ledgers including profit and loss statements (“P&L statements”).

         Following a meet and confer, Propel produced a single Statement of Operations for March 2016 through January 2017. On March 6, 2017, OrthoAccel again requested Propel's trial balance, QuickBooks, general ledgers, P&L statements, and other financial accounting statements and reports. Propel responded that it had already produced the P&L statements and would provide a Bates label if OrthoAccel was unable to locate them. On March 19, 2017, Propel designated Greg Braham as its 30(b)(6) corporate representative to testify on Propel's (1) financial statements and the data supporting those statements; (2) total costs by quarter or month for advertising, marketing, or any other sales efforts for the VPro5; and (3) total revenues by month and quarter for sales of the VPro5. OrthoAccel again asked Propel for the Bates label of the P&L statements before Braham's deposition. On the eve of Braham's deposition, Propel instead provided OrthoAccel the Bates label for some of Propel's expenses from March 2016 to January 2017.

         Braham's deposition revealed that he exported a P&L statement from QuickBooks, then following a conversation with his counsel, altered the P&L statement to produce a selling general and administrative (“SG&A”) report. The SG&A report was created by deleting the revenues, cost of goods sold, and research and development costs from the QuickBooks-generated P&L statement. Braham stated it took only five minutes to produce the P&L statements, and he has created P&L statements for Propel in the past.

         On March 22, 2017, OrthoAccel's counsel brought the discovery dispute to the Court's attention. The Court ordered the parties to brief the issue. On March 24, 2017, OrthoAccel filed a Sealed Motion to Compel Propel's Financials (Dkt. #317). On March 29, 2017, Propel filed a response (Dkt. #323).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), parties “may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Relevance, for the purposes of Rule 26(b)(1), is when the request is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Id.; Crosby v. La. Health & Indem. Co., 647 F.3d 258, 262 (5th Cir. 2011). It is well-established that “control of discovery is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court.” Freeman v. United States, 556 F.3d 326, 341 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Williamson v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 815 F.2d 368, 382 (5th Cir. 1987)).

         Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a discovering party, on notice to other parties and all affected persons, to “move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1). The moving party bears the burden of showing that the materials and information sought are relevant to the action or will lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Export Worldwide, Ltd. v. Knight, 241 F.R.D. 259, 263 (W.D. Tex. 2006). Once the moving party establishes that the materials requested are within the scope of permissible discovery, the burden shifts to the party resisting discovery to show why the discovery is irrelevant, overly broad, unduly burdensome or oppressive, and thus should not be permitted. Id.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34 governs requests for production of documents (“RFPs”), electronically stored information, and tangible things. Rule 34 requires responses to “either state that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested or state with specificity the grounds for objecting to the request, including the reasons.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(B). “An objection [to the entire request] must state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection.” Id. 34(b)(2)(C). On the other hand, “[a]n objection to part of a request must specify the part and permit inspection of the rest.” Id.

         After responding to each request with specificity, the responding attorney must sign their request, response, or objection certifying that the response is complete and correct to the best of the attorney's knowledge and that any objection is consistent with the rules and warranted by existing law or a nonfrivolous argument for changing the law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(g). This rule “simply requires that the attorney make a reasonable inquiry into the factual basis of his response, request, or objection.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(g) advisory committee note (1983).

         The federal rules follow a proportionality standard for discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Under this requirement, the burden falls on both parties and the court to consider the proportionality of all discovery in resolving discovery disputes. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), advisory committee note (2015). This rule relies on the fact that each party has a unique understanding of the proportionality to bear on the particular issue. Id. For example, a party requesting discovery may have little information about the burden or expense of responding. Id. “The party ...


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