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Waste Management of Louisiana, LLC v. River Birch, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 23, 2017

WASTE MANAGEMENT OF LOUISIANA, LLC
v.
RIVER BIRCH, INC. ET AL

         SECTION: “N” (4)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          KAREN WELLS ROBY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion for Protective Order Regarding Discovery Requests (R. Doc. 236) filed by Defendants River Birch, LLC, Highway 90, LLC, Frederick Heebe, and Albert J. Ward, Jr. seeking a protective order from the Court with respect to certain discovery requests that seek documents related to the Defendants' alleged efforts to divert waste streams from the Jefferson Parish landfill from 2004-2010. The motion is opposed. R. Doc. 244. The motion was submitted on May 10, 2017 and heard with argument on May 17, 2016. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         This action was filed in the District Court on September 23, 2011. R. Doc. 1. Waste Management of Louisiana, LLC (“Plaintiff”) alleges that the Defendants have engaged in a long-running conspiracy to limit and exclude competition for landfill disposal services in and around New Orleans, Louisiana. R. Doc. 140, p. 1. The Defendants in this action are: River Birch, Inc., the owner and operator of River Birch landfill; Highway 90 LLC, who owns Highway 90 landfill; Frederick Heebe, the owner of Shadow Lake Management, Co., which is the parent corporation of River Birch, Inc.; and Albert Ward, who is the father-in-law of Heebe, and former President of River Birch, Inc. and Manager of Highway 90 LLC (collectively “Defendants”). In particular, the Plaintiff states that it suffered direct injury as a result of the Defendants actions in at least two instances: the premature closure of the Chef Menteur landfill in 2006 as part of a scheme to transfer more Hurricane Katrina clean-up debris to River Birch's landfill; and the efforts to prematurely oust the Plaintiff as operator of the Jefferson Parish landfill as part of a scheme to transfer the Parish's municipal solid waste to River Birch landfill under an exclusive 25-year contract. Id. at p. 2. As such, the Plaintiff has alleged two counts of violations under Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Sections 1962(c) and Section 1962(d). Id. at p. 39-42.

         At this time, the Defendants have filed a Motion for Protective Order Regarding Discovery Requests Related to Unpled Allegations. R. Doc. 236. The Defendants seek a protective order in regards to discovery requests seeking information related to an alleged effort by the Defendants to divert sewage sludge, C&D waste, and Hurricane Katrina Waste (the “general diversion scheme”) from the Jefferson Parish Landfill from 2004 through 2010. Id. In particular, the Defendants argue that these request should be denied because they are irrelevant to any claim actually pled by the Plaintiff. R. Doc. 236-1, p. 8-10. Rather, the Defendants argue that the Plaintiff is attempting to insert a new claim for damages at this stage of litigation in order to seek an additional $54.6 million in damages from the alleged waste-diversion scheme. Id. at p. 7-8.

         In response, the Plaintiff argues that the Defendants are improperly using a motion for protective order to challenge the sufficiency of the Plaintiff's pleadings. R. Doc. 244, p. 2. Rather, the Plaintiffs argue that the complaint does encompass the general diversion scheme and points to a number of references in its complaint that it believes alludes to such a general diversion scheme. Id. at p. 4-5.

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 26(b)(1) provides that “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense. . .” Rule 26(b)(1) specifies that “[i]nformation within the scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discovered.” Rule 26(b)(1) also specifics that discovery must be “proportional to the needs of the case, considering the important 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.” Id.

         Under Rule 26(b)(2)(C), discovery may be limited if: (1) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or is obtainable from another, more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive source; (2) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the discovery sought; or (3) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

         Finally, Rule 26(c) governs the issuances of Protective Orders in discovery. A Court may “for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). The rule offers a variety of potential options that the Court may use to protect the moving party, including forbidding or limiting the scope of discovery into certain matters or requiring that a trade secret or other confidential commercial information not be revealed or be revealed in only a certain way. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1)(D), (G). “The party seeking the protective order bears the burden to show ‘the necessity of its issuance, which contemplates a particular and specific demonstration of fact[.]'” Cazaubon v. MR Precious Metals, LLC, 14-2241, 2015 WL 4937888, at *2 (E.D. La. Aug. 17, 2015) (quoting In re Terra Int'l, 134 F.3d 302, 306 (5th Cir.1998)). The trial court enjoys wide discretion in setting the parameters of a protective order. See Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 36 (1984) (“To be sure, Rule 26(c) confers broad discretion on the trial court to decide when a protective order is appropriate and what degree of protection is required.”). Finally, Rule 26(c)(1) requires a certification that the moving party has conferred or attempted to confer in good faith with the other affected party to attempt to resolve the issue without the court's interference.

         III. Analysis

         The Defendants have filed a Motion for Protective Order Regarding Discovery Requests Related to Unpled Allegations seeking a protective order in regards to discovery requests seeking information related to an alleged effort by the Defendants to divert three particular waste streams from the Jefferson Parish Landfill from 2004 through 2010: sewage sludge; ...


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