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Blatchley v. Cunningham

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 24, 2015



Nina Y. Wang United States Magistrate Judge

This matter is before the court on Defendant St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s Motion for Protective Order (“Motion for Protective Order”) [#109, filed October 26, 2015]. The Motion for Protective Order was referred to this Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the Order of Reference dated March 5, 2015 [#4], and the Memorandum dated October 26, 2015 [#110]. The court has reviewed the Motion for Protective Order, Plaintiffs’ Response to the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s Motion for Protective Order (“Opposition”), and the Reply filed by Defendant St. Anthony Summit Medical Center (“St. Anthony Summit”), the applicable case law, and has heard argument on December 8, 2015. For the reasons stated in this Order, this court GRANTS the Motion for Protective Order.


The background of this case has been discussed in detail in other court orders, see, e.g., [#94], and accordingly, the court will focus on the circumstances relevant to the disposition of the instant Motion for Protective Order. Plaintiffs Jody and Delfina Blatchley (collectively, “Plaintiffs” or “the Blatchleys”) have initiated this personal injury action against Defendants. As part of discovery in this action, the Blatchleys have sought “policies, procedures, protocols, guidelines, and/or other documents” used at St. Anthony Summit. [#109 at 3]. St. Anthony Summit has produced such documents as “confidential” under the Protective Order entered in this action, and request that such documents be returned or destroyed at the conclusion of the litigation. [Id.]

The Blatchleys oppose the entry of a Protective Order. Clear from both their filing and their statements in court, it is not the Blatchleys who are driving this Opposition. Rather, counsel for the Blatchleys object to the entry of a protective order because they wish to be able to use the information in other unidentified cases. [#123 at 2]. They argue that because the documents do not contain trade secrets or other confidential information, a protective order is unwarranted and they should be able to freely use and disseminate the information without restriction. [#123].

In Reply, St. Anthony Summit affirmatively states that “Defendants are not requesting this Court to keep the documents confidential to the extent that the public cannot view them during this litigation.” [#134 at 2]. Rather, St. Anthony Summit seeks to have the documents returned or destroyed at the end of the case, arguing that “[t]he documents may or may not be relevant in future litigation; however, that determination needs to be made by the Court in which the other litigation is pending.”


I. Applicable Law

A. Pre-Trial Discovery Generally

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow for discovery of relevant information in an action, but it is axiomatic that the determination of whether information is discoverable must be assessed by the parties and a court on a case-by-case basis. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1) (eff. Dec. 1, 2015).[1] Indeed, the amendments to Rule 26(b)(1) make clear that parties must pursue and this court must administer the discovery rules in a manner that is proportional to the needs of a case, which can only be assessed based on a the particular issues and facts presented by a specific case. It therefore, logically follows, that this court is not in a position to determine whether a particular document will be relevant, proportional, and therefore, discoverable in a separate, undefined matter. It is also well-settled that discovery in one matter is not intended to afford a party an opportunity to seek information for an unasserted claim, or a yet-to-be filed case. See e.g., Cuomo v. Clearing House Ass’n, LLC, 557 U.S. 519, 531 (2009) (observing that judges are trusted to prevent “fishing expeditions” or an undirected rummaging through [materials] for evidence of some unknown wrongdoing). Nor is it intended to afford any party documents to be used outside the instant litigation. See Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinhart, 467 U.S. 20, 34 (1984) (observing that liberal discovery is provided for the sole purpose of assisting and preparing for the preparation and trial, or the settlement, of litigated disputes).[2]

B. Rule 26(c) Protective Orders

Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that 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). The party seeking a protective order bears the burden of establishing its necessity, Centurion Indus., Inc. v. Warren Steurer & Assoc., 665 F.2d 323, 325 (10th Cir. 1981), but the entry of a protective order is left to the sound discretion of the court. See Rohrbough v. Harris, 549 F.3d 1313, 1321 (10th Cir. 2008). As part of the exercise of its discretion, the court may specify the terms for disclosure. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(C)(1)(B). While a protective order may be appropriate where a trade secret or other confidential information is at issue, the existence of a trade secret is not required. Instead, the good cause standard is highly flexible, having been designed to accommodate all relevant interests as they arise. See Rohrbough, 549 F.3d at 1321. Judge Boland cogently explained that there are at least three kinds of protective orders that courts have utilized to limit discovery or the dissemination of information - (1) particular protective orders; (2) blanket protective orders; or (3) umbrella protective orders. See Gillard v. Boulder Valley School Dist. RE-2, 196 F.R.D. 382, 385-86 (D. Colo. 2000).

C. Motions to Restrict

In addition, the entry of a Protective Order under Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is not equivalent to an Order to Restrict any designated documents or information from public access. As recognized by Local Rule 7.2 and the Tenth Circuit’s case law, designation under a Protective Order is, in and of itself, insufficient to justify restriction. See D.C.COLO.LCivR 7.2(c); See also Lucero v. Sandia Corp., 495 F. App’x 903, 913 (10th Cir. 2012); SolidFX, LLC v. Jeppesen Sanderson, Inc., Civil Action No. 11-cv-01468-WJM-BNB, 2012 WL 2917116, at *6 (D. Colo. July 16, 2012) (holding that “the mere fact that a party has designated a document as confidential is insufficient to justify restricted access”). In addition, the Tenth Circuit has been clear that parties - and courts - should not reflexively restrict documents upon which the parties (and as a result the courts) rely upon to seek or afford relief. See Lucero, 495 F. App’x at 913. Indeed, in only the rarest of ...

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