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Mt. Carmel Mutual Insurance Association v. Cnh America, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

December 2, 2014

MT. CARMEL MUTUAL INSURANCE ASSOCIATION, as subrogee of Jacob Kuker, insured, Plaintiff,
v.
CNH AMERICA, L.L.C., Defendant.

ORDER

LEONARD T. STRAND, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case is before me on plaintiff's motion (Doc. No. 40) to compel defendant to supplement discovery responses.[1] Defendant has filed a resistance (Doc. No. 55) and plaintiff has filed a reply (Doc. No. 58). I heard oral arguments by telephone on November 26, 2014. Attorney Allyson Dirkson appeared for plaintiff while attorneys Maureen Bickley and Richard Kirschman appeared for defendant. The motion is fully submitted and ready for decision.

II. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Mt. Carmel Mutual Insurance Association (Mt. Carmel) filed this action in an Iowa state court on September 17, 2012. Doc. No. 2. Defendant CNH America, L.L.C. (CNH), removed the case to this court on December 18, 2012, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Doc. No. 1. As Judge O'Brien previously summarized:

This case arises out of a fire that destroyed a piece of farm equipment; specifically, a combine, owned by Jacob Kuker. The Plaintiff is Mr. Kuker's insurance company. After the fire destroyed Mr. Kuker's combine, the Plaintiff reimbursed him for his loss. CNH American L.L.C.... manufactured or sold the combine.

Doc. No. 15 at 1-2.

In its petition, Mt. Carmel alleges that the combine was designed defectively in that CNH used a plastic material, rather than metal, to construct the fuel tank. Doc. No. 2 at ¶¶ 9-10. Mt. Carmel contends that on October 29, 2010, a small fire started when grain dust and crop debris ignited during use of the combine and that such fires are reasonably foreseeable. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 5, 12. Mt. Carmel alleges that the fire should have been easily extinguished with little or no damage to the combine by use of two fire extinguishers that Mr. Kuker discharged upon discovering the fire. Id. at ¶ 8. However - and here is where the alleged defect comes into play - the fire instead spread because it allegedly melted a hole in the plastic fuel tank, causing diesel fuel to spill onto the flames, thus intensifying the fire. Id. at ¶ 9. According to Mt. Carmel: "A reasonable alternative design employing a metal fuel tank would have prevented it from melting from the small grain fire, avoiding the release of diesel fuel into the flames, and in allowing the small grain fire to be easily extinguished and avoiding any significant damage to the combine." Id. at ¶ 11. CNH has filed an answer in which it denies liability and raises various defenses. Doc. No. 3. Trial, having recently been continued, is now scheduled to begin May 4, 2015. Doc. No. 52.

III. THE CURRENT DISPUTE

During discovery, Mt. Carmel served two sets of interrogatories and document requests. CNH served its responses to the first set on May 22, 2013, and its responses to the second set on August 30, 2013. About one year later, as the September 1, 2014, discovery deadline was looming, Mt. Carmel requested that CNH supplement certain responses. Doc. No. 40-1 at 3-10 (letter dated August 26, 2014). Because Local Rule 37(c) requires that all discovery motions be filed no later than fourteen (14) days after the close of discovery, Mt. Carmel filed its motion to compel on September 15, 2014. Mt. Carmel noted that negotiations about the disputed issues were ongoing.

The motion raised issues about CNH's responses to the following discovery requests: (a) Interrogatories 10, 11 and 28 and (b) Document Requests 6, 23, 31, 32, 33, 37, 38 and 39. CNH then sought (Doc. No. 47) an extension of its deadline to resist, stating that the parties had reached a "tentative resolution" of the pending discovery disputes. Doc. No. 47. The deadline was extended to November 5, 2014. Doc. No. 48. CNH filed its resistance on that date, stating that the parties have, in fact, reached agreement on nearly all of the disputed issues. However, CNH reported (and Mt. Carmel agrees) that the parties could not resolve their disagreement over the scope of Document Requests 31, 32 and 33, which read as follows:

REQUEST NO. 31: All documents or entries in the ASIST Knowledge database regarding fuel tanks in any combine, including but not limited to, the combine involved in the incident in question.
REQUEST NO. 32: All documents or entries in Applix regarding fuel tanks in any combine, including but not limited to, the combine involved in the incident in question.
REQUEST NO. 33: All materials in eTim regarding fuel tanks in any combine, including but not limited to, the combine ...

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