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Nachurs Alpine Solutions Corp. v. Nutra-Flo Co.

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

April 17, 2017

NACHURS ALPINE SOLUTIONS, CORP., f/k/a Na-Churs Plant Food Company, a Delaware Corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
NUTRA-FLO COMPANY, an Iowa Corporation, and BRIAN K. BANKS, Defendants.

          ORDER

          C.J. WILLIAMS CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court pursuant to a Motion to Quash Subpoena filed by The Andersons, a nonparty to this suit. (Doc. 86). Plaintiff Nachurs Alpine Solutions, Corp, the party who served the subpoena, resists the motion. (Doc. 87). For the reasons that follow, the Court grants The Andersons’ motion to quash.

         II. BACKGROUND

         As this Court has already concisely summarized about the general history of this case:

Plaintiff Nachurs Alpine Solutions Corp. (NAS) filed suit alleging, in summary, that its former employee, Brian Banks (Banks), stole trade secrets and provided them to his new employer, defendant Nutra-Flo Company (Nutra-Flo). Both NAS and Nutra-Flo are in the fertilizer business. NAS’s complaint alleges that after Banks announced his resignation on January 23, 2015 (effective February 6, 2015), on February 3, 2015, shortly before he left NAS, Nutra-Flo announced the launch of a new fertilizer containing potassium acetate that NAS believes is the same product it had developed. On February 9, 2015, Banks began working for Nutra-Flo. In March 2015, NAS brought this law suit. In May 2015, The Andersons, Inc. (Andersons), purchased Nutra-Flo. Banks began working for The Andersons. NAS alleges that Andersons began marketing products similar to its potassium acetate fertilizer after it purchased Nutra-Flo and employed Banks.

(Doc. 59, at 1-2).

         On September 14, 2016, Nachurs filed a motion to join The Andersons as a party. (Doc. 61). The Court denied this motion on October 17, 2016, and The Andersons remain a nonparty to the dispute. (Doc. 74). Subsequently, the parties agreed to a scheduling order and discovery plan on October 20, 2016. (Doc. 76). This agreement, inter alia, included the deadline for Nutra-Flo’s expert witness disclosures as January 12, 2017, and completion of discovery by June 2, 2017. (Id.). Pursuant with this plan, Nutra-Flo provided Nachurs with their disclosure of expert testimony. (Doc. 87-2). Of the three expert witnesses disclosed by Nutra-Flo, Nachurs specifically takes issue with the proposed testimony of Dr. Barry Fanning, who is the current research and development manager for The Andersons. (Doc. 87, at 4-8). According to Nutra-Flo’s disclosure of its expert witnesses:

Dr. Fanning is expected to testify regarding the chemical process for making potassium acetate. Dr. Fanning will testify that the process is widely known and is not difficult or complicated. Dr. Fanning is further expected to testify about The Andersons, Inc.’s purchase of companies that used potassium acetate in their fertilizer products, including New Eezy-Gro, Inc., and that The Andersons has always produced its 0-0-24 product (24-K), 3-0-20 product (Foliar K), 3-0-15 product (Bean Maker) and 3-5-15 product (First Pass) with potassium acetate. Specifically, all of these products were made with potassium acetajjte prior to 2015. Dr. Fanning will also testify regarding the use of potassium acetate in the fertilizer industry at large. Finally, Dr. Fanning will testify regarding the process of new product development, specifically, new product development in the agricultural industry.

(Doc. 87-2, at 2).

         Seemingly in response to this disclosure, Nachurs issued a subpoena on The Andersons on February 8, 2017. (Doc. 86, at 1). In this subpoena, Nachurs primarily seeks information relating to the proposed testimony of Dr. Fanning. (Doc. 87, at 4-8). On March 2, 2017, The Andersons filed its motion to quash Nachurs’ subpoena. (Doc. 86). The Andersons argue that the subpoena should be quashed because it requests irrelevant information, creates an undue burden on The Andersons, and causes significant competitive injury to The Andersons by requesting trade secrets and confidential information. (Id.).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “Generally, a party may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any claim or defense.” Wells v. Lamplight Farms Inc., 298 F.R.D. 428, 433 (N.D. Iowa 2014). “Nonetheless, ‘[s]ome threshold showing of relevance must be made before parties are required to open wide the doors of discovery and to produce a variety of information which does not reasonably bear upon the issues in the case.’” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Hofer v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 981 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir.1992)). “Evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence and the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed. R. Evid. 401. Additionally, “[e]ven if relevant, discovery is not permitted where no need is shown, or compliance would be unduly burdensome, or where harm to the person from whom discovery is sought outweighs the need of the person seeking discovery of the information.Am. Broad. Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., No. 13-MC-0059, 2013 WL 5276124, at *7 (N.D. Iowa Sept. 17, 2013) (alteration in original). In determining whether an undue burden exists, this Court has held,

[f]actors which may be considered by the Court in determining whether an undue burden exists include: (1) relevance of the information requested; (2) the need of the party for the documents; (3) the breadth of the discovery request; (4) the time period covered by the request; (5) the particularity with which the party describes the requested documents; and (6) the burden imposed.

Id. In addition to these factors, “concern for the unwanted burden thrust upon non-parties is a factor entitled to special weight in evaluating the balance of competing needs.” Miscellaneous Docket Matter No. 1 v. Miscellaneous Docket Matter No. 2, 197 F.3d 922, 927 (8th Cir. 1999). “Indeed, if discovery can easily be obtained from a party, it may be inappropriate to demand the same discovery from a nonparty.” Wells, 298 F.R.D. at 433. Although the party requesting discovery has a “duty . . . to take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense on a person subject to that subpoena,” the burden is on the party resisting production to establish an undue burden or lack of relevance. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). See also Ferrell v. IBP, Inc., No. C98-4047-MJM, 2000 WL 34032907, at *1 (N.D. Iowa Apr. 28, 2000). “[T]he mere statement by a party that the interrogatory [or request for production] was ‘overly broad, burdensome, oppressive and irrelevant’ is not adequate to voice a successful objection.” St. Paul Reinsurance Co. v. Commercial Fin. Corp., 198 F.R.D. 508, 511 (N.D. Iowa 2000) (alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). “On the contrary, the party resisting discovery must show specifically how each interrogatory [or request for production] is not relevant or how each question is overly broad, burdensome or oppressive.” Id., at 512 (alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         IV. ...


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