United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
NACHURS ALPINE SOLUTIONS, CORP., f/k/a Na-Churs Plant Food Company, a Delaware Corporation, Plaintiff,
NUTRA-FLO COMPANY, an Iowa Corporation, and BRIAN K. BANKS, Defendants.
WILLIAMS CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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.
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).
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
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).
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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).