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Holcombe v. Helena Chemical Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

May 18, 2016

Jody Holcombe, Plaintiff,
Helena Chemical Co., Defendant.


          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Jody Holcombe’s motion for leave to serve two interrogatories upon Defendant Helena Chemical Co. (ECF No. 18.) For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants Holcombe’s motion.


         This negligence action arises out of a 2012 collision between a tractor-trailer driven by Holcombe and another driven by a Helena Chemical employee. Holcombe has alleged a variety of negligence theories, including that Helena Chemical failed to enact rules and policies to properly investigate truck driver applicants; failed to enact rules and policies regarding the hiring, training, and supervision of drivers; and negligently hired, trained, and supervised the driver involved in the collision. Helena Chemical denies those allegations.

         In discovery, Holcombe conducted a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition of Helena Chemical. In accordance with Rule 30(b)(6), Holcombe included in the deposition notice a list of topics for inquiry, including Helena Chemical’s hiring, training, and supervision of its drivers; regulations on commercial motor vehicle operation; and Helena Chemical’s compliance with those regulations. Also in accordance with that Rule, Helena Chemical produced a corporate representative to testify on its behalf regarding those topics.

         At the deposition, Holcombe’s attorney questioned the representative about an employment application form that the company uses for screening and hiring truck drivers and that, according to Holcombe, violates federal safety regulations. Specifically, Holcombe’s counsel asked the representative how long Helena Chemical had been using the form and how many truck drivers it employs. The representative said he did not know the answer to those questions but could find out.

         When the deposition ended, Holcombe’s attorney prepared the two interrogatories currently at issue:

1. Please state how long Helena has been using the application form identified as Bates 129-133 and state whether that form has ever been changed or revised since it was first used. If Helena is using a different application form, please state the date the new form or forms were first used and provide a copy of any revised application forms through the present.
2. Please state the number of employee drivers that operated commercial vehicles for Helena for the years 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and presently. If an exact number is burdensome, you may round your answers to the nearest 100.

(Pl.’s Mot. Serve Add’l Interrogs., ECF No. 18, at 2.) Helena Chemical’s attorneys objected on the ground that Holcombe had already exceeded Rule 33(a)(1)’s twenty-five interrogatory limit.[1]


         Because Helena Chemical did not consent to the two additional interrogatories, Holcombe cannot serve them unless this Court grants him leave. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(a)(1) (providing parties may serve more than twenty-five interrogatories only by stipulation or with leave of court). Granting such leave will be appropriate if the interrogatories are “consistent with Rule 26(b)(1) and (2).” Id. In other words, to grant leave, the Court must find that the proposed interrogatories seek information that is nonprivileged and relevant to a claim or defense, and that the interrogatories are “proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).

         The Court so finds. The information sought does not appear to be privileged, and it is plainly relevant to Holcombe’s above-discussed direct negligence theories. Helena Chemical contends the interrogatories are not proportional, but the Court disagrees.[2]

         Rule 30(b)(6) “requires a corporation to respond to a deposition notice by designating and producing a witness who is familiar with the topics listed in the notice. The designated witness testifies on the corporation’s behalf and, thus, testifies not only on his personal knowledge of a subject, but on corporate knowledge.” McCray v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 3:14-cv-2623-TLW, 2015 WL 6408047, at *1 (D.S.C. Oct. 22, 2015). “It follows that, in order to comply with the rule, the corporation has an affirmative duty to ensure that its designee has knowledge of all information on the noticed topics reasonably available to the corporation and is prepared to provide complete, binding answers on that information.” Ethox Chem., LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., No. 6:12-cv-1682-TMC, 2014 WL 2719214, at *2 (D.S.C. June 16, 2014); see also Bd. of Trustees of Leland Stanford Jr. Univ. v. Tyco Int’l Ltd., 253 F.R.D. 524, 526 (C.D. Cal. 2008) (explaining Rule 30(b)(6) implicitly requires the corporate designee to review all matters known by or reasonably available to the corporation in preparation for the deposition, even if the documents are voluminous and reviewing them would be burdensome). Here, the questions Holcombe’s lawyer asked ...

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