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Holcombe v. Helena Chemical Co.

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

February 23, 2017

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 to compel (ECF No. 44), his motion to amend his complaint (ECF No. 34), and Defendant Helena Chemical Co.'s motion to compel (ECF No. 36). For the reasons stated herein, Holcombe's motion to compel is denied without prejudice, his motion to amend is granted, and Helena Chemical's motion to compel is granted.


         This negligence action arises out of a 2012 collision between a tractor-trailer driven by Holcombe and another driven by Michael Rogers, a Helena Chemical employee. Holcombe seeks damages from Helena Chemical, asserting theories of respondeat superior liability and negligent supervision.


         I. Holcombe's Motion to Compel

         Holcombe seeks punitive damages. Because “the wealth of a defendant is a relevant factor in assessing punitive damages, ” Branham v. Ford Motor Co., 701 S.E.2d 5, 24 (2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted), Holcombe asked Helena Chemical to produce records of its assets, profits, losses, and net worth over the past ten years. Holcombe sought those records through five requests for production. Helena Chemical objected to all of them on the grounds that the requests were overly broad, were improperly unlimited in time and scope, sought information that would cause undue annoyance, and were not calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The parties were unable to resolve their dispute, so Holcombe now asks the Court to compel production of the requested records.

         Helena Chemical contends it has no obligation to produce evidence of its wealth unless and until Holcombe establishes a prima facie case that he is entitled to punitive damages. The Court agrees that Holcombe must make such a showing. See Nix v. Holbrook, No. 5:13-cv-2173-JMC, 2015 WL 791213, at *3 (D.S.C. Feb. 25, 2015) (adopting the prima-facie standard and declining to compel production of defendant's financial records until after plaintiff established the factual viability of his claim for punitive damages). The Court also agrees with Helena Chemical that Holcombe has not done so. Therefore, the Court denies Holcombe's motion.

         The Court notes, however, that Holcombe has not yet been challenged to make that showing. Often, that challenge comes in the form of defense motions for summary judgment on punitive damages. See, e.g., Taylor v. McGill Envtl. Sys. of N.C., Inc., No. 7:13-CV-00270-D, 2015 WL 1125108, at *8 (E.D. N.C. Mar. 12, 2015) (denying motion to compel production of financial records, with leave for plaintiff to renew motion if the court denied a then-pending motion for summary judgment on punitive damages); Nix, 2015 WL 791213, at *3 (declining to consider compelling production of financial records until either plaintiff's punitive-damages claim survived a summary judgment motion or defense declined to file such a motion). Here, Helena Chemical has never specifically challenged Holcombe's demand for punitive damages.[1] It would be illogical to fault Holcombe for not crossing a hurdle that no one ever placed in his way.

         Accordingly, the denial is without prejudice. Holcombe may file another motion to compel within seven days of the date of this Order. In the motion, Holcombe should state with particularity the law and facts that he believes would enable a reasonable jury to award him punitive damages. See Robinson v. Quicken Loans Inc., No. 3:12-0981, 2013 WL 1704839, at *4 (S.D. W.Va. Apr. 19, 2013); Hoskins v. King, 676 F.Supp.2d 441, 450 (D.S.C. 2009). If Holcombe files such a motion, Helena Chemical shall have seven days thereafter to file a response. No reply brief may be filed unless the Court requests one later.

         Given the case's procedural posture on this issue, the Court finds it would be unjust to award Helena Chemical the expenses it incurred resisting this motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(5)(iii).

         II. Helena Chemical's Motion to Compel

         Helena Chemical has sought information about Holcombe's employment history, with a focus on his prior experience driving tractor-trailers. At his deposition, Holcombe provided the names of some of his prior employers. However, his memory of his career was incomplete. That prompted Helena Chemical to later serve Holcombe with an interrogatory and three requests for production regarding his past employment. Helena Chemical argues Holcombe inadequately answered the interrogatory and improperly responded to two of the requests.[2]

         A. ...

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