United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
CHRISTOPHER B. BLANKENSHIP, and, APRIL M. BLANKENSHIP, Plaintiffs,
BROOKS RUN MINING COMPANY, LLC, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. JOHNSTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are Defendant Brooks Run Mining Company,
LLC's (“BRMC”) Objections (ECF No. 115) to
Magistrate Judge Tinsley's June 19, 2015 Order (ECF No.
107) granting Plaintiffs' Motions to Compel (ECF Nos. 47,
49, 57). The portion of the Order to which BRMC objects
directs Defendants BRMC and Alpha Natural Resources Services,
LLC (“Alpha”) to produce evidence of safety
audits conducted at the Still Run No. 3 Coal Mine in Wyoming
County, West Virginia. For the following reasons, BRMC's
Objections are OVERRULED and Magistrate Judge Tinsley's
Order is AFFIRMED.
action stems from an injury Plaintiff Christopher Blankenship
suffered on October 20, 2012, while working in the Still Run
No. 3 Mine. (ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 15.) Plaintiffs assert that
Mr. Blankenship's injury was the result of a rib roll in
the mine that caused a rock to strike him. (Id.
¶ 16.) Among other things, Plaintiffs claim that
Defendants were aware of support problems in the mine,
including dangerous rib conditions, but failed to adequately
remedy these issues. (Id. ¶ 38, 42(b).)
Plaintiffs filed Motions to Compel on a number of discovery
issues on April 3, 2015, but the parties were able to resolve
all issues except those relating to the safety audits at the
Still Run No. 3 mine. Defendants' Response argues that
they should not have to produce documentation from these
safety audits, as they were performed pursuant to a
Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA) that Alpha Natural Resources,
Inc., the parent company of the other five defendants in this
action, entered into with the United States Attorney's
Office for the Southern District of West Virginia and the
Department of Justice. (ECF No. 59 at 6-8.) Magistrate Judge
Tinsley entered his Order on June 19, 2015, granting
Plaintiffs' Motions with respect to the issue of the
safety audits. Defendant BRMC filed timely objections on July
2, 2015, arguing that the safety audits were inadmissible and
non-discoverable under both the terms of the NPA and Federal
Rule of Evidence 408. On October 27, 2015, this Court entered
an Order (ECF No. 138) staying the action pending the
bankruptcy proceedings of the defendants. On November 4,
2016, the Court entered an Order (ECF No. 145) lifting the
stay, making Defendant BRMC's Objections ripe for review.
Review of Magistrate Judge's Non-dispositive Orders
this Court's Standing Order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636, all discovery matters are referred to magistrate judges.
(ECF No. 2.) Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), a
party objecting to a non-dispositive order of a magistrate
judge must file objections within 14 days after being served
with a copy of the order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). The reviewing
district court must then review the order and “modify
or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous
or is contrary to law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). The Fourth
Circuit has explained that under this standard,
“findings of fact will be affirmed unless our review of
the entire record leaves us with the definite and firm
conviction that a mistake has been committed.”
Harman v. Levin, 772 F.2d 1150, 1153 (4th Cir.
1985). When review of a magistrate judge's order turns on
a pure issue of law, the district court's review is
“plenary” and ultimately Rule 72(a)'s
“contrary to law” standard is effectively the
same as de novo review. Felman Prod., Inc. v.
Indus. Risk Insurers, No. CIV.A. 3:09-0481, 2010 WL
2944777, at *3 (S.D. W.Va. July 23, 2010) (quoting
Powershare, Inc. v. Syntel, Inc., 597 F.3d 10, 15
(1st Cir. 2010)).
Discoverability of Evidence
scope of discovery is governed by Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 26(b)(1), which provides that unless limited by
Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged
matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense
and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the
importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount
in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant
information, the parties' resources, the importance of
the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden
or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely
benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not
be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. Courts are to interpret the rules of
rules of discovery liberally. See Herbert v.
Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 177 (1979); Hickman v.
Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 501, 507 (1947). In controlling
the scope of discovery, “[d]istrict courts enjoy nearly
unfettered discretion.” Hinkle v. City of
Clarksburg, W.Va., 81 F.3d 416, 426 (4th Cir. 1996).
The Non-Prosecution Agreement
BRMC argues that the terms of the NPA prevent it from having
to disclose any documentation related to the safety audits
performed pursuant to the agreement. Specifically, ...