Lighting the Candle on Proportionality

In a products liability case for an “exploding” candle, the Plaintiff brought a motion to compel Bath and Body Works to produce information on ALL of the candles they sold. Problem: that is a lot of candles, including different types and fragrances. Lakes v. Bath & Body Works, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10861, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 23, 2018).

Magistrate Judge Gregory Hollows engaged in thoughtful proportionality analysis to resolve the issue what was “too much” for the Defendant to produce. The ultimate goal is to allow “discovery of that which is needed to prove a claim or defense, but eliminate unnecessary or wasteful discovery.” Lakes, at *3-4, citing John Roberts, 2015 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary (Dec. 31 2015).

The Court took the position that proportionality requires input from both sides to determine the correct balancing. Lakes, at *4. The Court looked to the Plaintiff to offer expert input on whether their case theory on the injury was caused by faulty design or manufacturing defect, but received nothing. Lakes, at *6. The Defendant demonstrated there were many different candle designs and there was little to be learned from broad discovery other than generalities. Id.

The Court limited the scope of discovery to all triple wick candles regardless of fragrance to 2005 and later, as that appeared the most relevant to the Plaintiff’s ultimate burden of proof. Lakes, at *6. The Court also limited discovery for consumer complaints to 2005 and later for triple or three wick candles. Lakes, at *7.

Bow Tie Thoughts

The word “all” is perhaps the most dangerous in civil discovery. No one really wants “all” records and email. That is how review databases swell into the terabytes and hosting fees that exceed the value of the case. When a defendant has candles that could go into the millions, seeking discovery for ones of similar type to one at issue in the lawsuit is an excellent starting point for discovery.

Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg from 2013 to 2016 and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.