Superior Court of California

County of Los Angeles

 

Maria Julia Villatoro Machado, et al.,

 

 

 

Plaintiffs,

 

Case No.

 

19STCV22031
 

v.

   

[Tentative] Ruling

 

FCA US, LLC, et al.,  

 

 

Defendants.

 

   
       

Hearing Date: February 9, 2021

Department 49, Judge Stuart M. Rice

            Motion for Entry of a Protective Order

Moving Party:             Defendants FCA US, LLC and Los Angeles Motor Cars Inc. dba Los Angeles Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram

Responding Party:      Plaintiffs Maria Julia Villatoro Machado and Ivan Dario Ramirez Tobar

Ruling:            Defendants’ Motion for Entry of a Protective Order is granted.  

Defendants FCA US, LLC and Los Angeles Motor Cars Inc. (“Defendants”) move for entry of the Los Angeles County Superior Court Model Stipulation and Protective Order in this case and limit the production of documents according to the terms and conditions of the LASC Model Protective Order.

            On May 28, 2020, Defendant FCA US sent a Protective Order to Plaintiffs based on the LASC Model Stipulation and protective order. (Chung Decl. ¶.) On June 5, 2020, Plaintiffs emailed Defendant an alternative protective order. (Id. ¶ 4.) Defendant responded that same day that it would not enter into Plaintiff’s protective order. (Id. ¶5.) On June 11, 2020, Plaintiffs responded that they would not agree to enter into Defendant’s protective order.

            An Informal Discovery Conference was held on August 6, 2020, but the parties did not reach an agreement.

            Defendants argue that “FCA US, as a major automotive manufacturer, is entitled to have its confidential information protected from disclosure to the public and that its document production proceed in a limited fashion. By proposing to use the LASC Model Protective Order in this case, FCA US intended to use a Protective Order that is commonly used and familiar to the Court so that discovery can be streamlined and there will be clarity regarding the production and use of confidential documents throughout this case and at trial.” (Motion 6:9-15) It is apparent that Defendants seek a protective order to prevent public disclosure of trade secret and confidential internal documents. (Reply 2:13-16.)

            In opposition, Plaintiffs argue that “Defendant has not met its burden of establishing that Plaintiffs’ discovery requests present an ‘unwarranted annoyance, embarrassment, or oppression, or undue burden and expense.’” (Opp. (2:1-2.) This argument misses the mark as burden or oppression imposed by discovery are not at issue here. Plaintiffs further argue that the information sought by Plaintiffs’ unidentified “discovery” is directly relevant to their claims. Again, this argument appears to pertain to whether documents should be produced during discovery. Defendant is not presently seeking to withhold production of documents in response to discovery demands. Defendants are seeking entry of a protective order based on the LASC model protective order to govern discovery moving forward. Therefore, Plaintiffs’ argument that Defendant FCA US, LLC cannot substantiate its trade secret designations is irrelevant for purposes of determining the merits of this motion.

            Finally, Plaintiffs argue that if their own protective order is not entered into, the Defendants’ protective order should be modified because: (1) it imposes an undue and improper obligation on Plaintiffs when a dispute arises as to the confidential nature of any particular document, (2) the proposed stipulated protective order improperly requires that the documents must be filed “under seal” by default, and (3) Plaintiffs seek to modify the proposed protective order to allow the dissemination and use of the documents produced under the protective order between other similar cases litigated by Plaintiffs’ counsel.

            Plaintiffs do not articulate a justification for their modifications. First, the proposed protective order does not shift the burden to Plaintiffs. Rather, it provides that should Plaintiffs object to a confidential designation, Defendant must move the court seeking to uphold the designation. (Chung Decl. Exh. 1, ¶ 6.)

Second, the proposed protective order provides that

[w]ith respect to discovery motions or other proceedings not governed by California Rules of Court, Rules 2.550 and 2.551, the following shall apply: If confidential materials or information derived from confidential materials are to be submitted to, or otherwise disclosed to the Court in connection with discovery motions and proceedings, the same shall be separately filed under seal with the clerk of the Court in an envelope marked: “CONFIDENTIAL – FILED UNDER SEAL PURSUANT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER AND WITHOUT ANY FURTHER SEALING ORDER REQUIRED.”

(Id. ¶ 17.)

This provision, which is included with the LASC model protective order, is not contrary to law as Plaintiffs contend. California Rules of Court, Rule 2.550(a)(3) provides that “[t]hese rules do not apply to discovery motions and records filed or lodged in connection with discovery motions or proceedings. However, the rules do apply to discovery materials that are used at trial or submitted as a basis for adjudication of matters other than discovery motions or proceedings.” Therefore, the rules pertaining to the filing of documents under seal do not apply in the context of discovery proceedings pretrial. Plaintiffs’ argument that “Defendant’s proposed stipulated order seeks to circumvent these established requirements,” when such protective order is based on the LASC model protective order, is unavailing. (Opp. 4:21.)

Third, Plaintiffs provide no grounds for their request to modify the protective order to allow for Plaintiffs’ counsel to use the relevant documents in other cases they litigate. While Plaintiffs cite to authority holding that one trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing dissemination of the documents to other counsel in similar cases, Plaintiffs set forth no argument to further the “public policies favoring the exchange of information, i.e., full disclosure and efficiency in the trial system.” (Raymond Handling Concepts Corp. v. Superior Court (1995) 39 Cal. App. 4th 584, 588.) In reply, Defendant notes that “Plaintiffs have not put forth any parameters about which cases it would like to disseminate the confidential documents to from this instant case.” (Reply 5:13-14.) Indeed, there is no indication of what dissemination is intended or how such documents would be used.

The proposed protective order is reasonable and appropriate given the subject matter of the parties’ dispute. The court is perplexed as to why this issue is before the court as it has been addressed several times with these and other law firms involved in Song-Beverly cases and the sought Protective Oorder benefits both sides and has been adopted in countless other cases. Plaintiffs have not raised a viable argument in opposition thereto, but prematurely raised arguments to nonexistent objections to discovery requests. Defendant’s motion for entry of a protective order is granted.

Defendants are ordered to provide notice of this ruling.

Date: February 9, 2021  
  Honorable Stuart M. Rice

Judge of the Superior Court