DFA Asks for Discovery-Related Protective Order in Antitrust Suit

On Tuesday, defendant Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (DFA) asked the Middle District of North Carolina, the court presiding over the antitrust case brought by Food Lion, LLC and Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, Inc. (MDVA), to halt the plaintiffs’ “abuse of the discovery process,” and relieve it from responding to certain requests for document production. DFA’s motion for a protective order argues it “would be impossible for any company to comply with Plaintiffs’ expansive view of discovery under the expedited schedule in this case.”

The lawsuit is a “narrowly focused” antitrust case seeking only injunctive relief relating to the three milk processing plants located in North and South Carolina that DFA acquired out of the Dean Foods bankruptcy, according to DFA’s filing. The motion follows on the heels of the court’s Monday discovery orders concerning the handling of confidential information and sealing procedures in advance of expected discovery.

The core of DFA’s motion concerns the plaintiffs’ “wide-ranging” discovery demands consisting of an additional 46 document requests they served. DFA also accuses the plaintiffs of failing to engage in reciprocal discovery, contrasting its production of 18,000 documents, with the plaintiffs’ production of  “only a few dozen actual business documents” so far.

The defendant argued that though the plaintiffs, “assured this Court that they were aware of the need for ‘discipline’ in discovery to ‘keep the case moving and make sure that the interests of the various parties are protected,’” their “kitchen-sink style discovery requests” are disproportionate to the needs of the case. Specifically, DFA asserted that the requests are overbroad, irrelevant, disproportionate, and lacking particularity.

For example, DFA argued that the plaintiffs’ request for documents relating to milk production decisions made by one of its New Jersey facilities is “far outside the relevant geographic area,” and therefore irrelevant and disproportionate to the needs of the case. In turn, the defendant asked the court to enter a protective order providing that it need not respond to the fifteen requests for production at issue.

DFA is represented by Womble Bond Dickinson, Baker and Miller, and Latham & Watkins. MDVA is represented by Troutman Sanders LLP. Food Lion is represented by Hunton Andrews Kurth.