District Court Rejected Reconsideration of Discovery Ruling Requiring Disclosure of Flight Data In Connection with Plan Columbia


Venancio Aguasanta Arias, et al. v. Dyncorp, et al., Civil Action No. 01-1908 (D.D.C. 2012), denies a motion for reconsideration of a discovery order in an international litigation.   The underlying case involves allegations relating to “Plan Columbia”, where the government allegedly hired Dyncorp to assist “in illicit drug crop eradication by spraying fumigants from airplanes onto cocaine and heroin poppy plantations in Columbia”.  The claims in the case are by plaintiffs who allegedly were harmed by the fumigant.  The plaintiffs are 3,200 citizens and residents of Ecuador, who brought claims under the Federal Alien Tort Claims Act as well as under various international and state common law torts.

Initially, the plaintiffs discovery demands for flight data was denied as irrelevant.  This the District Court rejected on the ground that such data could “tend to corroborate or dispute accounts from the pilots or accounts from the victims or accounts from potential eyewitnesses about the spraying”. 

The motion for reconsideration argued that the District Court erred in granting the discovery because, said the defendants, a higher than normal standard should have been employed in testing the discovery demands because the discovery may contain sensitive data.  The District Court was unwilling to find that it has overlooked material fact or law in its earlier determination.

Here, though, the defendants also sought an interlocutory appeal to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, since, according to the defendants, the District Court’s order implicated “how courts should balance . . . national security concerns against judicial rules of discovery”.  Hence, interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. sec. 1292(b) was warranted.  The District Court rejected this contention as well.  There is a strong federal policy against piecemeal appeals “ and against obstructing or impeding an ongoing judicial proceeding by interlocutory appeals”.  The defendants had not identified any split in relevant authority or any controlling issue of law.  The motion for interlocutory appeal was denied.


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