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Virgin Petroleum-Princess, Inc.

03/24/2003

ELR Citation:33 ELR 47831

An administrative law judge (ALJ) denies an oil company's motion for partial relief from a prehearing order and objection to a sua sponte discovery order in a case involving the company's alleged violation of several underground storage tank regulations. The prehearing order required the company and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to submit prehearing exchange documents pursuant to 40 C.F.R. §22.19(a). Subsequently, each party filed its prehearing exchange. However, along with their prehearing exchange, the company also submitted the instant motion. The company claimed that the request for information in the prehearing order is procedurally improper and an overwhelming burden that would require the reproduction and delivery of “many cartons of documents,” that the interrogatory-style demands for information are unreasonable and beyond the presumptive limits of Fed Rule Civ. Proc. 33(a), and that substantial portions of the requested information are rendered irrelevant and unnecessary by a stipulation and admission of EPA. The ALJ holds that the prehearing order is not procedurally improper. The preamble to the 1999 amendments to 40 C.F.R. §22.19 states that “the Presiding Officer may require additional information from the parties as part of his or her prehearing scheduling order than is provided in §22.19(a).” Here, the Presiding Judge had contemplated that the requests will not unreasonably delay the proceeding or unreasonably burden the parties, and that the information requested has significant probative value on a disputed issue of material fact, without the delays inherent with the motions process. Such information could also reasonably be requested by the Presiding Judge in an order separate from the prehearing exchange, in a prehearing conference, or by order directing a prehearing brief. Furthermore, the requests are not unreasonable, and some of them have been satisfied. Finally, the stipulation agreed to by the company and EPA concerning certain requested information does not render the requested information irrelevant and unnecessary.