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Collins v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

September 30, 2016

JEFF COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
ST. PAUL FIRE AND MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY, A WHOLLY OWNED SUBSIDIARY OF THE TRAVELERS COMPANIES; AND THE TRAVELERS COMPANIES, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL

          DANETA WOLLMANN, United States Magistrate Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         This is a bad faith diversity action brought by Plaintiff, Jeff Collins, against Defendants, St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company and the Traveler's Companies, Inc. (hereinafter collectively referred to as “St. Paul/Travelers”). (Doc. 1). Pending before the court is a motion filed by Collins to compel St. Paul/Travelers to provide certain discovery. (Doc. 38). The presiding district judge, the Honorable Jeffrey L. Viken, Chief Judge, referred this motion to this magistrate judge for a decision. (Doc. 43).

         FACTS

         The facts as pertinent to the pending motion are as follows. Collins sustained a work related injury and underwent multiple back surgeries. St. Paul/Travelers paid for these surgeries, along with total disability benefits. St. Paul/Travelers terminated Collins' disability benefits after his eighth back surgery. Approximately 8½ months later, Collins' physician prescribed another surgical procedure. St. Paul/Travelers required Collins to undergo a medical evaluation by Nolan Segal, M.D. Initially, St. Paul/Travelers denied coverage for the recommended surgery. Collins underwent the surgical procedure which was paid for by his own health insurer. Thereafter, St. Paul/Travelers reimbursed Collins' health insurer. Collins and St. Paul/Travelers negotiated a settlement of his worker's compensation claim.

         Collins thereafter initiated this civil action against St. Paul/Travelers, alleging bad faith denial of his medical care (surgery), denial of temporary total disability benefits, and conditioning a term of the settlement upon Collins releasing a bad faith claim. St. Paul/Travelers denies that it acted in bad faith and asserts the affirmative defense of failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether Plaintiff Has “Met and Conferred” With Defendant

         “On notice to other parties and all affected persons, a party may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery. The motion must include a certification that the movant has in good faith conferred or attempted to confer with the person or party failing to make disclosure or discovery in an effort to obtain it without court action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1).

         St. Paul/Travelers argues that Collins failed to meet his burden to meet and confer because the January 6, 2016, meeting was held prior to Collins filing his amended complaint and while St.Paul/Travelers was supplementing its discovery responses. (Doc. 44, p. 4).

         The moving party's motion may contain the equivalent of this certification in which the attorney “confirms that it has attempted in good faith to resolve this discovery dispute [with opposing counsel]” prior to filing the motion. See Highmark, Inc. v. Northwest Pipe Co., No. CIV 10-5089-JLV, 2012 WL 997007, *4 (D.S.D. Mar. 23, 2012).

         “The purpose of the meet and confer requirement is to force litigants to attempt to resolve, or at least narrow, the disputed issues to prevent the unnecessary waste of time and effort on any given motion.” Robinson v. Napolitano, No. CIV. 08-4084, 2009 WL 1586959, *3 (D.S.D. June 4 2009) (internal quotations omitted) (citing Alexander v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 186 F.R.D. 197, 199 (D.D.C. 1999)).

         The parties' briefing and exhibits set forth the actions taken by the parties which Collins' believes met the meet and confer requirements. The court will accept this description as equivalent to the required certification and finds that Collins has satisfied its duty to confer in good faith with counsel for St.Paul/Travelers to try to work out these differences before filing the instant motion. Therefore, the court will consider the motion on its merits.

         II. Whether the Discovery Must be Provided Scope of discovery

         The scope of discovery for civil cases is set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) which provides as follows:

Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within the scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

FED. R. CIV. P. 26(b)(1).

         “A party seeking discovery is merely required to make a threshold showing of relevance, which is more relaxed than the showing required for relevance in the context of admissibility.” Klynsma v. Hydradyne, LLC, No. CIV. 13-5016-JLV, 2015 WL 5773703, *16 (D.S.D. Sept. 30, 2015) (citing Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 350-51 (1978)). The party resisting discovery must show specifically how each request is irrelevant or unduly burdensome. Klynsma, 2015 WL 5773703 at *16 (citing St Paul Reinsurance Co., 198 F.R.D. at 512).

         The scope of discovery under Rule 26(b) is extremely broad. See 8 Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2007, 36-37 (1970)(hereinafter “Wright & Miller”). The reason for the broad scope of discovery is that "[m]utual knowledge of all the relevant facts gathered by both parties is essential to proper litigation. To that end, either party may compel the other to disgorge whatever facts he has in his possession." 8 Wright & Miller, ' 2007, 39 (quoting Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 507-08, 67 S.Ct. 385, 392, 91 L.Ed.2d 451 (1947)). The Federal Rules distinguish between discoverability and admissibility of evidence. FED. R. CIV. P. 26(b)(1), 32, and 33(a)(2) & (c). Therefore, the rules of evidence assume the task of keeping out incompetent, unreliable, or prejudicial evidence at trial. These considerations are not inherent barriers to discovery, however.

         “Relevancy is to be broadly construed for discovery issues and is not limited to the precise issues set out in the pleadings. Relevancy ... encompass[es] ‘any matter that could bear on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.'” E.E.O.C. v. Woodmen of the World Life Ins. Society, 2007 WL 1217919 at *1 (D. Neb. March 15, 2007) (quoting Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978)). The party seeking discovery must make a “threshold showing of relevance before production of information, which does not reasonably bear on the issues in the case, is required.” Id. (citing Hofer v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 981 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir. 1993)). “Mere speculation that information might be useful will not suffice; litigants seeking to compel discovery must describe with a reasonable degree of specificity, the information they hope to obtain and its importance to their case.” Id. (citing Cervantes v. Time, Inc., 464 F.2d 986, 994 (8th Cir. 1972).

         Discoverable information itself need not be admissible at trial; rather, the defining question is whether it is within the scope of discovery. See FED. R. CIV. P. 26(b)(1). Additionally, the court may limit the frequency and extent of discovery. See FED. R. CIV. P. 26(b)(2); see also Roberts v. Shawnee Mission Ford, Inc., 352 F.3d 358, 361 (8th Cir. 2003) (“The rule vests the district court with discretion to limit discovery if it determines, inter alia, the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.”); Continental Illinois Nat'l Bank & Trust Co. of Chicago v. Caton, 136 F.R.D. 682, 684-85 (D.

         Kan. 1991) (“All discovery requests are a burden on the party who must respond thereto. Unless the task of producing or answering is unusual, undue or extraordinary, the general rule requires the entity answering or producing the documents to bear that burden.”).

         A. Whether the court should overrule all of defendant's boilerplate “General Objections.”

         In both St. Paul/Traveler's Interrogatory Answers and Responses to Request for Production of Documents, Defendants set forth a plethora of “General Objections” which are then specifically incorporated into each answer or response. (Doc. 39-3, p. 1-2; Doc. 39-4, p. 1-2). The stated grounds for the 14 general objections used in both the Answers and Responses include the following: overly broad, unduly burdensome, harassing, vague, ambiguous, irrelevant, undefined terms, attorney-client or work product privileges, seeks information from non-parties, seeks information outside the possession and control of defendant, not causally related to the handling of plaintiff's claim, trade secrets, 3rd party plaintiffs are not entitled to relief, and its reservation of right to supplement or modify its answers or responses.

         In defense of these general objections, St. Paul/Travelers argues that it was merely preserving its objections. Additionally, it argues that these objection were made, in part, to point out the expansive scope of discovery sought by Collins. Neither of these reasons form the basis to either preserve any valid objection or withhold information. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a party objecting to discovery to show specifically how each discovery request is irrelevant or otherwise not subject to ...


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