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Reibert v. Csaa Fire & Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

January 3, 2018

RICHATD REIBERT, and NORMA LOSORNIO, Plaintiffs,
v.
CSAA FIRE & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign for profit insurance corporation, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JODI F. JAYNE, MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel (ECF No. 22), wherein Plaintiffs seek discovery regarding Defendant's use of and reliance upon a company known as Hancock Claims Consulting (“Hancock”). Due to the upcoming discovery deadline, the motion was briefed on an expedited basis. The Court conducted a hearing on December 28, 2017.

         I. Background

         In their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that the roof of their residence was damaged in a wind storm on April 26, 2016. Plaintiffs submitted a claim to Defendant CSAA Fire & Casualty Insurance Company (“CSAA”) under their homeowners' insurance policy. Plaintiffs assert claims under Oklahoma law for breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. When Plaintiffs filed the motion to compel, the parties had completed a significant amount of discovery. The following background facts are based on evidence submitted in support of briefing on the motion to compel or answers to the Court's questions during oral argument.

         Following an initial investigation of Plaintiffs' claim by independent adjuster Olga Killingsworth (“Killingsworth”), Killingsworth found hail and wind damage to Plaintiffs' roof. CSAA questioned whether hail damage was covered and instructed Killingsworth to conduct further investigation of the wind damage. For purposes of the second inspection, Killingsworth employed Hancock, which is known as a “ladder assist” company. Blake Clifton (“Clifton”) was the Hancock technician sent to Plaintiffs' home. During discovery, Plaintiffs gathered evidence that could potentially show that Clifton lacked any relevant certifications or qualifications to inspect roofs for wind/hail damage, that Clifton spent twenty minutes on Plaintiffs' roof, and that Clifton submitted a one-page report finding no hail damage, no wind damage, and improper installation of shingles. CSAA's Final Loss Report provides:

REINSPECTION 6/7/2016 - met with member and Hancock ladder assist due to 14/12 pitch of the left and right main slopes. Per Hancock report - “No wind damage was found on slopes. Damage was found on some soft metals. Roof was in good condition. Improper install of shingles was found on slopes.” Hail damaged items were removed from the estimate due to measurable hail was found at the residence prior the policy inception. Estimate provided for interior damages due to possible wind driven rain.

Def.'s Resp. to Mot. to Compel at Ex. 5, ECF No. 34-5. CSAA denied Plaintiffs' claim. CSAA contends it first learned that Clifton lacked the necessary qualifications during Clifton's deposition and that it reasonably relied on Hancock's representations on its website regarding its technicians' qualifications.

         Following the depositions of Clifton and others, Plaintiffs sought additional discovery from CSAA. In response to these additional requests, CSAA stated that it utilized Hancock's services on a total of approximately 460 wind and hail damage claims in the State of Oklahoma in the past three years. CSAA objected to other requests on grounds of relevance, vagueness, and undue burden. Plaintiffs now seek to compel responses to the following discovery requests:

Interrogatory 9: Of the wind claims wherein CSAA Fire & Casualty Company utilized Hancock Claims Consultants in the past three years in the State of Oklahoma, identify the number of claims where Hancock Claims Consultants found zero or minimal damages[1] to the shingled roof surface.
Interrogatory 10: Of the hail claims wherein CSAA Fire & Casualty Company utilized Hancock Claims Consultants in the past three years in the State of Oklahoma, identify the number of claims where Hancock Claims Consultants found zero or minimal damages to the shingled roof surface.[2]
Interrogatory 11: Of the wind claims in the past three years in the State of Oklahoma, identify the number of claims where CSAA Fire & Casualty Company found zero or minimal damages to the shingled roof surface.
Interrogatory 12: Of the hail claims in the past three years in the State of Oklahoma, identify the number of claims where CSAA Fire & Casualty Company found zero or minimal damages to the shingled roof surface.
Request for Production 32: Produce all reports for all inspections done by Hancock Claims Consultants on behalf of CSAA Fire & Casualty Company or other affiliated company during the past two years.
Request for Production 33: Produce all photographs for all inspections done by Hancock Claims Consultants on behalf of CSAA Fire & Casualty Company or other affiliated company during the past two years.

Pl.'s Mot. to Compel at 8-10 (footnotes added), ECF No. 22.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 1 is the guidepost for resolution of discovery disputes. It provides that the rules of civil procedure should be “construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Fed. R Civ. P. 1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) governs the specific dispute in this case. As amended effective December 1, 2015 (“2015 Amendment”), Rule 26(b)(1) provides:

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 this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

         For purpose of any requested information, courts must inquire: “(1) is the information privileged; (2) is it relevant to a claim or defense; and (3) is it proportional to the needs of the case.” Gordon v. T.G.R. Logistics, Inc., 321 F.R.D. 401, 402 (D. Wyo. 2017). In this case, CSAA disputes the relevance and proportionality of the requested discovery.

         A. Relevance Standard

         Rule 26(b)(1) permits discovery “relevant to any party's claim or defense.” Following the 2015 Amendment, “relevance is still to be ‘construed broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on' any party's claim or defense.” United States ex rel. Shamesh v. CA, Inc., 314 F.R.D. 1, 8 (D.D.C. 2016) (quoting Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978)). Lower courts within the Tenth Circuit have endorsed this broad view of relevance following the 2015 Amendment. See Benavidez v. Sandia Nat'l Labs., 319 F.R.D. 696, 717 (D.N.M. 2017) (adopting above-quoted standard for analyzing whether discovery is “relevant” to party's claim or defense); Rowan v. Sunflower Elec. Power Corp., No. 15-CV-9227-JWL-TJJ, 2016 WL 3745680, at *2 (D. Kan. July 13, 2016) (same); Taylor v. Hy-Vee, Inc., No. 15-9718-JTM, 2016 WL 7405669, at *5 n.36 (D. Kan. Dec. 22, 2016) (same); see also Henry v. Morgan's Hotel Group, Inc., 2016 WL 303114 at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 25, 2016) (same). Courts ...


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