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Ward v. Liberty Insurance Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

February 20, 2018

JENNI R. WARD, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court is Non-Party Medical Evaluation Specialists, Inc.'s (MES) Motion to Quash Plaintiff's Document and Deposition Subpoenas [Doc. No. 52]. Plaintiff has filed her response in opposition [Doc. No. 59] and MES has replied [Doc. No. 65]. The matter is fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that MES's motion should be granted.


         Plaintiff was involved in a car accident in which she sustained severe injuries. At all times relevant hereto, Plaintiff was insured under an insurance policy issued by Defendant Liberty Insurance Company (Liberty). Liberty requested that Plaintiff undergo an independent medical examination (IME), to which MES acted as an intermediary. MES provides IME services to the insurance, corporate, legal, and government sectors. MES referred Plaintiff's matter to a physician and assisted in the review of her medical bills.

         Plaintiff contends that Defendant (1) breached the policy by wrongfully denying her demand for uninsured motorist (UM) benefits, and (2) violated its duty of good faith and fair dealing by (a) refusing UM coverage without first obtaining a valid rejection, (b) failing to conduct an adequate investigation of Plaintiff's claim, (c) relying on the opinion of a biased doctor to deny her claim, and (d) creating obstacles for Plaintiff as a means to deny her claim. With respect to her contention that the reviewing physician was biased, Plaintiff issued a subpoena requesting that MES produce documents regarding, inter alia, its policies and procedures concerning IMEs (the Documents Subpoena) and another seeking the deposition of a MES corporate representative (the Deposition Subpoena) to testify on virtually the same topics. MES moves to quash the subpoenas on the grounds they seek proprietary information, are overly burdensome, and irrelevant to the issues in this litigation. The parties met and conferred to resolve the matters without court intervention, but have reached an impasse.


         A subpoena served on a third party pursuant to Rule 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is considered discovery within the meaning of the rules. Rice v. United States, 164 F.R.D. 556, 556-57 (N.D. Okla. 1995). Accordingly, considerations of both relevance and proportionality govern the subpoenas at issue. Pursuant to Rule 45, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[a] party or attorney responsible for issuing and serving a subpoena must take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense on a person subject to the subpoena.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(1). Rule 45(d)(3) authorizes the Court to quash a subpoena under specified circumstances, including when the subpoena requires disclosure of privileged or protected materials, when an exception or waiver does not apply, or when the subpoena subjects a person to undue burden.

         Moreover, Rule 26(b)(1), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, sets forth the scope of discovery and provides:

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.

Fed. R. Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Under this standard, “relevance” has been broadly defined to include “any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter[s] that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.” United States v. Childs, No. CR-09-146-D, 2018 WL 775018, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Feb. 7, 2018) (citations omitted). The Advisory Committee Notes for the 2000 Amendments to Rule 26 direct the parties and courts to “focus on the actual claims and defenses involved in the action” in determining relevance for purposes of discovery. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 Advisory Committee Notes, 2000 Amendments, Subdivision (b)(1).

         The burden of establishing grounds for quashing the subpoena falls on the moving party, with the party seeking to quash a subpoena carrying a particularly heavy burden as opposed to one seeking only limited protection. In re Coordinated Pretrial Proceedings in Petroleum Prod. Antitrust Litig., 669 F.2d 620, 623 (10th Cir. 1982); S.E.C. v. Goldstone, 301 F.R.D. 593, 646 (D.N.M. 2014). The objecting party must submit “a particular and specific demonstration of fact, as distinguished from stereotyped and conclusory statements.” Gulf Oil Co. v. Bernard, 452 U.S. 89, 102 n. 16 (1981) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).[1]



         As an initial matter, Plaintiff contends MES's motion is untimely since it was filed eighteen days after the prescribed date of production (the date of compliance listed on the Documents Subpoena was June 26, 2017; MES's motion was not filed until July 14, 2017). Rule 45 requires that an objection to a subpoena be made “before the earlier of the time specified for compliance or 14 days after the subpoena is served.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(2)(B).[2] Conversely, the rule requires that motions to quash only be timely filed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(2)(B)(3). “Timely” is not defined in Rule 45. The term was adopted in 1991 and replaced the previous phrase, ...

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