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Terry v. Health Care Service Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 23, 2019

CHRISTINA and JEFFREY TERRY, husband and wife, each individually and on behalf of their minor child, G. TERRY, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
HEALTH CARE SERVICE CORPORATION, a mutual legal reserve company, d/b/a BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD OF OKLAHOMA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBIN J. CAUTHRON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are: (1) Defendant's First Motion for Protective Order (Dkt. No. 39); (2) Defendant's Motion to Compel (Dkt. No. 50); (3) Defendant's Motion to Stay Proceedings (Dkt. No. 57); (4) Defendant's Motion to Deem Admitted Its First Set of Requests for Admission (“RFAs”) (Dkt. No. 58); (5) Defendant's Second Motion for Protective Order (Dkt. No. 60); (6) Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File a Supplemental Response Brief (Dkt. No. 66); (7) Plaintiffs' Application Under F.R.C.P. 56(d) for Additional Time to Respond to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 73); and (8) Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel (Dkt. No. 75). All matters are fully briefed and now at issue.

         I. Background

         The basic facts of this case have been recalled many times, and need not be belabored here. In short, on January 15, 2014, Plaintiffs had to have their newborn child medevacked to the Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center. (Dkt. No. 1, p. 3.) The bill for this flight was approximately $50, 000, and Defendant-Plaintiffs' insurance provider-eventually determined it was only responsible for just under $5, 000 of this, leaving Plaintiffs responsible for the remaining $45, 000. (Id. at 4-5.) As a result, Plaintiffs believe Defendant not only breached the insurance contract, but also engaged in bad faith and fraudulent conduct as well.

         Upon the Court's partial denial of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, the parties have been engaged in discovery. Up until now, the parties have conducted discovery only on the merits of Plaintiffs' individual claims, even though Plaintiffs assert class allegations against Defendant as well. The Court has limited discovery to these issues thus far to sort out whether Plaintiffs may even maintain an individual claim against Defendant before assessing any class allegations. At the close of the period reserved for merits discovery, Defendant simultaneously moved for summary judgment and to stay discovery in the case during the pendency of summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 56 & 57.) Defendant's stay request was originally granted, but later lifted by the Court.[1] (Dkt. Nos. 51 & 69.) Notably, both parties have discovery motions pending before the Court. Most significant, however, is Plaintiffs' motion for more time to conduct additional discovery to respond to Defendant's summary judgment motion.

         II. Discussion

         a. Plaintiffs' Motion for Extension of Time (Dkt. No. 73)

         Plaintiffs contend that they need time to conduct additional discovery in order to respond to Defendant's summary judgment motion. In support, they provide a lengthy list of matters that they purportedly need to further explore before addressing Defendant's motion. (See Dkt. No. 73, pp. 8-12.) Moreover, they allege that they have unsuccessfully attempted to obtain this information from Defendant. (Id. at 12-14.) Defendant alleges, however, that Plaintiffs have all they need to respond to its motion, and that they have not made the requisite showing for their motion.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d), when a “nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition [to a motion for summary judgment], ” a district court may, in its discretion, (1) defer considering a motion for summary judgment or deny it; (2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or (3) issue any other appropriate order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d); see Jensen v. Redevelopment Agency, 998 F.2d 1550, 1553-54 (10th Cir. 1993). “The general principle of Rule 56(f) [now 56(d)] is that summary judgment should be refused where the nonmoving party has not had the opportunity to discover information that is essential to [its] opposition.” Price ex rel. Price v. W. Resources, Inc., 232 F.3d 779, 783 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         “Unless dilatory or lacking in merit, ” a party's 56([d]) application “should be liberally treated.” Jensen, 998 F.2d at 1553-54 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         The Court finds that Plaintiffs have adequately shown that they need discovery on a range of fronts to respond to Defendant's motion. The Court thus finds that they have met their burden under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d), and that their motion for an extension should be granted. Plaintiffs will receive an additional 90 days to conduct discovery pertaining to Defendant's summary judgment motion.

         b. Defendant's Motion to Stay Proceedings (Dkt. No. 57)

         The Court will now revisit Defendant's request to stay merits discovery pending the resolution of its summary judgment motion.

         District courts retain the “discretion to issue a stay pending the outcome of a dispositive motion.” CEP Mid-Continent, LLC v. Turkey Creek, LLC, No. 09-CV-350-CVE-FHM, 2010 WL 455128, at 1 (N.D. Okla. Feb. 2, 2010); see also Coastal States Gas Corp. v. Dep't of Energy, 84 F.R.D. 278, 282 (D. Del. 1979) (“It is within the sound discretion of the Court to postpone discovery of issues relating to the merits of a case pending resolution of potentially dispositive motions.”).

         The Court finds that a stay of discovery is inappropriate here. Notably, there are a number of discovery motions pending before the Court. These have been initiated by both parties, and should be resolved. Moreover, the Court finds that merits discovery needs to take place-even if not directly relevant to Defendant's pending summary judgment motion. In line with the Court's finding above, however, Defendant may move for a stay at the close of the 90-day window. Nevertheless, the Court will permit discovery regarding the merits of Plaintiffs' claims to move forward during this time.[2]

         c. Defendant's First Motion for Protective Order (Dkt. No. 39)

         Defendant alleges that the items listed in Plaintiffs' subpoena are beyond the scope of permissible discovery (by seeking class discovery) and not relevant. Plaintiffs, however, maintain that these items are relevant-particularly to their bad faith claim-and permissible.

         Courts generally use a broad definition of relevance when determining whether discovery is permissible, because discovery “is designed to help define and clarify the issues.” Gomez v. Martin Marietta Corp., 50 F.3d 1511, 1519 (10th Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Yet Rule 26 does not authorize unlimited discovery. See Murphy v. Deloitte & Touche Grp. Ins. Plan, 619 F.3d 1151, 1163 (10th Cir. 2010). Moreover, the mere fact that a plaintiff offers a “‘broad theory of the case'” does not automatically justify equally broad discovery, “unless the discovery is relevant to the plaintiff's actual claims or defenses.” In re Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., 568 F.3d 1180, 1193 (10th Cir. 2009). In other words, discovery requests must generally be proportionate to the needs of the case. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Additionally, district courts retain the discretion to place limits on discovery beyond the federal rules. Id. (“[u]nless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: . . .”).

         The Court finds that most of the subpoena is relevant and does not target class discovery-it seeks discovery pertaining to Plaintiffs' bad faith claim. (See Dkt. No. 36, p. 8.) The exception to this finding is item (3) in the subpoena, seeking the production of “[a]ny correspondence sent by RMH to BCBSOK on behalf of a BCBSOK insured concerning an appeal, including but not limited to emails, documents, letters.” (Id.) The Court finds that only this item is beyond the limited scope of discovery permitted at this time. Accordingly, Defendant's First Motion for Protective Order should be granted in part and denied in part.

         d. Defendant's Second Motion for Protective Order (Dkt. No. 60)

         Defendant objects to Plaintiffs' Notice to Take Deposition (Dkt. No. 53) as inconsistent with their prior agreements. Defendant further urges the Court to defer this matter until the conclusion of the summary judgment motion. Plaintiffs maintain, however, that Defendant misrepresents their agreement and has not presented good cause for a protective order. Indeed, “[i]t is the party seeking the protective order who has the burden to show good cause for a protective order.” Velasquez v. Frontier Med. Inc., 229 F.R.D. 197, 200 (D.N.M. 2005).

         The Court finds that Defendant has failed to present good cause for a protective order. At most, the correspondence between the parties shows that there was likely some miscommunication and a failure to agree regarding what topics were appropriate for Defendant's corporate representative testimony (see Dkt. Nos. 76-2 & 60-1), but this is improper grounds to shield Defendant from producing a corporate representative at all. If Defendant takes issue with any particular deposition topics, it should lodge those objections specifically. Moreover, in light of the Court's denial of Defendant's stay request, there is no need to defer this matter during the pendency of Defendant's summary judgment motion. Accordingly, the Court finds that Defendant's Second Motion for Protective Order should be denied.

         e. Motion to Deem Admitted Its First Set of RFAs (Dkt. No. 58)

         Before addressing the merits of this motion, the Court notes that Plaintiffs have moved for leave to submit their sur-reply to the Court. (Dkt. No. 66.) The Court finds that Plaintiffs' motion should be ...


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