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Shah v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

May 22, 2018

MUKESH R. SHAH, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

          James L. Graham Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ELIZABETH A. PRESTON DEAVERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses (“Motion to Compel”) (ECF No. 49), Defendant The Paul Revere Life Insurance Company's (“Paul Revere”) Brief in Opposition to Motion of Plaintiff to Compel Discovery Responses (ECF No. 51), and Plaintiff's Reply in Support of Motion to Compel (ECF No. 52). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion to Compel is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I.

         A. Factual Allegations

         In 1991, New England Mutual Life Insurance Company (“New England Mutual”) issued an individual policy of disability income insurance to Plaintiff (“the Policy”). (Amended Complaint, ¶ 5, ECF No. 13 (“Am. Compl.”).) Defendant, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“Met Life”), assumed the obligations under the terms of the Policy. (Id. at ¶ 6.)[1]

         Under the Policy, Defendants are obligated to pay to Plaintiff, an interventional cardiologist, benefits for loss due to “injury” or “sickness” until Plaintiff reaches the age of 65 (“the Policy”). (Amended Complaint, ¶¶ 5, 6, 9-10, ECF No. 13 (“Am. Compl.”).) Subject to certain terms and conditions, the rider under the Policy obligates Defendants to pay a maximum monthly amount due to “injury, ” but requires Defendants to pay Plaintiff only “a fraction” of that amount if Plaintiff's disability is due to “sickness.” (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 21.)

         On or around September 12, 2013, Plaintiff became disabled due to pain in his shoulders and cervical spine. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.) Thereafter, Plaintiff gave notice of his condition and claim under the Policy. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19.) On June 5, 2014, Defendants notified Plaintiff that his claim for Total Disability Benefits was approved due to cervical spine neuropathy and shoulder pain. (Id. at ¶ 20.) On December 1, 2014, Defendants notified Plaintiff that they classified his condition as a “sickness” rather than an “injury, ” significantly decreasing the monthly benefits Plaintiff was to receive. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-23.) After Plaintiff requested a review of that decision by an Appeals Specialist, Defendants notified Plaintiff on May 6, 2015, that the decision that his condition was due to a sickness was correct. (Id. at ¶ 24.)

         B. Procedural Background

         On November 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant action, alleging that Defendants wrongfully determined that Plaintiff's disability was due to sickness in order to avoid paying Plaintiff the maximum monthly amount and asserting claims for breach of contract, declaratory judgment, and bad faith. (ECF No. 13.) On January 25, 2017, the Court issued a scheduling order pursuant to the provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) and ordered, inter alia, that all discovery be completed by June 2, 2017, and that dispositive motions be filed by June 30, 2017. (ECF No. 10.) Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint on March 10, 2017. (ECF No. 13.) The Court later denied Defendants' requests to bifurcate the merits of Plaintiff's claims for trial, but by agreement of the parties, a separate trial phase for punitive damages will be held should the jury find that punitive damages are appropriate. (ECF No. 34 at 4.) The Court also denied Defendants' request to bifurcate discovery. (ECF No. 41.) The deadlines for completing discovery and for filing dispositive motions were ultimately extended to February 15, 2018, and March 15, 2018, respectively. (ECF No. 48.)[2]

         On December 27, 2016, Plaintiff served his First Set of Combined Requests for Admissions, Interrogatories, and Requests for Production of Documents. (ECF No. 49-1.) Defendants served responses and objections to the first set of discovery on February 7, 2017. (ECF Nos. 49-2, 49-3, 49-4.) On April 7, 2017, Plaintiff sent a letter to defense counsel, advising that Defendants' discovery responses and/or objections were deficient. (ECF No. 49-5.) On May 25, 2017, Plaintiff again advised via letter that Defendants' discovery responses were not sufficient. (ECF No. 49-6.) On June 5, 2017, Defendants responded to the letters of April 7, 2017, and May 25, 2017, contending that its discovery responses were sufficient and advising that they “would be more than happy to discuss any of these issues if need be.” (ECF No. 51-1 at PAGEID # 451.)

         Defendants responded to Plaintiff's Second Set of Requests for Production of Documents on June 12, 2017. (ECF No. 49-7.) Defendants later responded to Plaintiff's Third Set of Requests for Production of Documents on October 10, 2017. (ECF No. 49-8.) On November 15, 2017, Defendants responded to two letters sent by Plaintiff regarding the sufficiency of Defendants' discovery responses and objections. (ECF No. 51-2.)

         On January 24, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Motion to Compel, seeking an order compelling responses or supplemental responses to thirteen different discovery requests and representing that he has exhausted all extrajudicial efforts. (ECF No. 49.) Defendants have opposed the Motion to Compel (ECF No. 51), and with the filing of Plaintiff's Reply (ECF No. 52), this matter is ripe for resolution.

         II.

         A. Exhaustion

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 authorizes a party to file a motion for an order compelling discovery if another party fails to respond to discovery requests if the party moving for an order compelling disclosure or discovery “include[s] 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); see also S.D. Ohio Civ. R. 37.1 (“[M]otions . . . relating to discovery shall not be filed in this Court . . . unless counsel have first exhausted among themselves all extrajudicial means for resolving the differences.”).

         Here, Plaintiff attaches a certification, averring that counsel has exhausted all extrajudicial efforts to resolve the discovery disputes. (Affidavit of J. Stephen Teetor, ECF No. 49-9.) Defendants, however, deny that Plaintiff has exhausted all extrajudicial efforts, contending that Plaintiff “conveniently omits” Defendants' letters of May 25, 2017, and November 15, 2017, in his recitation of the parties' discovery communication. (ECF No. 51 at 3-4 (citing ECF Nos. 51-1, 51-2)). Defendants contend that Plaintiff never responded to their letters and that the Motion to Compel “blindsided” them. (Id. at 4.) Defendants therefore take the position that the Motion to Compel should be denied because Plaintiff did not comply with Local Rule 37.1 and the Court's prior Order (ECF No. 42 (advising that the parties must comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 and Local Rule 37.1 before filing a discovery-related motion)). (ECF No. 51 at 7-8.) Plaintiff insists in reply that he did not intentionally omit Defendants' letters in his recitation in the Motion to Compel, arguing that Defendants' reliance on these letters elevates “form over substance” because “[i]n no way did Defendants respond any more meaningfully in their letters than they did in their discovery responses, Defendants again simply maintained their objections or pointed Plaintiff to thousands of documents in response to specific discovery requests.” (ECF No. 52 at 1.)

         Plaintiff's argument is not well taken. Plaintiff never responded to Defendants' letters of June 5, 2017, and November 15, 2017. Accordingly, the record reflects that Plaintiff could have done more to resolve, or narrow the scope, of the present discovery disputes. While Plaintiff now insists that these letters were not “meaningful[]” responses and the parties had reached impasse, he still does not explain why he did not file a motion to compel at those times instead of waiting months until shortly before the discovery deadline to file the Motion to Compel. Nevertheless, in light of the current posture of the litigation and under the circumstances of this particular case, the Court will address the merits of the Motion to Compel. The parties, however, are reminded that the Court and Civil Rules no longer countenance drive-by efforts to resolve discovery disputes. The Court expects purposeful negotiation and meaningful cooperation among counsel in order “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 1.

         B. Scope of Discovery and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26, 33, and 34

         Determining the scope of discovery is within this Court's discretion. Bush v. Dictaphone Corp., 161 F.3d 363, 367 (6th Cir. 1998). As the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has recognized, “[t]he scope of discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is traditionally quite broad.” Lewis v. ACB Bus. Serv., Inc., 135 F.3d 389, 402 (6th Cir. 1998).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) identifies the acceptable scope of discovery:

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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(a)(2) (“An interrogatory may relate to any matter that may be inquired into under Rule 26(b).”), 34(a) (“A party may serve on any other party a request within the scope of Rule 26(b)[.]”). In considering the scope of discovery, the Court may balance Plaintiff's “right to discovery with the need to prevent ‘fishing expeditions.'” Conti v. Am. Axle & Mfg., Inc., 326 Fed.Appx. 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bush, 161 F.3d at 367).

         “[T]he movant bears the initial burden of showing that the information is sought is relevant.” Prado v. Thomas, No. 3:16-cv-306, 2017 WL 5151377, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Oct. 19, 2017) (citing Gruenbaum v. Werner, 270 F.R.D. 298, 302 (S.D. Ohio 2010)). If the movant makes this showing, “then the burden shifts to the non-movant to show that to produce the information would be unduly burdensome.” Id. (citing O'Malley v. Naph Care, Inc., 311 F.R.D. 461, 463 (S.D. Ohio 2015)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) advisory committee's note to 2015 amendment (stating that a party claiming undue burden or expense “ordinarily has far better information-perhaps the only information-with respect to that part of the determination” and that a “party claiming that a request is important to resolve the issues should be able to explain the ways in which the underlying information bears on the issues as that party understands them”).

         III.

         The Court now considers in turn each category of requested information identified in the Motion to Compel.

         A. “Similar claims files containing decisions on ‘sickness' versus ‘injury'” (ECF No. 49 at 5 (citing First Set of Requests for Production No. 6; Second Set of Requests for Production Nos. 3, 4; Third Set of Requests for Production No. 7))

         According to Plaintiff, “[t]he core dispute essentially turns on Plaintiff's First Requests for Production of Documents No. 6[.]” (ECF No. 49 at 3.) This request and Defendants' response provide as follow:

         [FIRST SET OF] REQUEST [FOR PRODUCTION NO.] 6:

Produce the complete claims files of the insureds that you have determined to have suffered an “injury” rather than a “sickness, ” or a “sickness” rather than an “injury” for the last ten years.
RESPONSE:
In addition to the General Objections and Responses, Defendant objects to this Request on the following grounds: (1) it is overly broad and unduly burdensome, particularly with regard to time and scope; (2) “the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” Fed. R Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii); (3) it seeks documents which are neither relevant to the claims or defenses of the parties to this litigation; (4) it seeks documents which constitute or contain confidential, proprietary documents and/or trade secrets; (5) seeks documents protected by the attorney-client and/or attorney work-product privileges; seeks documents protected by third parties' right of privacy; and (6) under the authority of State Farm v. Campbell, 123 S.Ct. 1513 (2003), improperly seeks information regarding alleged conduct that bears no relation or nexus to the harm allegedly suffered and/or improperly seeks documents pertaining to alleged out-of-state conduct.

(ECF No. 49-2 at 7.)

         The other interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and Defendants' responses also related to this category are as follow:

[SECOND SET OF] REQUEST [FOR PRODUCTION NO.] 3: Produce all of Dr. Jerry Beavers' claims opinions regarding injury and sickness determinations provided for Defendants from January 2013 onward, with the claimants' names redacted.
RESPONSE:
Defendant objects to this request on the ground that it seeks documents that are not relevant to any party's claims or defenses in this case, nor proportional to the needs of the case. This action relates to the manner in which plaintiff's disability claim was handled. The reports or opinions of Dr. Jerry Beavers that relate to other insureds or other claims are not relevant to the issues in this case. Defendant further objects that the request is overbroad in scope, and that searching for the requested documents would be time-consuming, unduly burdensome and oppressive. Defendant also objects that pursuant to State Farm v. Campbell, 123 S.Ct. 1513 (2003), the requested discovery is improper because it seeks information pertaining to “out-of-state” conduct that bears no relation or nexus to the harm allegedly suffered by plaintiff.
In addition, Defendant objects on grounds that the request seeks documents that contain personal, private information regarding other insureds, who have a right to privacy. Finally, Defendant objects on the ground and to the extent that the request seeks documents that constitute or contain confidential and/or proprietary business information. Defendant is withholding responsive documents based on the objections stated above.

(ECF No. 49-7 at 4.)

[SECOND SET OF] REQUEST [FOR PRODUCTION NO.] 4: Produce all injury and sickness claims determinations made by Pamela Fox provided for Defendants from January 2013 onward, ...

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