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Loukinas v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

August 16, 2019

STEPHEN LOUKINAS, Individually and as Parent and Next Friend of his minor children, Stephen, Jr., Bradyn, Hailey, and Austin Loukinas, JOYCE LOUKINAS, Individually and as Parent and Next Friend of her minor children, Stephen, Jr., Bradyn, Hailey, and Austin Loukinas, BRADYN LOUKINAS, HAILEY LOUKINAS, AUSTIN LOUKINAS, and STEPHEN LOUKINAS, JR., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant.

          Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Trial No. A-1504183

         Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part

          Loeb, Vollman & Friedmann and Mark C. Vollman, for Plaintiffs-Appellees

          Gallagher, Gams, Pryor, Tallan & Littrell L.L.P., Mark H. Gams and James R. Gallagher, for Defendant-Appellant.

          OPINION

          MYERS, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         {¶1} State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") appeals the trial court's order granting in part the motion to compel discovery by the plaintiffs-appellees in their action for a declaratory judgment, breach of contract, and bad-faith handling of their uninsured-motorist claim.

         Background

         {¶2} Plaintiff-appellee Stephen Loukinas was injured in an automobile accident with an uninsured motorist on January 12, 2010. On January 4, 2013, Loukinas and his wife Joyce Loukinas, individually and on behalf of their four children, initiated a declaratory judgment action against State Farm, Stephen's automobile liability insurance carrier, upon its refusal to pay his claim for uninsured-motorist coverage. The plaintiffs dismissed the action without prejudice in October 2014, and refiled it in August 2015. In the refiled action, in addition to seeking a declaration of their rights under the insurance policy, the plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages for breach of contract and for breach of the duty to act in good faith in handling their claim.

         {¶3} State Farm filed a motion to bifurcate the bad-faith cause of action and claim for punitive damages (what it termed the "non-contractual claims") from the declaratory-judgment and breach-of-contract causes of action (what it termed the "contractual insurance coverage portion of the case"), and to stay all discovery regarding the bad-faith and punitive-damages claims until after the trial of the contractual-insurance-coverage claims. After the trial court denied the motion, State Farm appealed. We dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction upon our determination that the trial court's order denying State Farm's motion to bifurcate and to stay discovery was not a final, appealable order. See Loukinas v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-160311 (Sept. 9, 2016).

         {¶4} Then the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel discovery of State Farm's entire claims file and to compel the depositions of State Farm's claims representatives. State Farm filed a motion for a protective order regarding its claims file and the testimony of its claims representatives. Thereafter, the case was reassigned to another trial judge.

         {¶5} State Farm asked the new trial judge to reconsider the previous judge's rulings on its motion to bifurcate and to stay discovery. State Farm provided the plaintiffs a redacted copy of the claims file as well as a privilege log that identified the redacted items and the reasons that the items were redacted. In addition, State Farm gave the trial court an unredacted copy of the claims file so that it could conduct an in camera review.

         {¶6} The trial court granted State Farm's motion to bifurcate the bad-faith claim from the underlying declaratory-judgment and breach-of-contract claims. The court found that bifurcation was appropriate because the bad-faith cause of action hinged upon "an initial determination of coverage." The court determined that "before a jury can assess whether State Farm has unfairly evaluated Mr. Loukinas's claim, purposely delayed processing his claim, or offered unreasonably low settlements as alleged in the bad faith cause of action," the issue of coverage must first be adjudicated.

         {¶7} After an in camera review, the trial court also granted State Farm's motion to stay discovery on the bad-faith claim pending the outcome of the underlying declaratory-judgment and breach-of-contract claims. The court recognized that State Farm's ability to defend the underlying claims would be inhibited by a release of claims file materials containing privileged or work-product protected materials related to the bad-faith claim.

         {¶8} The trial court also granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs' motion to compel discovery. The court denied the motion to compel with respect to some of the documents identified in State Farm's privilege log as being ...


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