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Watts v. Allstate Indemnity Co.

October 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge


Presently before this court are plaintiff Robert Watts' motions to compel:

(1) Responses and Production in Response to Plaintiff's Requests for Production of Documents, Set One; (2) Responses and Production in Response to Plaintiff's Requests for Production, Set Two; and (3) Responses to Plaintiff's Special Interrogatories, Set One. The parties appeared before the undersigned for hearing on the motions on October 14, 2010, at 10:00 a.m. Attorneys Wendy York and Jennifer Euler appeared on behalf of plaintiff. Attorney Sonia Martin appeared on behalf of defendants Allstate Indemnity Company, Allstate Insurance Company, and Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company (collectively "Allstate" or "defendants"). After careful consideration of all of the papers filed in support of and in opposition to these motions, the authorities cited therein, and following oral argument, the motions to compel will be granted in part and denied in part for the reasons stated at the hearing and as set forth below.

I. Brief Background

Plaintiff Robert Watts ("plaintiff") allegedly had an automobile insurance policy with one or more of the defendants. (Dkt. No. 79.) His car was involved in an automobile accident, after which he requested that Allstate replace the seatbelts and associated mechanisms. (Id.) Defendants allegedly refused to pay for these costs or to allegedly engage in related accommodating actions.

Plaintiff then filed a putative class action against Allstate. (Id., Dkt. No. 67.) The putative class action complaint asserts claims for relief for breach of contract, insurance bad faith, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fraud and/or misrepresentation, and unfair competition. (Dkt. Nos. 67, 79.) In a July 29, 2010 order, the Honorable Lawrence K. Karlton set forth a discovery deadline for non-expert, class discovery*fn1 of December 15, 2010, with a corresponding deadline that motions to compel non-expert class discovery be heard by November 15, 2010.*fn2 (Dkt. No. 143.)

II. Legal Standards

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), the scope of federal discovery is broad. Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 26(b)(1). Relevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Id. The broad scope of permissible discovery encompasses any matters that bear on, or that reasonably could lead to other matters that could bear on, any issue that is or may be present in the case. Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 427 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) (recognizing that discovery is not necessarily limited to the merits of a case, and that discovery has often been used to, for example, illuminate issues upon which a district court must pass in deciding whether a suit should proceed as a class action). Discovery is not limited to the merits of a case, "for a variety of fact-oriented issues may arise during litigation that are not related to the merits." Id.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(e), a party who has made a disclosure under Rule 26(a), or who has responded to an interrogatory, request for production, or request for admission must supplement or correct its disclosure or response in a timely manner if the party learns in some material respect the disclosure or response is incomplete or incorrect. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 26(e) (emphasis added).

III. Plaintiff's Motions to Compel

Plaintiff originally filed his motions to compel on August 23, 2010. As addressed at the hearing, it is unclear whether plaintiff was motivated to file these premature motions to compel responses to his 15-month-old discovery requests by the impending class discovery cutoff date. Regardless, as a result, for nearly the next 30 docket entries (see Dkt. Nos. 145 through 176), plaintiff and defendants chose to file a flurry of documents which sought to explain each counsel's view that opposing counsel was obstreperous, unresponsive, and dilatory. Nearly a thousand pages of documents poured into the court via its electronic filing system. Attorney Euler's declaration was so lengthy it was filed in eight parts. Exhibits contained sub-sets of exhibits. And what might have been a well-intentioned motion to compel seeking to confirm the completeness of discovery and document production became less about information gathering and more about retaining a more righteous discovery stance.

During the flurry of filings, on August 26, 2010, this court ordered that the plaintiff's motions to compel would be continued so the parties could file discovery dispute documents which complied with Local Rule 251. With the hope that the parties could narrow their issues and engage in a meaningful meet and confer process in drafting joint statements, the court ordered the parties to file joint statements on the motions and rescheduled the hearing for October 14, 2010. (Dkt. No. 166.)

Although seemingly impossible, the joint statement devolved into an even less useful vehicle by which the court could adjudicate the issues at hand. Counsel did not take this opportunity to narrow any issues for the court. Instead, counsel filed joint statements that contained back-and-forth position statements for approximately one hundred document requests and special interrogatories, with the parties unable to even agree about what was at issue.

The parties inability to resolve any disputes informally-or even agree about what requests were at issue-forced the court to divert dozens of hours away from other pressing business in an effort to analyze each request and the parties' positions. Through continued and repeated review of the parties' voluminous filings, it became ever more ...

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