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Gary Brunsvik v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company et al

November 18, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge


(Document 49)

I. Introduction

On October 21, 2011, Gary Bunsvik, ("Plaintiff") filed a Motion to Quash Subpoenas issued by Defendant Hartford Life Accident and Insurance Company ("Defendant" or "Hartford Life") on October 6, 2011. (Docs. 49-53). Defendant filed an Opposition to Plaintiff's motion on November 4, 2011. (Doc. 54). Plaintiff filed a Reply on November 10, 2011. (Doc. 56). The matter was taken under submission pursuant to Local Rule 230 (g) and the hearing scheduled for November 18, 2011, was vacated. Upon a review of all of the pleadings, Plaintiff's Motion to Quash is GRANTED IN PART.

II. Relevant Background

Plaintiff filed this action on November 12, 2010, in the Fresno Superior County Court. The case involves a dispute over the denial of Hartford Life's death insurance benefits after the death of Plaintiff's brother, Ben Brunsvik ("the decedent"). Plaintiff is the beneficiary listed on the insurance policy. Defendant removed the action to this Court on January 4, 2011. (Doc. 1).

The complaint alleges that on January 19, 2006, the decedent left his home to drive to Sacramento, California. (Doc. 1-1 at pg. 15). He stopped briefly at his office and said goodbye to the landlord before 8:00 am. The decedent was never seen or heard from again after leaving his office on January 19, 2006. (Id.)

Almost four years later, on October 23, 2009, Ben Brunsvik's truck and severely decomposed remains were found submerged in nearly seventeen feet of water in a canal approximately five miles from his office. (Id. at pg. 16). On March 23, 2010, the Defendant sent Plaintiff a letter indicating that the evidence did not establish that Ben Brunswick's death was covered by the policy.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's denial of the policy is improper and that Defendant has deliberately and intentionally failed to conduct a proper, unbiased, and complete investigation regarding the Plaintiff's claim. (Id. at 18). Based on the above, Plaintiff's complaint alleges: 1) breach of contract, and 2) breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing as causes of action. He also alleges that he has suffered mental and emotional distress as a result of the denial. (Id. at pg. 17-18). He seeks general, special, economic and consequential damages, pre-judgment interest, attorneys' fees, costs, and punitive damages. (Id. at pg. 42-43).

As part of the discovery process, Hartford Life requested that Plaintiff produce documents related to his personal finances. Plaintiff objected to those requests. After unsuccessful attempts at resolving the discovery dispute, Defendant issued subpoenas directed toward MBNA America Bank, N.A, Bank of the West, and Educational Employees Credit Union requesting that the financial institutions produce documents related to Plaintiff's accounts and credit card information from 2005 and 2006. (Doc. 53, pgs. 46-63).

III. Discussion

Plaintiff argues that the subpoenas should be quashed as the information sought by Defendant is not relevant to this action and the requests invade his privacy rights. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that although he is seeking emotional distress damages, he is not seeking additional harm beyond benefits owed to him under the policy, attorneys' fees and costs. See, Declaration of Stephanie Grewal, dated October 21, 2011. (Doc. 51 at pg. 2, para. 7); (Doc. 50 at pg. 5). Therefore, Defendant does not need this information.

Defendant opposes the Motion to Quash on the basis that Plaintiff's alleged emotional distress damages require a showing of financial harm which render the financial documents relevant. Moreover, Plaintiff has put his financial status at issue and the trier of fact should not evaluate his damages in a vacuum without additional information related to his finances. Finally, any privacy issues were waived when Plaintiff claimed emotional distress damages. (Doc. 54 at pgs. 5-10).

a. Relevancy

Both parties agree that in an insurance bad faith case, damages for emotional distress are recoverable only when the insured has suffered some financial loss. Gourley v. State Farm Mutual Auto Ins. Co., 53 Cal.3d 121, 127-128 (1991); Waters v. United Services Automobile Association, 41 Cal. App. 4th 1063,1081 (1996) (Some financial loss must be shown in a bad faith claim to establish emotional distress damages). It is also true that the threshold requirement of economic recovery of emotional distress damages may be satisfied where the insureds incurred a financial obligation to pay legal fees and court costs to enforce claims under the policy. Delos v. Farmers group Inc., 93 Cal. App. 3d 642, 659 (1979); Brandt v. Superior Court, 37 Cal. 3d 813, 817 (1985) ("When an insurer's tortuous conduct compels the insured to retain an ...

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