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Team Contractors, L.L.C. v. Waypoint Nola, L.L.C.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 28, 2017


         SECTION “E” (2)



         This is a contract and payment dispute involving the design and construction of a New Orleans hotel project filed in this court pursuant to its diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. As part of the project, its owner, Waypoint NOLA, L.L.C. (“Waypoint”), contracted with an architectural firm, HCA, which in turn contracted with an engineering firm, KLG, both of which were insured by third-party defendant Catlin Insurance Co., Inc. (“Catlin”). Waypoint has asserted bad faith insurance practice claims against Catlin, which does not deny coverage, but instead contends that the amount and causation of Waypoint's claimed damages attributed by Waypoint to HCA and KLG are disputed and “must be resolved so that Catlin can determine the amounts (if any) for which payment is owed under the Policies.” Record Doc. Nos. 104 at p. 8; 105-1 at p. 8.

         Two closely related motions are pending before me in this matter: (1) Waypoint's motion to compel discovery responses from Catlin, Record Doc. No. 93; and (2) Catlin's Motion for Protective Order to Exclude Certain Discovery Requests, Record Doc. No. 105. The parties filed timely written opposition memoranda, Record Doc. Nos. 104, 111, and Waypoint received leave to file a reply memorandum in support of its motion. Record Doc. Nos. 110, 112, 113. Having considered the record, the applicable law and the written submissions of counsel, IT IS ORDERED that the motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART as follows.

         The written submissions suffer from deficiencies that complicate determination of the motions. First, both parties have cited and rely upon an outmoded, now erroneous, legal standard in their recitation of the appropriate scope of discovery.

         Second, the relief that Waypoint seeks is vaguely articulated and unsupported in part. Although Waypoint's motion papers insinuate that Catlin's responses to its interrogatories and requests for production are deficient generally, Waypoint provides no explanation as to why or how any of the responses are deficient or the objections are improper, except that some discovery requests were “objected to . . . in their entirety.” Record Doc. No. 93-1 at pp. 2-3 & nn.4, 5, 7, 8. It is not the court's function to ferret through all of the subject discovery responses to identify deficiencies with no assistance from counsel. Accordingly, the court will address only those interrogatories and requests for production that Waypoint specifically alleges are deficient. Those are Interrogatories Nos. 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15 and Requests for Productions Nos. 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of its first set of discovery and Interrogatories Nos. 19, 20, 22, 27, 28, 29 and 30 and Requests for Production Nos. 17 through 24 of its second set.

         Similarly, Waypoint requests that Catlin be required “to submit withheld documents for in camera inspection” by the court, Record Doc. No. 93-1 at p. 1, but it offers no reason why the court should undertake this task. On its face, the privilege log provided by Catlin indicates that most, if not all, of the listed materials were either generated by or transmitted to its counsel of record at times that suggest that the materials are most probably protected from disclosure. Under these circumstances, Waypoint's unsubstantiated request for in camera review of the withheld materials is DENIED. If Waypoint can provide persuasive reasons and identifies particular materials by reference to the privilege log why the court should review particularly identified withheld materials in camera, it may file a new motion that states those reasons.

         Third, the court will ignore the “General Objections” asserted in Catlin's responses. If Catlin has a specific objection to a particular request, it must state the objection “with specificity.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(4), 34(b)(2)(B); accord McLeod, Alexander, Powel & Apffel, P.C. v. Quarles, 894 F.2d 1482, 1485 (5th Cir. 1990). Catlin's “General Objections” fail to comply with the specificity requirements of the applicable rules and only obfuscate and confuse both Waypoint and the court concerning what objections Catlin is actually making, what information it has actually produced and whether a complete response has been made. “In every respect these objections are textbook examples of what federal courts have routinely deemed to be improper objections.” St. Paul Reinsurance Co., Ltd. v. Commercial Fin. Corp., 198 F.R.D. 508, 512 (N.D. Iowa 2000) (citing Burns v. Imagine Films Entm't, Inc., 164 F.R.D. 589, 592-93 (W.D.N.Y. 1996) (general objections not sufficiently specific to allow court to ascertain objectionable character of discovery request); Chubb Integrated Sys. Ltd. v. Nat'l Bank of Wash., 103 F.R.D. 52, 58 (D.D.C. 1984) (“General objections are not useful to the court ruling on a discovery motion. Nor does a general objection fulfill [a party's] burden to explain its objections.”)); accord Sream, Inc. v. Hassan Hakim & Sarwar, Inc., No. 16-CV-81600, 2017 WL 878704, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 6, 2017); Fischer v. Forrest, No. 14 CIV 1304, 2017 WL 773694, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2017); see also McLeod, 894 F.2d at 1485 (The “party resisting discovery must show specifically how . . . each interrogatory is not relevant or how each question is overly broad, burdensome or oppressive.”) (citation omitted); Liguria Foods, Inc. v. Griffith Labs., Inc., No. 14-3041-MWB, 2017 WL 976626, at *9 (N.D. Iowa Mar. 13, 2017) (citing St. Paul Reinsurance Co., 198 F.R.D. 512) (The same judge who wrote St. Paul Reinsurance Co. states that the law is unchanged in this regard, “[t]he key requirement in both Rules 33 and 34 is that objections require ‘specificity'” and “there is precedent too ample to cite . . . demonstrating the insufficiency of” boilerplate objections). All of Catlin's general objections, except on the grounds of privilege, work product doctrine or Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(3), are overruled. Waypoint's discovery requests are subject to the limitations and protections of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure-it is unnecessary for Catlin to object generally on this basis. Catlin must provide a supplemental written response to Waypoint's interrogatories and requests for production of documents that deletes its “General Objections.”

         Finally, both parties cite an outmoded, now erroneous, legal standard as establishing the basic scope of permissible discovery. The standard is no longer “any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party, ” Record Doc. No. 93-1 at p. 4; or “any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim, ” Record Doc. No. 104 at p. 5, as the parties mistakenly posit. Rather, after the substantial amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that became effective on December 1, 2015, the scope of permissible discovery is now limited to “nonprivileged matter that is [both]relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1) (emphasis added). Determining whether the requested discovery is permissible because it is proportional to the needs of the case requires consideration of “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.” Id. Neither party has assessed or included the proportionality component of the applicable legal standard in its motion papers.

         Weighing the proportionality considerations in this instance, I find that much of the disputed, extremely broad-ranging discovery sought by Waypoint, relating to claims, policies and procedures beyond those applicable to Catlin's coverage under the KLG and HCA policies at issue in this case, is not proportional to the needs of the case. Specifically, although the amount in controversy is substantial, the parties appear to have substantially equivalent resources. Catlin has exclusive access to much of the requested information, but broad-ranging discovery as to all Catlin claims and policies is neither important generally nor to resolution of the issues involved in this case. Catlin has conceded coverage. It asserts merely that it cannot determine how much, if any, it owes under the relevant policies in light of the construction-contract parties' substantial disputes over the extent and causation of damages. Under these circumstances, the burden and expense of the proposed broad-ranging discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

         Applying the foregoing general standards, the court addresses the individual discovery requests as follows.

         (A) Interrogatories

         The motion is granted in part and denied in part as to Interrogatory No. 5. Catlin must answer this interrogatory only insofar as it seeks information about the requested policies and procedures concerning the specific KLG and HCA policies and claims made against them in this case. All objections are sustained, and the motion is denied insofar as this interrogatory seeks broader information.

         The motion is granted as to Interrogatory No. 6. Catlin must answer this question as to the “single claim” ...

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