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Smith v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

February 5, 2018




         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses (R. Doc. 81) filed on November 29, 2017. The Motion is opposed. (R. Doc. 84).

         I. Background

         This is an insurance action arising out of an automobile-pedestrian accident on August 13, 2001 involving Bradley W. Smith (“Smith” or “Plaintiff”) and Paul Babin (“Babin”). After the accident, Smith filed a state court lawsuit against Babin and his insurance company, Shelter Mutual Insurance Company (“Shelter” or “Defendant”). After conducting a bifurcated trial, the trial judge dismissed with prejudice Babin's cross-claims against Shelter for alleged bad faith in refusing to provide Babin with a legal defense, misrepresenting the coverage under the Shelter policy, and failure to indemnify Babin. Thereafter, Babin sought review of the trial court's finding that Shelter did not have a duty to defend Babin. The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed. Babin also sought review of the trial court's dismissal of his claims of misrepresentation and for failure to indemnify. The Louisiana First Circuit held the issue was not properly before the court on appeal because Shelter had admitted coverage and paid its policy limits after the jury trial portion of the bifurcated trial.

         On June 3, 2015, Smith filed the instant lawsuit, under an assignment of rights from Babin, seeking to collect from Shelter the excess amount of the state trial court judgment beyond the policy liability amount of $10, 000 per person, and for bad faith damages pursuant to La. R.S. 22:1892 and La. R.S. 22:1973. (R. Doc. 1).

         On July 24, 2017, Shelter served discovery requests on Smith. (R. Doc. 81-2 at 1-4). Through its Request for Production No. 1, Shelter sought production of the written document assigning rights from Babin to Smith. (R. Doc. 84-2 at 3). Smith provided responses on August 23, 2017. (R. Doc. 84-2). Smith objected to Request for Production No. 1 on the basis that the assignment of rights is not relevant to this litigation and contains a confidentiality provision. (R. Doc. 84-2 at 3). Smith provided a privilege log identifying the withheld the document. (R. Doc. 84-2 at 6).

         On October 31, 2017, Shelter's counsel sent a letter to Smith's counsel stating that the information sought by Request for Production No. 1 is relevant and discoverable notwithstanding the confidentiality provision. (R. Doc. 81-3).

         On November 3, 2017, Smith's counsel sent a letter to Shelter's counsel stating, in relevant part, that “[a]s to the assignment of rights . . . I do not personally object to disclosing the document but there is a confidentiality clause which prevents me from doing so absent a court order. I will, in response to any motion you may file, submit the document, under seal, and comply with any court order [requiring] disclosure.” (R. Doc. 81-4).

         On November 29, 2017, Shelter filed the instant Motion, which seeks an order requiring the assignment of rights to be produced. (R. Doc. 81). Smith opposes the Motion on the basis that Shelter has had the opportunity to verify that the assignment is a valid contract through other forms of discovery. (R. Doc. 84 at 1-2). Smith further states that he “will produce the requested document” as the Court deems appropriate, but requests that the document be “produced under seal” and, if the document is filed into the record as an exhibit, that it be filed under seal. (R. Doc. 84 at 2).

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. Legal Standards

         “Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged 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. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). The court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery if it determines that: “(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; (ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action; or (iii) the proposed discovery is outside the scope permitted by Rule 26(b)(1).” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C).

         “When a party withholds information otherwise discoverable by claiming that the information is privileged or subject to protection as trial-preparation material, the party must: (i) expressly make the claim; and (ii) describe the nature of the documents, communications, or tangible things not produced or disclosed--and do so in a manner that, without revealing information itself privileged or protected, will enable other parties to assess the claim.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(5)(A).

         “The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). Rule 26(c)'s “good cause” requirement indicates that the party seeking a protective order has the burden “to show the necessity of its issuance, which contemplates a particular and specific demonstration of fact as distinguished from stereotyped and conclusory statements.” In ...

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