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Wellin v. Wellin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

March 31, 2017

WENDY WELLIN, as the Special Administrator of the Estate of Keith S. Wellin and as Trustee of the Keith S. Wellin Florida Revocable Living Trust u/a/d December 11, 2001, Plaintiff,
v.
PETER J. WELLIN, et. al., Defendants. LARRY S. McDEVITT, as Trustee of the Wellin Family 2009 Irrevocable Trust, Plaintiff,
v.
PETER J. WELLIN, et. al., Defendants. PETER J. WELLIN, et. al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WENDY WELLIN, individually and as Trustee of the Keith S. Wellin Florida Revocable Living Trust u/a/d December 11, 2011, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         These matters are before the court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of Special Master William L. Howard, ECF No. 465, [1] recommending the court deny the Gustav Wellin, Nathaniel Wellin, Nicholas Wellin, Abigail King, Claire King, Mackenzie King, Dr. Ann Plum, and Keith Plum's (collectively, the “Wellin Grandchildren”) Motion to Quash and/or for Protective Order, ECF No. 434, but allow the Wellin Grandchildren to redact call information regarding numbers not identified by Wendy Wellin (“Wendy”) as numbers of interest. Wendy filed an objection to the R&R.[2] For the reasons that follow, the court rejects the R&R to the extent it permits the Wellin Grandchildren to redact call information from the requested telephone records, and adopts the remainder of the R&R as amended to correct a scrivener's error identified in Wendy's objections.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Because the parties are well-acquainted with these cases, the court will dispense with a recitation of the facts and include only a brief overview of the matters at hand. These cases involve a variety of claims related to the estate plan of Keith Wellin (“Keith”). The R&R ably summarized one of the primary “themes” of the many arguments made by Peter J. Wellin, Cynthia W. Plum, and Marjorie W. King (the “Wellin Children”) as follows:

[T]hroughout his life, Keith [] intended to leave the bulk of his estate to his children and their lineal descendants. But once he became physically and mentally compromised by his failing health, . . . Wendy [] unduly influenced him and manipulated him into changing his estate plan to benefit Wendy to the exclusion of the Wellin Children and their descendants. The Wellin Children maintain Wendy successfully exerted undue influence over Keith by insulating him from his children and grandchildren, in part, by denying them telephone access to Keith Wellin.

         R&R at 10. In contrast, “Wendy [] contends the Wellin Children and Grandchildren did not maintain regular contact with Keith [] during his latter years.” Id. at 11.

         Wendy served a set of subpoenas duces tecum on the Wellin Grandchildren on March 27, 2015, and a supplemental set of subpoenas on March 31, 2016. The supplemental subpoenas requested “[a]ll telephone records from January 1, 2009 to September 14, 2014, including the records from the land lines of any houses owned by you, or the cell phone records of any cell phones owned by you.” The Wellin Grandchildren objected to this request as overbroad, irrelevant, and unduly burdensome, and filed the Motion to Quash and/or for Protective Order on April 13, 2016. ECF No. 434. Wendy filed a response on May 2, 2016, ECF No. 442, and the Wellin Grandchildren filed a reply on May 9, 2016. ECF No. 444.

         The special master issued the R&R on July 1, 2016.[3] The special master found that the requested telephone records were relevant, noting that “the number of calls attempted by each Grandchild over the relevant time period may provide pertinent information, such as a pattern or trend, ” that may clarify whether the Grandchildren attempted to maintain a relationship with Keith. R&R at 11. However, the special master found the scope of the request to be “overbroad because it does not limit the requested records to telephone numbers pertinent to the issues, ” and thus, “gives Wendy access to call information regarding communications having no relevance to the issues in these cases.” Id. at 12. To remedy this problem, the magistrate judge recommended that Wendy be required “to identify each number and/or call of interest for which she requests the telephone record information, thereby allowing the Grandchildren to redact other call information.” Id. Wendy filed her objection to the R&R on July 21, 2016, arguing that the recommended redactions should not be permitted. ECF No. 475. The Wellin Grandchildren did not respond to this objection. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARDS

         In reviewing a special master's order, report, or recommendation, the court may “adopt or affirm, modify, wholly or partly reject or reverse, or resubmit to the master with instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 53(f)(1). The court is required to review all objections to any findings of fact or conclusions of law made or recommended by a special master de novo. Fed.R.Civ.P. 53(f)(3), (4); Wellin I, ECF No. 270. However, the special master's rulings on procedural matters will only be set aside for abuse of discretion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 53(f)(5); Wellin I, ECF No. 270, 6.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that a party may
obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged 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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Such information “need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Id.

         “The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense” by forbidding or limiting the scope of discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). “The scope and conduct of discovery are within the sound discretion of the district court.” Columbus-Am. Discovery Grp. v. Atl. Mut. Ins. Co., 56 F.3d 556, 568 n.16 (4th Cir. 1995) (citing Erdmann v. Preferred Research, Inc. of Ga., 852 F.2d 788, 792 (4th Cir. 1988)); see also U.S. ex rel. Becker v. Westinghouse Savannah ...


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