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Ferira v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.

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

June 18, 2018

Marsha A. Ferira, Plaintiff,
v.
State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., Defendant.

          AMENDED ORDER AND OPINION

          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs motion to compel Defendants to produce documents. (Dkt. No. 22.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs motion is granted in part and denied in part.[1]

         I. Background

         Plaintiff seeks to enforce her homeowner's insurance policy to cover the cost of repairing her roof in October 2015. The parties agree that the 2015 homeowner's insurance policy governs. Plaintiff contends that her roof was damaged by a storm, as covered by the policy. Defendant argues that the roof was damaged as a result of wear-and-tear, which is not covered by the policy. Plaintiff served Requests for Production ("RFPs") on Defendant and Defendant objected to the relevance of four particular Requests. Plaintiff here asks the Court to compel Defendant to produce certain documents relating to Plaintiffs homeowner's policies in effect from 2013 to present.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Discovery

         Parties to a civil litigation 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). The scope of discovery permitted by Rule 26 is designed to provide a party with information reasonably necessary to afford a fair opportunity to develop her case. See, e.g., Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, P.A. v. Murray Sheet Metal Co., Inc., 967 F.2d 980, 983 (4th Cir. 1992) (noting that "the discovery rules are given 'a broad and liberal treatment'") (quoting Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 507 (1947)). Notwithstanding, the Court "must limit the frequency or extent of discovery ... if it determines that 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(i).

         "Courts have broad discretion in [their] resolution of discovery problems arising in cases before" them. Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., 334 F.3d 390, 402 (4th Cir. 2003). Information sought is relevant if it "bears on [or] reasonably could lead to another matter that could bear on, any issue that is in or may be in the case." Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). The Court will weigh if the information sought is proportional to the needs of the case by 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 benefits." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).

         B. Motion to Compel

         If a party declines to comply with a Request for Production, the serving party may move for an order to compel production. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B). The Court has broad discretion to grant or deny a motion to compel discovery. See, e.g., Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon, Inc. v. Alpha of Virginia, Inc., 43 F.3d 922, 929 (4th Cir. 1995) ("This Court affords a district court substantial discretion in managing discovery and reviews the denial or granting of a motion to compel discovery for abuse of discretion."); LaRouche v. Nat'l Broad. Co., 780 F.2d 1134, 1139 (4th Cir. 1986) ("A motion to compel discovery is addressed to the sound discretion of the district court.").

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff moves to compel the production of homeowner's policies issued to her by Defendant from 2013 to present (RFP No. 1); these policies' claim files (RFP No. 2); these policies' underwriting files (RFP No. 4); and these policies' premium records (RFP No. 5). Plaintiff argues that her prior homeowner's policies and their related files are relevant to her case because they may shed light on Defendant's understanding of the 2015 policy at issue. In response, Defendant contends that whatever its understanding is of the 2015 policy is irrelevant because, in any event, the 2015 policy governs and is not ambiguous.

         A. Prior Homeowners' Policies

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant led her to believe her roof installation would be covered by the policy by communicating that reimbursement would be made upon confirmation from a roofer that the damage was not from prior inadequate maintenance. (Dkt. No. 21 at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff argues that the homeowner's policies issued to her by Defendant from 2013 to present are relevant to Defendant's understanding of whether the 2015 policy's terms were the same as the prior policies' terms. Relevance in discovery is broadly construed to enable parties to exchange information that may lead to an issue of the case. These prior policies may be relevant to Plaintiffs claim that she was misled by Defendant (Dkt. No. 21 at ¶ 29) to the extent, for example, a comparison of the policies demonstrates Defendant changing a material policy term on which Plaintiff had relied. Assuming Plaintiff is seeking production of her own past policies because she did not ...


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