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Stephens v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 13, 2015



MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of The Case

This case involves a dispute relating to a homeowners' insurance policy, and began its life as a pro se action filed in state court. The initial pro se complaint alleged that the plaintiffs, Gerald Stephens and Bonnie Wilson, purchased a homeowners insurance policy for their property located at 1184 Julianne Drive, Hummelstown, Pennsylvania from State Farm, and had fully paid the premiums under this insurance policy at the time of the losses which they alleged took place in 2012. (Doc. 1-1, ¶1.)

The plaintiffs are now represented by counsel and have filed an amended complaint which contains three claims. First, the amended complaint re-states and re-alleges the plaintiffs' breach of insurance contract claim, alleging that State Farm has failed to properly pay all benefits that are due and owing to the plaintiffs on this homeowner insurance policy. Count II of the proposed amended complaint then brings a statutory bad faith claim relating to the adjustment of the plaintiffs' covered losses under this insurance policy. Finally, the amended complaint sets forth a claim under Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, 73 Pa.C.S. §201-9.2 (hereafter "UTPCPL"). This UTPCPL claim is factually distinct from the claims relating to State Farm's alleged failure to pay under its policy with the plaintiffs and relates to the cancellation of this homeowner insurance policy. According to the well-pleaded facts in the complaint, plaintiff Stephens, a quadriplegic, notified State Farm, through its agent, that he would have to leave his residence for a period of time for medical treatment and intended to rent the home while he received care for his disabling condition. Stephens alleges that he was assured by State Farm's agent that his insurance would remain unaffected by his departure while he sought medical care. Despite these affirmative assurances, at the time he submitted claims on the policy, Stephen alleges that State Farm then deceptively and wrongfully relied upon his departure from the residence to cancel his insurance, in violation of UTPCPL. (Doc. 26.)

This case now comes before us for resolution of a discovery dispute. In connection with their bad faith claims, the plaintiffs have propounded a series of discovery demands which have been opposed by the defendant. These discovery demands fall into three broad categories. First, the plaintiffs have demanded access to the defendant's claims manuals, guidelines and instructions materials relating to insurance claims like those made by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs seek these materials for a four year period, spanning from 2009 through 2014. (Plaintiffs' Requests No. 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10.) In addition, the plaintiffs request access to performance reviews and performance incentive review programs for all of the defendants' employees who played a role in insurance company decisions in this case from 2009 to the present. (Plaintiffs' Request No. 14 and 15.) Finally, the plaintiffs demand that the defendant compile information relating to other insurance lawsuits brought against the defendant involving theft, vandalism and water damages claims, as well as all lawsuits or complaints regarding the conduct of this particular claims adjuster, for periods ranging between four and five years. (Plaintiffs' Requests Nos. 16-19.)

The plaintiffs have filed a motion for compel production of these materials. (Doc. 30.) This motion is fully briefed by the parties, (Docs. 31 and 32.), and is, therefore, ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

Several basic guiding principles inform our resolution of the instant discovery dispute. At the outset, Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions to compel discovery, and provides that:

(a) Motion for an Order Compelling Disclosure or Discovery
(1) In General. On notice to other parties and all affected persons, a party may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery....

Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a).

The scope of what type of discovery may be compelled under Rule 37 is defined, in turn, by Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which now provides that:

(1) Scope in General. Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as follows: Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense- including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter. For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant ...

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