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Lambert v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

January 5, 2017

GEORGE LAMBERT and DONNA LAMBERT, Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONWIDE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANUDM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court has reviewed the Defendant's Objections to the November 7, 2016 Memorandum Opinion and Order (Document 26), Plaintiffs George and Donna Lambert's Response in Opposition to Defendant Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company's Objections to the November 7, 2016 Memorandum Opinion and Order (Document 28), the Defendant's Reply in Support of its Objections (Document 29), and the Magistrate Judge's November 7, 2016 Memorandum Opinion and Order (Document 20). For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Defendant's objections should be overruled, and the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Order should be adopted.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiffs, George Lambert and Donna Lambert, initiated this case on June 6, 2016, by filing a complaint in the Circuit Court of Wyoming County, West Virginia, naming Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company (“Nationwide”) as the Defendant. Nationwide removed the case to this Court on July 8, 2016, citing diversity jurisdiction. In their complaint, the Plaintiffs allege that Ms. Lambert was injured in a car accident and sought insurance coverage for her medical bills. The Plaintiffs demanded liability policy limits under their policy with the Defendant, but allege that the limit was not sufficient to fully cover Ms. Lambert's medical bills. Therefore, the Plaintiffs made a separate demand for liability limits under the policy on behalf of Mr. Lambert, arguing that he is entitled to these limits because he is responsible for paying the remainder of Ms. Lambert's medical bills. Count One of the complaint seeks a declaration that Nationwide is responsible for providing insurance coverage to George Lambert for the payment of the medical bills of Donna Lambert. Counts Two and Three of the complaint contain various allegations of bad faith on behalf of Nationwide.

         On August 17, 2016, the parties filed their Rule 26(f) Report of Planning Meeting (Document 6). In that report, the parties stated that they “agree[d] to proceed with the Count for Declaratory Relief, and stay the remaining counts, pending a dispositive ruling; a Motion and proposed Order staying the remaining counts will be submitted to the Court.” (Rep. of Planning Meeting, at ¶4.) On August 18, 2016, the Court entered its Scheduling Order (Document 7). The scheduling order states that “[t]he parties shall complete all discovery requests by February 15, 2017.” (Scheduling Order, at ¶2.) The scheduling order does not mention any bifurcation of issues for the purposes of discovery. Further, no motion or proposed order was submitted to the Court for consideration concerning bifurcation of the counts in the complaint prior to the entry of the scheduling order.

         On August 25, 2016, the Plaintiffs submitted their First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents, and the Defendant responded to those discovery requests on September 30, 2016. Dissatisfied with the Defendant's answers, the Plaintiffs filed a request that the Defendant supplement its answers to the Plaintiffs' discovery requests. The Defendants countered that the supplemental answers sought by the Plaintiffs were not relevant to discovery at hand and refused to answer the supplemental request. The Plaintiffs then filed a Motion to Compel (Document 15) on October 31, 2016, and said motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Omar Aboulhosn. Judge Aboulhosn held a hearing on the motion on November 7, 2016. On the same day, Judge Aboulhosn entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting the Plaintiffs' motion to compel and requiring Nationwide to submit full answers to the Plaintiffs' interrogatories.

         On November 21, 2016, Nationwide filed a Motion to Stay Operation of the November 7, 2016 Memorandum Opinion and Order (Document 24) and filed its objections to the order. The Plaintiffs responded on December 5, 2016, and Nationwide filed its reply on December 12, 2016. The Defendant's objections are ripe for review.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         According to Rule 72(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “a party may seek district court review of a magistrate judge's order on a nondispositive matter by filing objections to the order within ten days after being served with a copy.” Equitable Prod. Co. v. Elk Run Coal Co., No. CIV.A. 2:08-00076, 2008 WL 5263737, at *2 (S.D. W.Va. Dec. 17, 2008). The rule further dictates that “the ‘district judge in the case must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.'” Id.; see also, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) (“A judge of the court may reconsider any pretrial matter under this subparagraph (A) where it has been shown that the magistrate judge's order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.”).

         A magistrate judge's ruling is clearly erroneous “when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Clark v. Milam, 155 F.R.D. 546, 547 (S.D.W.Va. 1994). Findings of facts by a magistrate judge must be affirmed by the District Court “unless … review of the entire record leaves … the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Clark, 155 F.R.D. at 548, quoting Harman v. Levin, 772 F.2d 1150 (4th Cir. 1984). The standard of review for “contrary to law, ” however, is different. “[F]or questions of law, there is no practical difference between review under Rule 72(a)'s ‘contrary to law' standard and [a] de novo standard.” HSBC Bank USA, Nat. Ass'n v. Resh, 2014 WL 317820, at *7 (S.D.W.Va. January 28, 2014) (Chambers, J.) (slip op.), quoting Robinson v. Quicken Loans Inc., 2013 WL 1704839, at *3 (S.D.W.Va. Apr. 19, 2013). Thus, the Court will review the Magistrate Judge's legal conclusions to determine if they are contrary to law under a de novo standard. Id.

         DISCUSSION

         The Defendant raises three objections to the Magistrate Judge's November 7, 2016 order. The Court will address each objection.

         A. Presumed Bifurcation Agreement

         First, the Defendant asserts that it was reasonable for the two parties to presume that the issues were bifurcated concerning discovery based on their agreement set out in their planning meeting report, and it was clearly erroneous for the Magistrate Judge not to consider that agreement. The Defendant states that it circulated a proposed motion and order to the Plaintiffs to be filed with the Court, but that said motion was never agreed to by the Plaintiffs. The Defendant further argues that, regardless of that proposed motion to bifurcate, it was reasonable for both parties to assume that the Court would, and did, approve of their agreement to stay discovery of the bad faith claims ...


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