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Sheppard v. Direct General Insurance Co.

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

December 4, 2017




         Pending is Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery. (ECF No. 41). Defendant has filed a memorandum opposing the motion, (ECF No. 44), and Plaintiff has replied. (ECF No. 45). Therefore, the motion is fully briefed, and the undersigned finds no need for oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned GRANTS, in part, and DENIES, in part, the motion to compel.

         I. Relevant History

         On June 29, 2012, Plaintiff was involved in a serious automobile accident caused by Robert Conway, who, while intoxicated, drove his vehicle across the center line of Route 60 in Cabell County, colliding head-on with the vehicle driven by Plaintiff. (ECF No. 1 at 2). At the time of the accident, Conway was living and working in West Virginia and had a valid automobile insurance policy issued by Defendant. (Id. at 3). Accordingly, Plaintiff asserted a claim against Conway's policy, requesting payment for Plaintiff's bodily injuries. Ultimately, Defendant denied Plaintiff's claim on the basis that Conway did not have coverage for bodily injury under his automobile insurance policy.

         Plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against Conway in 2014, and in 2015, obtained a default judgment in the amount of $2, 773, 776.99. (Id. at 4-5). Thereafter, Conway assigned to Plaintiff any and all claims for compensatory and punitive damages that Conway possessed against Defendant arising out of its alleged mishandling of Plaintiff's 2012 claim. (Id. at 5). Plaintiff filed the instant action, seeking a declaratory judgment that bodily injury coverage existed under Conway's policy and asserting various other claims based on Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's bodily injury claim.

         In the course of discovery, Plaintiff served Defendant with interrogatories and requests for the production of documents. Defendant respond to the discovery, but Plaintiff was dissatisfied with some of Defendant's answers. The parties attempted to resolve the issues, but were unable to settle all of their differences. Consequently, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to compel. The motion asks the court to compel more complete answers to Interrogatory Nos. 1, 4, 5, 8, 16, 18 and document Request for Documents Nos. 2, 3, 14, 15.

         II. Discussion

         Having considered the arguments and the relevant law, the Court ORDERS as follows:

         A. Interrogatory No. 1 and Request for Production No. 14

         In these discovery requests, Plaintiff seeks seven years of financial information from Defendant. Defendant objects to the discovery requests on the basis that Plaintiff has not yet demonstrated a prima facie claim for punitive damages and provides no other reason for the disclosure of such information. Plaintiff does not dispute the accuracy of Defendant's objection; instead, Plaintiff offers a compromise, agreeing to accept two years of financial information to be produced at the pretrial hearing.

         As Defendant points out, this Court has previously held that a plaintiff must “make a prima facie claim for punitive damages before being entitled to discovery of a defendant's financial records. To make a prima facie claim for punitive damages ... a plaintiff must produce some factual evidence in support of her claim.” Robinson v. Quicken Loans Inc., No. CIV.A. 3:12-0981, 2013 WL 1704839, at *4 (S.D. W.Va. Apr. 19, 2013). Surviving a motion for summary judgment, or filing a motion to compel “that includes sufficient supporting evidence (i.e., affidavits, documentary evidence) to demonstrate a viable claim for punitive damages” are two avenues by which Plaintiff may make such a showing in this case. Id. at n. 3. At this point, Plaintiff has not made a sufficient factual showing to justify an order compelling the production of Defendant's financial records. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion to compel Interrogatory No. 1 and Request No. 14 is DENIED as premature.

         B. Interrogatory No. 4

         In Interrogatory No. 4, Plaintiff asks for information regarding the individuals who handled Plaintiff's 2012 claim. Defendant provided some of the requested information, including a list of the involved employees. Plaintiff acknowledges receipt of the employees' names, but argues that Defendant should be compelled to identify which of the listed employees “were involved in the decision to deny coverage for Plaintiff's bodily injury claim.” (ECF No. 45 at 3). Plaintiff explains that this additional information will allow him to narrow the scope of future discovery. In view of Plaintiff's explanation, and noting that this information is relevant to some of Plaintiff's claims and not particularly burdensome, Plaintiff's motion to compel a supplemental response to Interrogatory No. 4, as framed herein, is GRANTED.

         C. ...

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