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Thompson v. Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

February 4, 2019




         On a previous day came the Plaintiff, by and through their counsel, with a Motion to Compel [ECF No. 22]. This matter was referred to the undersigned for consideration by Order of Referral [ECF No. 24]. Accordingly, a hearing was held in this matter on January 31, 2019. After considering the Plaintiff's written Motion and Memorandum in Support [ECF No. 23], the Defendant's Response [ECF No. 29] thereto and Plaintiff's Reply [ECF No. 36], the applicable law and the evidence and argument submitted by the parties during the aforementioned hearing, the Court is satisfied that Plaintiff's Motion should be GRANTED AS MOULDED by the Court.


         This civil action arises out of a partial denial of Plaintiffs' claim for property insurance benefits. Plaintiffs instituted this action in the Circuit Court of Marshall County, WV, but Defendant removed the matter to Federal Court by Defendant. [ECF No. 1.]

         On January 23, 2018, Plaintiffs allege that they suffered property damage to their home when a windstorm allegedly caused the roof of the front porch to detach from the main structure and blow backward, across the roof of the main home and land in the above-ground pool in the backyard. Allegedly as a result of this incident, Plaintiffs' front porch roof was destroyed as was the swimming pool. On January 29, 2018, Allstate adjuster Brian Frangipani and “James” from Hancock Roofing inspected Plaintiffs' home. During this inspection, the homeowner, Michael Thompson allegedly advised both Mr. Frangipani and “James” that he was unhappy with how the front porch roof was constructed. At that point, Mr. Frangipani ceased the inspection and advised that an engineer would need to conduct the same to determine whether the damages were due to “shoddy construction”. According to Michael Thompson, Mr. Frangipani advised that the engineer would be randomly assigned from a pool of inspectors, as there had been previous allegations of bias against Allstate by their insureds. [ECF No. 23 at 1-2.] Michael Thompson maintains that he did not elicit this information, but that it was voluntarily provided by Mr. Frangipani. [ECF No. 23, Exhibit D.] Nothing in the record contradicts this account.

         Allstate retained Donan Engineering to inspect Plaintiffs' home. Scott Wasson was selected by Donan Engineering to conduct the inspection. The inspection occurred on February 5, 2018. In his report dated February 9, 2018, Mr. Wasson opined that inadequate construction caused the porch roof to detach from the structure. Mr. Wasson also opined that the windstorm of January 23, 2018 involved “non-damaging winds.” [ECF No. 29 at 3-4.] Though Defendants initially denied Plaintiffs' claim in its entirety, Allstate eventually agreed to cover all damages caused by the errant porch roof but has declined to cover the cost to repair/replace the porch roof itself. [Plaintiffs' Complaint at ¶¶ 12-16.]

         Plaintiffs have alleged breach of contract, as well as statutory and common law bad faith. [Plaintiffs' Complaint.] On or about October 30, 2018, Plaintiffs propounded their Second Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production upon Defendant. [ECF No. 14.] Defendant's answers to Interrogatories 1, 6 and 7, and to Requests for Production 1-5 are at issue in Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel.


         A. Plaintiffs' Arguments

         Plaintiff maintains that the appropriate rule under which to view this dispute is R. 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff contends that the discovery requests at issue are designed to elicit evidence of potential bias on the part of Donan Engineering and by extension Mr. Wasson. Therefore, Plaintiff argues that Defendant should be compelled to provide more thorough and complete answers to the discover requests at issue. The bias of any witness is always relevant and therefore Defendants should be compelled to provide more thorough and detailed answers to the discovery requests at issue.

         B. Defendant's Arguments

         Defendant argues that the discovery requests at issue exceed the scope of permissible discovery under R. 26(b)(4), which is the appropriate rule through which to analyze this dispute because Mr. Wasson has been identified as an expert witness.

         Defendant further argues that Plaintiffs' discovery requests are irrelevant because Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that Mr. Wasson's engineering conclusions were incorrect, or that Allstate knew that Mr. Wasson's conclusions were incorrect and should therefore have disregarded them.

         Finally, Defendant contends that, even if Plaintiffs' discovery requests are relevant, the discovery requests are not proportional to the issues at stake and the amount in controversy, and that the burden ...

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