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Pulliam v. Continental Casualty Co.

October 4, 2006

L. DELORES PULLIAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CONTINENTAL CASUALTY CO., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff L. Delores Pulliam filed an Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") action against defendant Continental Casualty Co. ("Continental") seeking recovery of long term disability benefits allegedly owed under a policy administered by Continental. Continental has moved pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a) and LCvR 72.2(b) for reconsideration of a Memorandum Opinion and Order of Magistrate Judge Alan Kay which granted in part and denied in part Pulliam's motion to compel, and granted in part and denied in part Continental's motion for a protective order. Because the magistrate judge's determination was not clearly erroneous or contrary to law, Continental's motion for reconsideration of the magistrate judge's ruling has been denied.

BACKGROUND

Pulliam was employed by Guest Services, Inc., which provided group long term disability insurance coverage for its employees through Continental. (Compl. ¶¶ 4,8.) After suffering a stroke on July 6, 1999 (id. ¶ 16), she submitted a claim to Continental for long term disability benefits. She was denied twice (id. ¶ 25), and filed this action. Continental contends that Pulliam was terminated on July 5, 1999 and was not eligible for benefits for a stroke that occurred the day after. (Mag. J. Mem. Op. at 2.) Pulliam claims she was not terminated until July 29, 1999. (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 22.)

Pulliam moved to compel discovery regarding a potential conflict of interest by Continental which would result in a heightened standard of review being applied when evaluating Continental's denial of benefits. (Mag. J. Mem. Op. at 3.) Continental then moved for a protective order prohibiting Pulliam from inquiring into documents relating to the potential for a conflict of interest. Magistrate Judge Kay denied Pulliam's motion to compel with respect to two document requests*fn1 and granted the motion to compel in all other respects. (Id. at 11.) The magistrate judge also granted in part Continental's motion for a protective order with respect to discovery of the caseload of individuals handling her claim and all information relating to non-incentive-based compensation, and denied the motion in all other respects. (Id. at 13.)

Continental now seeks review of the magistrate judge's order, claiming that it allows Pulliam access to information that is irrelevant and not discoverable. Continental argues that Pulliam's document requests, interrogatories and depositions should address only incentives, commissions, contingencies, and bonuses directly tied to the performance of long-term disability ("LTD") claims reviewers or supervisors (Def.'s Stmt of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. Recons. of and Objections to Mag. J. Ruling ("Def's Mot. Recons.") at 7) and that it "should not be required to produce documents concerning bonuses that are awarded without regard to individual employee merit or performance." (Id.) Continental also claims that it should not be required to disclose the names and other personal identifying information of employees other than Pulliam covered under Continental's employment plan. (Id.)

DISCUSSION

A party may seek reconsideration of a magistrate judge's determination in a discovery dispute. Adair v. Winter, No. 00-566, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64328, at *8 (D.D.C. Sept. 11, 2006). On review, the magistrate judge's decision is entitled to great deference unless it is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law," that is, if "on the entire evidence" the court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Virtual Dev. and Def. Int'l, Inc. v. Republic of Moldova, 133 F. Supp. 2d 9, 20 (D.D.C. 2001) (citing United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 368 (1948); Neuder v. Batelle Pac. Nw. Nat. Lab., 194 F.R.D. 289 (D.D.C. 2000)); Fed. R. Civ. P. 7.

Continental argues that the magistrate judge's order is "clearly erroneous and contrary to the law with respect to two discrete subject matters" (Def. Mot. Recons. at 5), specifically the magistrate judge's failure to specify that only documents and information relating to incentive-type compensation paid to LTD claims reviewers or supervisors are discoverable, and the magistrate judge's requirement that Continental disclose the names and other personal identifying information of covered employees other than Pulliam. (See id. at 9-10.) Continental claims that this latter information is irrelevant.

Rule 26(b)(1) states that "parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Under Rule 26(b)(2), a court may limit this discovery, either on its own initiative or pursuant to a motion for a protective order, if it determines that:

(I) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or is obtainable form some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; (ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity by discovery in this action to obtain the information sought; or (iii) the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, taking into account the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issue at stake in the litigation, and the importance of the proposed discovery in resolving the issues.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2); see also Alexander v. Fed. Bureau of Investigation, 194 F.R.D. 316, 325 (D.D.C. 2000).

Generally, "the Rules do not differentiate between information that is private or intimate and that to which no privacy interests attach. Under the Rules, the only express limitations are that the information sought is not privileged, and is relevant to the subject matter of the pending action. Thus, the Rules often allow extensive intrusion into the affairs of both litigants and third parties." Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 30 (1984) (emphasis added). If a relevancy objection is raised, "the party seeking discovery must demonstrate that the information sought to be compelled is discoverable." Alexander v. Fed. Bureau of Investigation, 194 F.R.D. at 325 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1); Alexander v. Fed. Bureau of Investigation, 186 F.R.D. 185, 187 (D.D.C. 1999)). Once a court determines the relevancy of the material sought, the party objecting to that discovery then has the burden of "'show[ing] why discovery should not be permitted.'" Id. at 325-26 ...


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