Johnson v. Allstate Property and Cas. Ins. Co.,

Defendant Fails to Demonstrate Undue Burden, Additional Discovery Ordered

In this insurance case, the Plaintiffs sought an order to compel the Defendants, Allstate Property and Cas. Ins. Co. (“Allstate”), to search the computers of thirty-four previously identified employees. In Allstate’s initial disclosure, thirty-eight employees were identified as possibly having discoverable information related to the claims in the case. Subsequently, a search was undertaken on the computers of the four employees listed as the main adjusters on the case. Allstate refused to search the computers of the remaining thirty-four employees on the grounds that it would be an undue burden. Additionally, despite the information being requested in the Plaintiffs’ Interrogatories, Allstate did not provide a description of the type of information that the thirty-eight employees had relating to the claims in the action. Allstate also did not provide the Court for the reason the information was not provided. The Court observed that during the deposition of an Allstate employee, it became clear that one of the thirty-eight employees whose computer was not searched had an active role in reviewing and approving Allstate’s coverage denial.

By agreement of the parties, the four primary adjusters conducted their own searches to identify relevant email. However, a day before the deposition of one of the primary adjusters, Allstate produced new documents identified as a result of a more thorough search of the email files of the four adjusters. The Court observed that the late production of relevant emails raised “some question regarding the thoroughness of the search performed by the four adjusters and by Allstate.” Allstate asserted that the requested search of the additional thirty-four individuals was a “fishing expedition” intended to detract from the real issues in the case and argued that the information was “not reasonably accessible,” without undue burden or cost. The Court observed that it was hard to come to the conclusion that the computer search was a “fishing expedition” when the thirty-four employees were identified by Allstate as having discoverable information and one appeared to have an active role in the decision to deny coverage.

In support of its assertion that the additional search would result in an undue burden, Allstate provided the testimony of the person responsible for requesting the collection of electronic data from the computers of Allstate’s employees. The Court found the testimony of limited value, noting that it was very general and lacked specific information regarding the case, in particular the time it took to search the computers of the four primary adjusters. The Court concluded that Allstate failed to demonstrate “undue burden of time” to conduct the additional requested searches. The Court also noted that Allstate failed to identify how the requested searches were outside the discovery permissible under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

Allstate contended that the “limitless attempt at discovery” was intended to burden Allstate and asserted that the four primary adjusters “performed from 95% – 98% of the work” on the Plaintiffs’ file prior to the claim denial. The Court rejected this argument and noted there was no evidence presented to support the assertion. The Court further noted that the additional requested discovery resulted from Allstate’s failure to provide more specific information on the thirty-four employees it identified as having discoverable information. The Court added that it was “difficult” for the Plaintiffs to determine what emails were missing when Allstate refused to provide information on the knowledge possessed by each of the thirty-four employees.

In its conclusion, the Court found it “extremely difficult” to conclude that all thirty-four Allstate employees had “significant, relevant discoverable emails or documents.” However, the Court noted that one of the thirty-four employees was involved in an issue on the case. The Court therefore ordered Allstate to conduct a search of the computer of the employee involved in the claims denial. Allstate was also ordered to respond to the Plaintiffs’ Interrogatory by providing the job descriptions of each of the thirty-four employees and provide specific information regarding the type of discoverable information each employee possessed. The Court then ordered the Plaintiffs to review the information provided and make a reasonable assessment as to which computers needed to be searched while keeping in mind the limitations provided in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b).

Johnson v. Allstate Property and Cas. Ins. Co., 2014 WL 7377198 (W.D. Wash. Dec. 29, 2014).

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