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Fenwick v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

November 21, 2018

RITA K. FENWICK, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD LIFE & ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON OBJECTIONS TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CLARIA HORN BOOM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the plaintiff's Objections to Magistrate Opinion & Order (Dkt 79) [R. 80], the defendant's Motion for Extension of Time to File Its Response to Plaintiff's Objections to Magistrate Opinion and Order [sic] [R. 81], and the defendant's Motion for Leave to File Response to Plaintiff's Objections to Magistrate Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Order [R. 83]. For the reasons set out below, the Court will permit the defendant to file its response to the plaintiff's objections, will deem that response timely filed, and will overrule the objections.

         I. Motion for Leave to File Response

         As a preliminary matter, because the Court believes that the defendant's response will aid it in resolving the issues, it will grant the defendant's Motion for Leave to File Response to Plaintiff's Objections to Magistrate Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Order [R. 83]. Local Rule 72.2, titled “Objections to Non-Dispositive Ruling of Magistrate Judge, ” provides that “[u]nless directed by the Court, no party may file any response to a written objection.” LR 72.2 (emphasis added). Thus, the local rule clearly contemplates the discretionary authority of the Court to grant leave for a party to file such a response.

         II. Standard of Review for Objections to Magistrate Judge's Order

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 72, the district court reviews timely objections to a magistrate judge's order on non-dispositive matters under a “limited” standard of review: the district court “must . . . modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” Massey v. City of Ferndale, 7 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. 1993); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a).

         A finding of fact “is clearly erroneous when ‘the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'” Fausz v. NPAS, Inc., No. 3:15-CV-00145-CRS-DW, 2017 WL 1227943, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 31, 2017); Knox v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., No. 3:13-CV-00424-CRS, 2014 WL 7004067, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 10, 2014) (both citing Heights Cmty. Cong. v. Hilltop Realty, Inc., 774 F.2d 135, 140 (6th Cir. 1985). Under this standard, the question is not whether the magistrate judge's factual conclusions were “the best or only conclusion[s] that can be drawn from the evidence.” Knox, 2014 WL 7004067 at *2 (citing Tri-Star Airlines, Inc. v. Willis Careen Corp. of Los Angeles, 75 F.Supp.2d 835, 839 (W.D. Tenn. 1999)). “This standard does not permit the reviewing court to substitute its own conclusion for that of the magistrate judge.” Tri-Star, 75 F.Supp.2d 835 at 839. Instead, the court need only “determine if there is any evidence to support the magistrate judge's finding and that the finding was reasonable.” Id.; Knox, 2014 WL 7004067 at *2.

         By contrast, “[t]he magistrate judge's legal conclusions . . . are subject to the plenary contrary-to-law standard. A legal conclusion is contrary to law when it contradicts or ignores applicable precepts of law, as found in the Constitution, statutes, or case precedent. Therefore, the Court must exercise ‘independent judgment' in reviewing the legal conclusions of the magistrate judge.” Knox, 2014 WL 7004067 at *2 (citing Gandee v. Glaser, 785 F.Supp. 684, 686 (S.D. Ohio 1992), aff'd, 19 F.3d 1432 (6th Cir. 1994)) (internal citations omitted). Here, as the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Order ably reviews both the facts and the applicable law, the Court will only discuss those aspects of each which are necessary to resolve the plaintiff's objections.

         III. Objections to Magistrate Judge Lindsay's Memorandum Opinion and Order

         The plaintiff objects to several aspects of the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Order. The Court will explain its reasons for overruling each in turn.

         A. Whether the Defendant Must Respond to the Plaintiff's First Set of Discovery Requests in Its Entirety

         The plaintiff first objects to the Magistrate Judge's rulings that the defendant is not required to respond to several of her first set of discovery requests. The plaintiff states that the Court previously granted her motion to compel, entitling her to complete responses to each request. [R. 80 at p. 7] The plaintiff further argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in ruling that the defendant need not respond to Interrogatory No. 8, concerning Hartford's relationship with Target; Requests for Production Nos. 3 and 11, concerning the Reserve Buy-Out and reserves; Request for Production No. 1, Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company's (HLAIC) “Claims Excellence” manual; and Request for Production No. 7, regarding delegation of discretionary authority. [R. 80 at pp. 7-15]

         As a preliminary matter, the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Order explicitly held that that Order controls the scope of the parties' discovery obligations in this matter and that “[t]he parties need not continue to dispute or rely upon the implications of the Court's order of October 27, 2014 (DN 27) that granted [the plaintiff's] motion to compel.” [R. 79 at p. 35, ¶3[1] The plaintiff offers no reasoning supporting her assertion that the Order at [R. 28] is operative. Contra [R. 80 at p. 7]. Accordingly, the Court finds no clear error (and nothing contrary to law) in this ruling and finds meritless the argument that the prior Order of the Court entitles the plaintiff to the discovery responses she seeks.

         a) Interrogatory No. 8 and Requests for Production Nos. 3 and 11

         Citing to record documents but to no law, the plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge's decision on these discovery requests was wrong because “HLAIC benefits financially both from the infusion of capital from Target reflecting the negotiated cost of the Buy-Out and also from ‘influenc[ing] outcomes'” and “the exact details of the Reserve Buy-Out and the reserves maintained on [the plaintiff's] claim are critical to evaluating the extent to which HLAIC's financial bias infected the claims process.”[2] [R 80 at p. 8]

         The Court is unpersuaded by these arguments because they are unsupported by any citations to legal authority, and because its own independent review of the law has revealed no error with the Magistrate Judge's conclusions of law: that the reserve information requested in Request for Production No. 3 falls outside the scope of permissible ERISA discovery recognized in this district, and that Interrogatory No. 8 and Request for Production No. 11 do not relate to permissible ERISA discovery or to the plaintiff's allegation of a conflict of interest.[3] The Magistrate Judge's decision did not contradict or ...


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