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LaBrier v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

August 9, 2016

AMANDA M. LABRIER, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff


          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY United States District Judge

         Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company moves to vacate Special Master Order No. 8. Doc. 194. In that order, Doc. 190, the Special Master denied State Farm’s motion to find it had “substantially complied” with State Farm’s obligation to answer Plaintiff’s Second Set of Interrogatories. For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes no abuse of discretion occurred and State Farm’s motion to vacate Special Master Order No. 8 is denied.

         I. Background

         Special Master Order No. 4 directed State Farm to answer Plaintiffs’ Second Set of Interrogatories. Docs. 117 and 125. State Farm moved to vacate that order, Doc. 135, and the Court denied the motion, Doc.176 (Order dated 5/9/2016).

         Plaintiffs’ Second Set of Interrogatories consisted of four questions. The first two requested the claim number of structural damage claims upon which ACV payments had been made, the total amount of labor depreciation withheld, the date of the first withholding, and the dates of any subsequent withholdings. The third and fourth interrogatories involved State Farm’s affirmative defenses, asking State Farm to identify the claim number, date of repayment of labor depreciation, and amount repaid, and any applicable affirmative defenses and facts supporting a defense.[1] For its “Supplemental Responses, ” State Farm reproduced a spreadsheet it had previously produced, to which it added a column disclosing what was on the memo line of checks sent to policyholders on the claims listed in the report. State Farm provided more information with respect to a sample of claims (398), for which it had its adjusters manually search for data and type it into spreadsheets. In its request to the Special Master, State Farm then summarized its position as follows:

State Farm respectfully submits that it has substantially complied with Order No. 4. It has attempted full response to the Second Interrogatories in all respects where such compliance can be made by way of analyzing State Farm’s available computer data, rather than by individualized review of each putative class member’s claim. To the extent that such individualized review is needed, State Farm performed such a review for 398 claim files, and has shown that a like review for the remaining 149, 600 or so putative class members cannot reasonably be required or accomplished in the time remaining before discovery closes in this action. Finally, much of the information State Farm needs for its affirmative defenses can only be obtained from records and information solely in the possession of putative class members themselves. State Farm will be seeking leave to issue discovery to the putative class, including a survey directed to a subset of putative class members, and will supplement its answers to the Second Interrogatories with any responsive information gathered. Pending that, State Farm requests a finding that it owes no further response to the Second Interrogatories at this time.

Doc. 210-215, pp. 5-6.

         In rejecting State Farm’s request for a finding of substantial compliance, the Special Master stated that State Farm’s motion was “in many ways a rehash” of its previous objections to the interrogatories, and briefs and exhibits it filed with this Court in connection with its motion to modify Order No. 4:

Basically, [State Farm] is arguing it cannot answer the interrogatories because the answers to them are not reflected in the electronic data available to it but must be located through a review of each putative class member’s claim file. Although these claim files are stored in computerized form, [State Farm] maintains that the interrogatory answers in many cases cannot be determined without actually looking at the notes and correspondence, images of which are within the computerized claim file. [State Farm] claims that this review will take so much time, and result in so much expense, that it need not do more than it has already done in order to comply with its obligation to answer these interrogatories. [State Farm] claims that its supplemental response, which cross-referenced certain spreadsheets containing columnar data relative to 398 of the approximately 150, 000 putative class of claims substantially complied with its requirement to fully answer the interrogatories.

Doc. 190, pp. 1-2.

         The Special Master also discussed the data State Farm produced for the 150, 000 claims and how it analyzed that data with respect to a sample of 398 of those claims for purposes of supplementing its responses to the first and second interrogatories. State Farm suggested its methodology “should have been expected to reliably identify those claims which involved a payment that was calculated by deducting depreciation (including labor-depreciation component of such depreciation). State Farm [then] sought to demonstrate that this test did not, in fact, reliably identify such claims.” Id., p. 2. But, the Special Master explained, State Farm did not use an original repair estimate and instead selected data that could have included the actual cost of repairs if such repairs had been made. Since the cost of actual repairs eventually made was not used by State Farm when it calculated a class member’s ACV payment, the data gathered by State Farm would necessarily be corrupted.

         While State Farm argued that the outcome of its methodology showed the burdensome nature of the task it was being forced to undertake in responding to the interrogatories, the Special Master concluded State Farm had not provided any direct answers to the first or second interrogatories with respect to any claims, even the 398 sample claims that State Farm subjected to review by its adjustors.

         As for the third and fourth interrogatories, State Farm argued it did not possess information with respect to a significant portion of such facts. The Special Master pointed out that State Farm’s burden was to provide such information as was known to it or reasonably available to be provided, although a duty to supplement might arise when and if such information did become known or reasonably available to it. Id., p. 5.

         The Special Master also noted that the interrogatory answers were not properly verified on behalf of the corporate entity. The affiants stated that their verifications were not based entirely on their personal knowledge and that such information was provided only to the best of their knowledge, information and belief. But, the Special Master noted, Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(a) expressly permits a corporate party to verify its answers without personal knowledge of every response by furnishing such information as is available to the party. Id., p. 5. The corporation may accomplish this through whatever ...

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