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Kelly v. Lincoln National Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

May 2, 2018

LANISA KELLY, individually and on behalf of all similarly situated individuals, Plaintiff,
v.
LINCOLN NATIONAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ENTRY ON PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S ORDER ON MOTION TO COMPEL

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Lanisa Kelly's (“Kelly”) Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Order on her Motion to Compel Defendant Lincoln National Life Insurance Company (“Lincoln”) to provide documents responsive to all of Kelly's written discovery requests. (Filing No. 86.) For the reasons stated below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Kelly's objections.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         A district court may refer for decision a non-dispositive pretrial motion to a magistrate judge under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a). Rule 72(a) provides:

When a pretrial matter not dispositive of a party's claim or defense is referred to a magistrate judge to hear and decide, the magistrate judge must promptly conduct the required proceedings and, when appropriate, issue a written order stating the decision. A party may serve and file objections to the order within 14 days after being served with a copy. A party may not assign as error a defect in the order not timely objected to. The district judge in the case must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a). After reviewing objections to a magistrate judge's order, the district court will modify or set aside the order only if it is clearly erroneous or contrary to law. The clear error standard is highly deferential, permitting reversal only when the district court “is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., Ltd., 126 F.3d 926, 943 (7th Cir. 1997).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Kelly instituted this lawsuit on September 3, 2015, alleging that Lincoln wrongfully denied her long term disability insurance benefits. (Filing No. 1.) Litigation in this case is currently stayed pending the Court's ruling on Kelly's objections to Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch's (the “Magistrate Judge”) decision resolving discovery disputes. (Filing No. 95.) The parties' counsel have had an unfortunate history in this case of acting uncooperatively toward each other and the Magistrate Judge has frequently had to adjudicate both petty and valid disputes. (Filing No. 84 at 1.) On October 17, 2017, the Magistrate Judge held a discovery conference with the parties, and ordered Lincoln to respond substantively to Kelly's discovery requests. (Filing No. 64.) Following the conference, Lincoln produced Kelly's claim file, but refused to produce anything else and did not provide a written supplemental response as promised during the October discovery conference. (Filing No. 84 at 2.) On December 1, 2017, Kelly submitted written discovery requests. (Filing No. 68-1.) On December 6, 2017, the Magistrate Judge again was called upon to conduct a brief discovery conference, in which Lincoln was ultimately ordered to serve any supplemental discovery responses which included written responses, documents being produced, and any privilege logs. (Filing No. 71.) On December 12, 2017, Lincoln served Kelly with its supplemental responses. (Filing No. 72-1.) Lincoln marked every single document “confidential” and based on this and several other objections, Kelly filed a Motion to Compel with the Magistrate Judge. (SeeFiling No. 86 at 9-10; Filing No. 72-1.) On January 25, 2018, the Magistrate Judge granted in part and denied in part Kelly's Motion to Compel. (Filing No. 84 at 15.) Lincoln was ordered to supplement its answer to Requests 11 through 16 and the Magistrate Judge extended certain deadlines. The remaining requests were denied. The Magistrate Judge's Order on Outstanding Discovery Disputes (Dkt. 72) and Extending Discovery and Expert Deadlines addressed general objections that applied to all requests before resolving the parties' disputes on a document request by document request basis objections. (Filing No. 84 at 3.) On February 8, 2018, Kelly appealed the Magistrate Judge's ruling on various grounds. (Filing No. 86.)

         III. DISCUSSION

         Kelly objects to the Magistrate Judge's ruling regarding Lincoln's general objections and objections to certain document requests. The Court will address each objection in turn. Kelly does not object to the Magistrate Judge's Order regarding Lincoln's confidentiality designations. (Filing No. 84 at 3.)

         A. General Objections

         The Magistrate Judge's Order denied Kelly's Motion to Compel Lincoln's response on Lincoln's “general objections”. Kelly contends that Lincoln's objections to her requests were based on boilerplate objections such as “vague”, “ambiguous”, or “unduly burdensome” and should all be stricken in their entirety. (Filing No. 86 at 12.) The Magistrate Judge noted that in many instances the verbiage of general objections have no legal effect, but also stated that this Court does not follow a policy that general objections can never be made in a discovery response. (Filing No. 84 at 4.) The Magistrate Judge found no benefit at this stage of the case to striking all of Lincoln's general objections or making rulings on each and every one of them. Id. Kelly has not met the clearly erroneous standard, and the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge's streamlining of the objections in focusing on the specific objections. See Id. at 4-5.

         Kelly also contends that the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Lincoln's failure to identify requests that were supplemented did not require relief was in error. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge noted that Kelly “does not suggest that she cannot determine what documents go with which document requests, or cannot determine whether the answers to particular document requests changed from the language used in the June 2017 responses as compared to the language used in the December 2017 responses.” Id. at 5. Kelly concedes that the Federal Rules do not specifically require Lincoln to identify what responses are being supplemented, but that it is common practice to identify what responses are being supplemented. (Filing No. 86 at 13.) The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge. Based on the order of events in this dispute, Kelly could determine which documents constituted supplemental document responses in that everything beyond the claim file's contents were supplemental document responses. (Filing No. 84 at 5.)

         Finally, Kelly does not object to the Magistrate Judge's ruling that she will not enter an order that Lincoln cannot rely, for any purpose, on any document that it did not produce, including in connection with summary judgment briefing or trial, at this time. Id. at 6. (“If Ms. Kelly believes that has ...


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