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May 11 — State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. must respond to interrogatories because the data at issue is relevant to the case and the discovery request is proportional under Rule 26, the Western District of Missouri held May 9.
The court ruled on State Farm's request to vacate an order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b), which requires discovery requests to be considered in light of several proportionality factors. The court determined that given the difference between individual plaintiff Amanda LaBrier's access and resources and those of State Farm, the insurance company must respond to the request.
In July 2015, LaBrier began serving requests on State Farm for discovery regarding the insurance company's data related to putative class members. In October 2015, LaBrier suggested that State Farm provide a list of data fields that were available in its databases including a list related to the insurer's internal claims payment data. State Farm refused to do so, although its software engineers testified that State Farm did maintain a list of data fields that could be put into an Excel spreadsheet.
In a preliminary ruling in March, a Special Master decided that in lieu of State Farm providing the data fields or remote access to its claims system as LaBrier had requested, State Farm should answer interrogatories related to labor depreciation withheld.
State Farm objected to the order, arguing the interrogatories would be unduly burdensome.
The court analyzed the order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) noting the Rules “contemplate liberal discovery.”
According to the order, State Farm didn't dispute that the discovery sought was relevant.
“Indeed, the discovery goes directly to central issues in the case and is needed to identify class members and damages, discovery that is routinely provided in class action cases,” the court said.
State Farm argued it couldn't answer the interrogatories without doing inquiries into multiple databases and to do so would be expensive. But the court wasn't swayed.
“The Court recognizes this might require computer programming that State Farm does not have or does not normally use for this purpose,” the court said. “Nonetheless, State Farm has refused access to its computer system…Therefore, neither the Court nor LaBrier can determine whether such a calculation can be made with existing software.”
The court noted that the Special Master's order to answer interrogatories addressed State Farm's concern about keeping its computer system confidential.
“A litigant cannot keep its own system secret and then refuse to gather the information itself,” the court said.
State Farm also argued the discovery wasn't proportional to the needs of the case, but the court disagreed.
The court cited the fact that LaBrier didn't have access to the relevant information, and that as an individual up against a corporation with a national presence, she was outweighed in terms of resources.
“As discussed in the preceding section, the burden or expense of the discovery outweighs its likely benefit, particularly in light of State Farm's refusal to permit an outsider to access its computer system or even provide complete lists of its data fields,” the court said.
The court denied the motion to vacate the discovery order.
Judge Nanette K. Laughrey wrote the order.
Butsch Roberts and Associates LLC in Clayton, Mo., represented LaBrier. Schiff Hardin LLP in Chicago represented State Farm.
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The full text of LaBrier v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. is available at
The full text of LaBrier v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/LaBrier_v_State_Farm_Fire__Cas_Co_No_215cv04093NKL_2016_BL_147757
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