Thursday, May 28, 2015

Judge Mariani of Middle District of PA Explores Parameters of Discovery of Claims Files in Auto Bad Faith Claim

Judge Robert D. Mariani of the Federal Middle District Court of Pennsylvania ruled in Lane v. State Farm, No. 3-14-CV-01045 (M.D. Pa. May 18, 2015 Mariani, J.), that the mental impressions of the carrier’s claims professionals recorded after the Plaintiff’s Complaint was filed, as well as notes of the carrier's auto evaluation which referenced the carrier's defense attorneys' mental impressions, were considered privileged information and were, therefore, not discoverable.  Plaintiff's motion to compel was denied.

In this matter, the carrier produced redacted documents from the claims file along with a privilege log.  The Plaintiff filed a motion seeking an Order requiring that certain redacted portions of State Farm's privilege log to be revealed.  The Plaintiff claimed, in part, that could not confirm whether the portions redacted by the carrier did constitute privileged information.

Judge Robert D. Mariani
M.D. Pa.
The court ruled that the redacted portions did not have to be produced because the privileged nature of the documents were adequately described in the privilege log by defense counsel as an officer of the court.  For example, the redacted pages were marked as billing invoices for legal services or letters between the carrier and its defense counsel.

In ruling that the redacted portions need not be disclosed, the court noted that a hypothetical suggestion that representations made by a duly licensed attorney and officer of this court could be found to be utter fabrications is insufficient to carry plaintiff's burden in overcoming the privilege,.

The court also rejected the Plaintiff’s request for an in camera review of the redacted portions by the court to confirm the propriety of the redactions by defense counsel.

Judge Mariani otherwise provided instruction in his decision on the extent to which the post-Complaint mental impressions of a claims representative may be discoverable in a bad faith claim.  Concisely, Judge Mariani held that the mere existence of a bad faith claim in a Complaint “does not make otherwise privileged information per se discoverable.” 

Rather, a party seeking such discovery must meet its burden of persuading the court that such documents are not protected from discovery under the particular facts of the case.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

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