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Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's of London v. Lowen Valley View, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

June 9, 2017

CERTAIN UNDERWRITERS AT LLOYD'S OF LONDON, Syndicate Nos. 2003, 1414, 0510, 4472, 1182, 1200, and 4444, Subscribing to Policy Number NJL440003612, Plaintiff,
v.
LOWEN VALLEY VIEW, LLC and PANADE II LTD. d/b/a HILTON GARDEN INN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          DAVID L. HORAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Defendants Lowen Valley View, LLC and Panade II, Ltd. d/b/a Hilton Garden Inn have filed an Opposed Motion to Compel Production of Certain Documents Withheld from Production [Dkt. No. 62] (the “MTC”), seeking an order under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37(a) to order Plaintiff Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's of London (“Certain Underwriters”) to produce three withheld documents.

         United States District Judge Jane J. Boyle has referred the MTC to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for hearing, if necessary, and determination under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). See Dkt. No. 65.

          Certain Underwriters filed a response, see Dkt. No. 67; Defendants filed a reply, see Dkt. No. 72; and Certain Underwriters filed a sur-reply, see Dkt. No. 80. The Court determines that a hearing or oral argument is not necessary to resolve the MTC.

         In their reply, “Defendants concede that [Certain Underwriters] have met their burden to show that the document Bates numbered Lloyds 00387 was properly withheld based on the attorney-client communication privilege.” Dkt. No. 72 at 2. But remaining for decision is whether Certain Underwriters must produce three documents withheld as protected work product: (1) Lloyds 00381-00383, report dated April 1, 2015; (2) Lloyds 00399-00402, report dated May 23, 2015; and (3) Lloyds 00387-00398, Frontier Notes Report dated March 11, 2015 - August 5, 2016. According to Defendants, the first two documents are “reports are from Justin Whedbee of Frontier Adjusters to Ross Fry of Peninsula Insurance Bureau, the claims administrator for Certain Underwriters, ” and “were made by Frontier Adjusters while they were adjusting the claim for Certain Underwriters.” Dkt. No. 63 at 5. Defendants note that “Derek Phipps, the independent adjuster assigned to the Lowen claim testified that Frontier Adjusters used these reports to document his investigation and make recommendations.” Id. And the third document is a set of log notes “created by adjusters not employed by Certain Underwriters, Justin Whedbee of Frontier and/or Derek Phipps, the independent adjusters with Frontier.” Id. at 6. Defendants note that “Phipps testified that the notes are made to document evaluations that occur during the adjustment of the claim.” Id.

         The pertinent procedural and factual background is familiar to the parties, and the Court will not repeat it here.

         The following legal standards govern Certain Underwriters' assertion of work-product protection:

[T]he issue of whether documents are exempt from discovery under the attorney work product doctrine is governed by federal law.... The federal work product doctrine, as codified by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(3), provides for the qualified protection of documents and tangible things prepared by or for a party or that party's representative “in anticipation of litigation or for trial.” A document need not be generated in the course of an ongoing lawsuit in order to qualify for work product protection. But “the primary motivating purpose” behind the creation of the document must be to aid in possible future litigation. As the advisory committee notes to Rule 26(b)(3) make clear, “[m]aterials assembled in the ordinary course of business, or pursuant to public requirements unrelated to litigation, or for other nonlitigation purposes are not under the qualified immunity provided by this subdivision.”
Among the factors relevant to determining the primary motivation for creating a document are “‘the retention of counsel and his involvement in the generation of the document and whether it was a routine practice to prepare that type of document or whether the document was instead prepared in response to a particular circumstance.'” If the document would have been created without regard to whether litigation was expected to ensue, it was made in the ordinary course of business and not in anticipation of litigation.
Like all privileges, the work product doctrine must be strictly construed. The burden is on the party who seeks work product protection to show that the materials at issue were prepared by its representative in anticipation of litigation or for trial. A general allegation of work product protection is insufficient to meet this burden. Instead, “‘a clear showing must be made which sets forth the items or categories objected to and the reasons for that objection.'” The proponent must provide sufficient facts by way of detailed affidavits or other evidence to enable the court to determine whether the documents constitute work product. Although a privilege log and an in camera review of documents may assist the court in conducting its analysis, a party asserting the work product exemption still must provide “a detailed description of the materials in dispute and state specific and precise reasons for their claim of protection from disclosure.” In fact, “‘resort to in camera review is appropriate only after the burdened party has submitted detailed affidavits and other evidence to the extent possible.'”

OrchestrateHR, Inc. v. Trombetta, No. 3:13-cv-2110-P, 2014 WL 884742, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 27, 2014) (citations omitted).

         “If a party meets its burden and proves that the materials sought warrant work product protection, the party seeking discovery must prove why those materials should still be produced.” S.E.C. v. Brady, 238 F.R.D. 429, 443 (N.D. Tex. 2006). Rule 26(b)(3) instructs the court to “protect against disclosure of the mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of an attorney or other representative of a party concerning the litigation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(3). A party may only obtain discovery of documents prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial upon showing that the party seeking discovery has (1) substantial need of the materials to prepare for his or her case and (2) that the party cannot obtain the substantial equivalent of the materials by other means without undue hardship. See id.

         In support of its response and withholding of the documents at issue, Certain Underwriters submitted the Affidavit of Brian Wall. See Dkt. No. 69 at 12-13 of 13. Mr. Wall attests:

2. “I am currently a member of the Property Claims team at Syndicate 2013. I manage the investigation and resolution of property damage claims made under relevant policies.”
3. “During the investigation of the claim made by the Insured, Lowen Valley View, Panade II, Ltd d/b/a Hilton Garden Inn, once the issues of late notice and the prejudice suffered by Underwriters arose, a determination was made that litigation was probable.”
4. “On March 2, 2015, Peninsula Insurance Bureau sent a letter to Lowen Valley View, LLC stating that as a result of the loss, Underwriters would be proceeding with the investigation under a ...

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