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Sorrell v. Reeves

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

October 21, 2019

IMA JEAN SORRELL & WILLIAM SAMUEL SORRELL, JR.
v.
JERRY W. REEVES, Individually & as Trustee F/B/O WILLIAM SAMUEL SORRELL, SR. TRUST, et al.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiff Ima Jean Sorrell's Motion to Compel (Dkt. #112) and the Reeves Defendants'[1] Motion for Protective Order (Dkt. #126).[2] Having reviewed the motion and the relevant pleadings, the Court finds that the motion to compel should be granted and the motion for protective order should be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Mrs. Ima Jean Sorrell was married to Mr. William Sorrell, Sr. (collectively “the Sorrells”). They had two children: Plaintiff, Mr. William Samuel Sorrell, Jr. and Ms. Bonnie Sorrell Gregory. The Sorrells accumulated a sizable joint estate worth in excess of $5, 000, 000 prior to their retirement.

         In 2014, William Sorrell, Sr. consulted the Sorrells' attorney Defendant J.S. “Sandy” Freels to create a second draft of the Sorrells' estate planning documents, which included the Sorrells' wills, trusts, and power of attorneys, specifically creating the Ima Jean Sorrell Trust and William Samuel Sorrell, Sr. Trust (“Sorrell Trusts”). The Sorrell Trusts appointed Defendant, Jerry W. Reeves as the trustee of the Sorrell Trusts and named Jerry Reeves' wife, Mary Lou Reeves, and their son, Brandon W. Reeves (collectively “the Reeves Defendants”) as successor trustees of the Sorrell Trusts. The estate planning documents also list the Reeves Defendants as the beneficiaries of the residual estate after the death of Ima Jean Sorrell and William Sorrell, Jr. (collectively “Plaintiffs”). Plaintiffs did not know Jerry Reeves or the Reeves Defendants.

         William Sorrell, Sr. passed away on February 20, 2014. Immediately after, Jerry Reeves exercised Ima Jean Sorrell's power of attorney. Acting in his roles under the Sorrells' relevant estate planning documents, Jerry Reeves transferred all of Ima Jean Sorrell's assets, including all her cash, to an entity that is believed to be the Sorrell Trusts. Meanwhile, Jerry Reeves also began to make cash payments of $1, 300 per month to Plaintiffs. After the filing of the present suit, Jerry Reeves resigned as trustee and Brandon Reeves is now the acting trustee.

         Plaintiffs filed suit on May 14, 2018 (Dkt. #1). Prior to and during the present suit, Plaintiffs requested from the Reeves Defendants an accounting of the Sorrell Trusts. The Court then ordered that an accounting be completed, which was completed on December 21, 2018 (Dkt. #83). However, Plaintiff still has questions regarding the accounting; thus, on March 5, 2019, Plaintiff filed the present motion to compel (Dkt. #112). On March 19, 2019, the Reeves Defendants filed a response (Dkt. #120). Plaintiffs filed their reply on March 20, 2019 (Dkt. #122) and the Reeves Defendants filed their reply on March 27, 2019 (Dkt. #124). The Reeves Defendants also filed the present motion for protective order, raising the same or similar arguments presented in the motion to compel briefing on March 27, 2019 (Dkt. #126).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Motion to Compel

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), parties “may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Relevance, for the purposes of Rule 26(b)(1), is when the request is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Id.; Crosby v. La. Health & Indem. Co., 647 F.3d 258, 262 (5th Cir. 2011). It is well-established that “control of discovery is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court.” Freeman v. United States, 556 F.3d 326, 341 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Williamson v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 815 F.2d 368, 382 (5th Cir. 1987)).

         Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a discovering party, on notice to other parties and all affected persons, to “move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1). The moving party bears the burden of showing that the materials and information sought are relevant to the action or will lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Export Worldwide, Ltd. v. Knight, 241 F.R.D. 259, 263 (W.D. Tex. 2006). Once the moving party establishes that the materials requested are within the scope of permissible discovery, the burden shifts to the party resisting discovery to show why the discovery is irrelevant, overly broad, unduly burdensome or oppressive, and thus should not be permitted. Id.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34 governs requests for production of documents (“RFPs”), electronically stored information, and tangible things. Rule 34 requires responses to “either state that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested or state with specificity the grounds for objecting to the request, including the reasons.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(B). “An objection [to the entire request] must state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(C). On the other hand, “[a]n objection to part of a request must specify the part and permit inspection of the rest.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(C).

         After responding to each request with specificity, the responding attorney must sign their request, response, or objection certifying that the response is complete and correct to the best of the attorney's knowledge and that any objection is consistent with the rules and warranted by existing law or a nonfrivolous argument for changing the law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(g). This rule “simply requires that the attorney make a reasonable inquiry into the factual basis of his response, request, or objection.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(g) advisory committee note (1983).

         The federal rules follow a proportionality standard for discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Under this requirement, the burden falls on both parties and the court to consider the proportionality of all discovery in resolving discovery disputes. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), advisory committee note (2015). This rule relies on the fact that each party has a unique understanding of the proportionality to bear on the particular issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), advisory committee note (2015). For example, a party requesting discovery may have little information about the burden or expense of responding. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1), advisory committee note (2015). “The party claiming undue burden or ...


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