United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the Court on Steven Darmer's Second
Motion to Compel Discovery and Motion for Sanctions.
[Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 239.] In the weeks preceding the
filing of this motion, the Court discussed the nature of the
parties' disagreements regarding discovery during a
telephonic hearing. [See Mins. of Hr'g (May 16,
2019), ECF No. 232.] At that time, the Defendant, State Farm
Fire and Casualty Company, was contemplating bringing its own
motion for sanctions against Mr. Darmer relating to his
failure to disclose certain information during discovery.
Based on previous conduct in the litigation, the Court
cautioned plaintiff's counsel, Edward Beckmann, that it
would not look favorably upon any reciprocal motion to compel
or for sanctions that appeared designed to create a false
sense of equivalence.
of Plaintiff's Combined Motion
Darmer's combined motion to compel and for sanctions
followed, asserting that: (1) State Farm failed to produce
“operation guides” for evaluating an insurance
claim; (2) that he was entitled to receive “SEPs,
” or standard procedures for processing an insurance
claim, which were referenced during the deposition of former
State Farm employee, Nicole Willmore; and (3) that drafts of
letters to Mr. Darmer were not produced in advance of the
depositions of two witnesses. In response to the motion,
State Farm showed that Mr. Darmer's motion lacked merit
in all respects.
11, 2019, the Court held a hearing on State Farm's motion
for sanctions and on Mr. Darmer's combined motion. The
Court denied Mr. Darmer's motion from the bench. [Mins.
of Hr'g (June 11, 2019), ECF No. 267; June 11 Tr. at 15.]
The Court agreed in almost all respects with State Farm's
position regarding Mr. Darmer's discovery complaints.
First, nothing in the record suggested that the requested
operations guides were relevant to any of the claims or
defenses in the litigation, and Mr. Darmer's only
suggestion otherwise was that they were referenced in other
documents that were produced. Second, Ms. Willmore's
deposition testimony revealed that she lacked the authority
to make decisions concerning Mr. Darmer's contents claim,
that she did not independently verify the accuracy of any
contents information supplied by Mr. Darmer, and that the
SEPs had no bearing on the claims in the
litigation.Third, with respect to the allegedly late
production of draft letters, State Farm offered to produce
several drafts as early as February of 2019, but it sought
confirmation that such a production would put an end to the
dispute on that issue. However, Mr. Beckmann repeatedly
failed to respond to requests from defense counsel that the
matter would be considered closed if State Farm produced the
drafts for several months, rending the claim of untimely
production misleading. Finally, the communications between
counsel and the nature of Mr. Darmer's requests revealed
a desire for incredibly broad discovery that had become a
moving target and sought information that was either
irrelevant or so untethered to the claims and defenses in the
litigation that requiring its production would be
disproportionate to the needs of the case.
with that bench ruling and the foregoing discussion,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT Mr. Darmer's
Second Motion to Compel Discovery and Motion for Sanctions
[ECF No. 239] is DENIED.
June 11, 2019 hearing, the Court explained that it had the
“strong impression” that Mr. Darmer's motion
was an attempt to create the appearance of equivalent
discovery misconduct that it cautioned the parties against
during the May 16, 2019 telephone conference. [June 11 Tr. at
16-17.] The Court also instructed counsel for State Farm to
provide written submissions on the issue of shifting fees
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(5). [Id. at 16.] State Farm
submitted the Eighth Affidavit of Scott Williams to support
the expenses, including attorney's fees, incurred in
opposing Mr. Darmer's combined motion. [8th Williams
Aff., ECF No. 271.] Between Mr. Williams and his co-counsel
Lehoan Pham, State Farm incurred $8, 057.00 in fees in
responding to Mr. Darmer's motion. [Id. at
Beckmann filed a response to State Farm's request for
fees, arguing that the motion to compel discovery was
substantially justified. [Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 284.] The
response asserts that Mr. Darmer acted reasonably in
discovery, seeking documents whose existence was revealed
during deposition testimony or otherwise, consistent with the
parties' practices in this case. He argues that
“[t]he mere fact Darmer filed [the motion] is not
sanctionable” even though the Court rejected the merits
of his position. [Id. at 2-6.] Further, Mr. Beckmann
asserts that the request for $8, 057.00 is unreasonably high,
reflecting more time than was necessary to respond to the
reviewed the parties' correspondence leading up to Mr.
Darmer's combined motion, the memoranda filed by the
parties, and the post-hearing submissions, the Court finds
that an award of State Farms expenses, including
attorney's fees, incurred in responding to the motion is
appropriate. Specifically, the Court is not convinced that
Mr. Darmer's position was substantially justified. Mr.
Darmer failed to demonstrate that the operations guides he
requested in his motion to compel were even arguably relevant
to the claims or proportionate to the needs of the case. He
relied on a skewed and incomplete presentation of Ms.
Willmore's testimony to request the SEPs, which he also
failed to demonstrate were relevant to the claims at issue.
And he argued that he had been prejudiced by the alleged
untimely disclosure of draft letters, despite plaintiff's
counsel having failed to address the issue for several months
when State Farm sought a compromise position.
the Court concludes that the full amount of fees requested by
State Farm is larger than is reasonable. The Court concludes
$4, 000 reflects the attorney's fees reasonably incurred
in responding to the motion. Accordingly, IT IS
HEREBY ORDERED THAT Mr. Darmer, his counsel, or both
shall pay State Farm its reasonable expenses, including
attorney's fees, of $4, 000 incurred in opposing the
combined motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(5)(B).
See Tr. of Hr'g
(“June 11 Tr.”) at 16-17 (“When we all
spoke on the phone, I really communicated to the parties that
I didn't want to see a motion from either side that was
designed to be a prophylactic motion to create ...