Appeals court says discovery request too broad in hurricane suit

Steve Korris Jan. 6, 2011, 3:52am

Montgomery County District Judge Kathleen Hamilton improperly ordered insurers in a Hurricane Ike suit to produce records far beyond the scope of the storm, Ninth District appeals judges decided on Dec. 30.

"Discovery requests must show a reasonable expectation of obtaining information that will aid in the resolution of the dispute; accordingly, the requests must be tailored to include only relevant matters," they wrote.

"Requests that are overly broad and that seek irrelevant information are not permissible and the trial court abuses its discretion by ordering discovery that exceeds that permitted by the rules of procedure," they wrote.

The judges granted a writ of mandamus to GMAC Direct Insurance, Ranchers and Farmers Mutual, and Homesite Lloyds of Texas.

Dennis and Jenele Carlson sued the insurers and others on tort and contract theories in connection with their homeowner policy.

They asked Hamilton to compel production of all computer files and data bases specifically about Ike and generally about property damage.

They asked for 10 years of correspondence, e-mail and otherwise, between insurers and vendors on instructions, procedures, changes, training, payments and billing for property, property damage, hurricane, flood and catastrophe claims.

They asked for five years of communications between engineers or others evaluating their claims or anyone else's claim.

Hamilton ordered production, without holding a hearing.

On appeal, the Carlsons argued that they requested data bases to produce evidence of company wide practices for which they could seek exemplary damages.

They argued that they requested 10 years of correspondence to produce evidence that reliance on an investigation by any agent would be unreasonable.

They argued that they requested engineer evaluations to produce evidence that reliance on them would be unreasonable.

The Carlsons struck out on all three pitches, according to an unsigned opinion from Chief Justice Steve McKeithen and Justices David Gaultney and Charles Kreger.

They branded the data base request as "the sort of fishing expedition that harvests vast amounts of tenuous information along with the pertinent information that was used in adjusting the Carlsons' claims."

They wrote, "The request for correspondence is similarly expansive."

They wrote that although the information might reveal that insurers failed to adequately train agents, the Carlsons didn't tailor the request to include only relevant evidence.

They wrote that the request for engineer evaluations "includes information that has nothing whatsoever to do with the insurance claim at issue in this case."

Steven Hudgins, Michael Hudgins and Melissa Mihalich represented the insurers.

Mynor Rodriguez represented the Carlsons.

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