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Olberg v. Allstate Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

November 14, 2019

JEFF OLBERG, an individual et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, an Illinois corporation et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          THE HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on the parties' joint submission pursuant to Western District of Washington Local Civil Rule 37(a)(2) (Dkt. No. 72). Plaintiffs seek an order requiring Defendants Allstate Insurance Company and Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company to produce several documents in unredacted form. (See id. at 1.) Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS Plaintiffs' request for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs bring a putative class action suit on behalf of Washington insureds against Defendants, asserting a variety of state law claims arising from Defendants' alleged erroneous valuations of total loss vehicles. (See generally Dkt. No. 50.) The Court has entered a protective order restricting the use of confidential information, including documents containing “proprietary or competitive business information regarding business practices and/or policies” or “financial and/or valuation information, ” produced in this action. (See Dkt. No. 32.)

         Plaintiffs have served Defendants with two requests for production seeking documents related to Defendants' valuation of total loss claims. (See Dkt. No. 72 at 4-5.)[1] Defendants objected to both requests for production, arguing that they were overly broad, were not relevant or reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, or sought proprietary business information. (See id.) Defendants have not asserted a claim of privilege as to the documents. (Id.) Ultimately, Defendants produced heavily redacted documents in response to Plaintiffs' requests for production. (Id. at 2; see Dkt. Nos. 73-5, 73-6.) Defendants have provided Plaintiffs with a redaction log stating the grounds for each redaction. (See Dkt. No. 74-1.)

         Defendants assert that they have redacted portions of the documents that “deal strictly with repairable vehicle claims” or are “non-responsive, irrelevant, and commercially sensitive as they pertain to financial information and personnel that have no bearing on the claims at issue in this suit.” (See Dkt. Nos. 72 at 3-4, 74 at 1-2.) Defendants further argue that, although a protective order has been entered in this action “and that documents produced herein are not to be used outside this litigation, ” it should not be required to produce “irrelevant, non-responsive, yet commercially sensitive information to a nationwide class action plaintiffs' firm[, which] simply provides potential fodder for other unsubstantiated claims in the future.” (Dkt. No. 72 at 4.)

         Plaintiffs seek an order compelling Defendants to produce unredacted versions of the documents. (See id. at 1.)[2] The parties certify that they have met and conferred in good faith pursuant to Western District of Washington Local Civil Rule 37(a)(2)(H) but remain at an impasse. (See id. at 2.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Discovery motions are strongly disfavored. The Court has broad discretion in controlling discovery. See Little v. City of Seattle, 863 F.2d 681, 685 (9th Cir. 1988). “Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Under Rule 26, the concept of relevance “has been construed broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.” Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). If the parties are unable to resolve their discovery issues, the requesting party may move for an order to compel. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1).

         District courts appear split on the issue of whether a party may unilaterally redact material the party considers nonresponsive or irrelevant from an otherwise responsive document. See Bonnell v. Carnival Corp., 2014 WL 10979823, slip op. at 3 (S.D. Fla. Jan 2014). But the Court agrees with courts in this district that have disapproved of the practice. See, e.g., Doe v. Trump, 329 F.R.D. 262, 275-76 (W.D. Wash. 2018); Krausz Indus., Ltd. v. Romac Indus., No. C10-1204-RSL, Dkt. No. 165 at 4-5 (W.D. Wash. 2011). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34 concerns the discovery of “documents, ” not portions thereof, and “[i]t is the rare document that contains only relevant information; and irrelevant information within an otherwise relevant document may provide context necessary to understand the relevant information.” Trump, 329 F.R.D. at 275-76. “Redaction is generally an inappropriate tool for excluding information that a party considers to be irrelevant or nonresponsive from documents that are otherwise responsive to a discovery request.” Id. at 275 (collecting cases). Moreover, redaction may render disclosed documents confusing or difficult to use, and lead to “the litigation of collateral issues and the needless expenditure of resources.” Id. at 276 (citing In re Medeva Sec. Litig., 1995 WL 943468, slip op. at 3 (C.D. Cal. 1995)). The entry of a protective order limiting the use of sensitive or confidential information minimizes the potential harm of disclosing allegedly irrelevant information not subject to a claim of privilege. See id.; Krausz Indus., C10-1204-RSL, Dkt. No. 165 at 5 (citing Evon v. Law Offices of Sidney Mickell, 2010 WL 4554767, slip op. at 2 n.1 (E.D. Cal. 2010)).

         Absent a claim of privilege, Defendants' assertion that the material at issue is irrelevant to this litigation is insufficient to justify their unilateral redactions of material from otherwise responsive documents. Defendants have not established that the redacted material cannot meet the low bar of relevance under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in light of Plaintiffs' claims in this matter. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1); Oppenheimer Fund, 437 U.S. at 351; (see generally Dkt. Nos. 50, 72). Further, even assuming the material does not meet this low bar, the extensive nature of the redactions deprives the responsive documents of both context and clarity. See Trump, 329 F.R.D. at 275-76; (see, e.g., Dkt. No. 73-5). Finally, despite Defendants' concerns about the nature of Plaintiffs' retained counsel, the Court is satisfied that the protective order entered in this case contains sufficient procedural safeguards to protect Defendants' confidential information from improper use beyond this litigation. See Trump, 329 F.R.D. at 276; Krausz Indus., C10-1204-RSL, Dkt. No. 165 at 5; (Dkt. No. 32.)[3]

         III. CONCLUSION

         For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs' request for an order compelling Defendants Allstate Insurance Company and Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company to produce unredacted forms of the responsive documents at issue (Dkt. No. 72) is GRANTED. Defendants Allstate Insurance Company and Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company shall provide Plaintiffs with unredacted versions of ...


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