Avera McKennan v. Meadowvale Dairy Employee Benefit Plan et al
ORDER denying 29 Motion to Compel. Signed by Magistrate Judge Mark A Roberts on 10/1/2018. (pac)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
MEADOWVALE DAIRY EMPLOYEE
BENEFIT PLAN; and MEADOWVALE
DAIRY, LLC, in its capacity as plan
This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ Motion to Compel. (Doc. 29.)
Plaintiff timely filed a resistance. (Doc. 33.) For the following reasons, Defendants’
motion is DENIED.
The Court has previously discussed the factual background of this case in depth
and will not repeat that discussion here. (Doc. 19 at 1-5.) In sum, this case was brought
pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et. seq.
(“ERISA”), by Plaintiff as “assignee of all of the late Juan Pablo Garcia Marquez’[s] . .
. rights, remedies, benefits, and causes of action under the Meadowvale Dairy Employee
Benefit Plan.” (Doc. 17 ¶ 1.) Plaintiff is a non-profit hospital that treated Mr. Marquez
for an ailment that left Mr. Marquez paralyzed. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 3.)
Pursuant to a written assignment (“the assignment”) Mr. Marquez allegedly
assigned to [Plaintiff] all of [Mr. Marquez’s] rights, remedies, benefits . .
. as well as any and all causes of action that [Mr. Marquez] might have now
or in the future against any Payer to the extent of [Mr. Marquez’s] medical
charges, [and] the right to prosecute such cause of action either in [Mr.
Marquez’s] name or in the name of [Plaintiff].
(Doc. 17-4 at 1) (omission in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted.)
The Parties do not contest whether Defendants are “payers,” within the meaning of the
assignment, and the Court will therefore assume that Defendants are “payers” for
purposes of the instant motion.
Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Marquez was entitled to benefits under the Meadowvale
Dairy Employment Benefit Plan, and that Meadowvale Dairy, LLC, as plan
administrator, improperly denied such benefits. (Doc. 17 ¶¶ 25-30.) Plaintiff asserts
that Plaintiff is empowered to bring this suit based on rights Mr. Marquez would have
had, but for the assignment of those rights to Plaintiff. 1 (Id. at 1.)
On February 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed its Complaint. (Doc. 1.) On March 30,
2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Complaint. (Doc. 13.) On April 19, 2018,
Plaintiff filed its Amended Complaint. (Doc. 17.) On April 30, 2018, Defendants filed
a Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint. (Doc. 18.)
On May 4, 2018, the Court
entered its Memorandum of Opinion and Order on Motion to Dismiss, in which the Court
denied both pending Motions to Dismiss. (Doc. 19.)
Defendants contest the validity of the assignment. (Doc. 21 ¶ 1.)
The motions, briefs, and the Court’s ruling thereon, addressed at length
Defendants’ argument regarding Plaintiff’s standing under the Assignment. (Docs. 13-,
at 1-8; 18-6 at 1-8; 19 at 6-9.) On May 14, 2018, the Court approved and adopted the
Parties’ Joint Proposed Scheduling Order For a Claim-Review Case Filed Under ERISA.
(Doc. 20.) On August 20, 2018, the Court granted Defendants’ Motion for an Extension
of Time, in which Defendants sought an extension of time for Defendants to file their
meritorious brief and for Plaintiff to file its reply brief. (Docs. 30, 31.) The Scheduling
Order set the following relevant deadlines:
1. Deadline for filing of the administrative record: June 4, 2018
2. Deadline for filing of Plaintiff’s opening brief: July 13, 2018
(Doc. 20.) Under the Order Granting Motion for Extension of Time, the deadlines for
Defendants to file their brief and for Plaintiff to file its reply brief became contingent
upon the Court’s ruling on the instant motion. (Doc. 31.) Specifically, the Court held
Defendants are directed to file their brief(s) in response to Plaintiff’s
opening brief in accordance with the following: if the Court grants the
motion to compel, Defendants’ brief(s) is due fifteen (15) days after
Plaintiff responds to Defendants’ requests for production; if the Court
denies the motion to compel, Defendants’ brief(s) is due fifteen (15) days
after the Court’s order denying the motion to compel. In either case,
Plaintiff’s reply brief, should Plaintiff choose to file one, is due fifteen (15)
days after Defendants’ file their brief(s.)
Following the Court’s ruling on Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss, Defendants
jointly filed their untimely Answer on May 29, 2018. (Doc. 21.) See also, Fed. R. Civ.
P. 12(a)(4)(A). The administrative record was timely submitted on June 4, 2018. (Doc.
22.) The Parties jointly submitted an amended administrative record on June 14, 2018.
On July 3, 2018, Defendants served the two Requests for Production of Documents
that are at issue in this matter; i.e., only ten days before Plaintiff’s opening brief was
due. (Doc. 29-2.) Plaintiff served responses and objections to Defendants’ Requests on
August 1, 2018. (Doc. 29-3.) Defendants filed their Motion to Compel on August 17,
2018. (Doc. 29.) Accompanying the motion to compel is a perfunctory declaration of
Defendants’ counsel, which states that counsel “consulted with Plaintiff in an attempt to
resolve the underlying discovery dispute concerning production of documents responsive
to Requests No. 1 and 2.” (Doc. 29-4 ¶ 2.) Counsel further attests that the Parties were
unable to reach an agreement. (Id. ¶ 3.)
THE DISCOVERY DISPUTE
Defendants seek to compel Plaintiff to produce information pursuant to two
requests for production. The subject Requests read as follows:
[Request for Production Number One:] All documents concerning any
payment Plaintiff requested or received from a Medicaid program or agency
related to health care services provided to or received by [Mr. Marquez],
including but not limited to claims made, payments, assignment of rights,
powers of attorney, correspondence, communications, and liens.
[Request for Production Number Two:] All documents concerning any
payment Plaintiff requested or received from any person or entity, other
than a Medicaid program or agency, related to health care services provided
to or received by [Mr. Marquez], including but not limited to claims made,
payments, assignments of rights, powers of attorney, correspondence,
communications, and liens.
(Doc. 29-2 ¶¶ 1-2.)
Defendants argue that the information sought regarding these
collateral source payments is relevant to show whether Plaintiff has standing to pursue
this case. (Doc. 29-1 at 3.)
Defendants contend that, assuming, in arguendo, the assignment was valid, the
assignment effected only a lien, and Mr. Marquez retained rights in the claims being
levied against. (Id. at 1-3.) If the “assignment” was, in fact, merely a lien, Defendants
reason, then Plaintiff would be entitled only to payment of Mr. Marquez’s medical
expenses and would not be entitled to pursue any claims Mr. Marquez could have pursued
on his own behalf. (Id. at 3.) If Mr. Marquez’s medical expenses were paid in full by
Medicaid or other collateral sources, Defendants continue, Mr. Marquez’s debt to
Plaintiff would have been extinguished, leaving Plaintiff with no debt to pursue in this
Court. (Id.) Without a debt to pursue, Defendants contend that Plaintiff would be without
injury and, therefore, without standing to pursue this action. (Id.) As such, Defendants
urge that they are entitled to discovery regarding collateral medical payments that may
tend to negate Plaintiff’s claim that Plaintiff has standing to pursue this action.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) sets the following limitations on
Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery is as
follows: 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, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action,
the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant
information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in
resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed
discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of
discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “[i]n ERISA cases, the general
rule is that review is limited to evidence that was before the administrator,” unless the
party seeking more evidence presents a “convincing reason why [the case currently before
the court] should be an exception.” See Jones v. ReliaStar Life Ins. Co., 615 F.3d 941,
945 (8th Cir. 2010). Implicit in this holding is the idea that in the right ERISA case,
discovery could properly take place before the administrator or in district court. Courts
have held that where a plaintiff’s standing to pursue an ERISA action is at issue, and
where discovery may be helpful in resolving the question of standing, “a period of limited
discovery is warranted to develop a record on the issue of whether [standing is proper].”
Jarman v. Capital Blue Cross, 998 F. Supp.2d 369, 378 (M.D. Penn. 2014); see also
Am. Med. Ass’n v. United Healthcare Corp., No. 00Civ.2800(LMM)(GWG), 2002 WL
31413668, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 23, 2002) (granting leave to conduct discovery to
determine whether the parties to the action were properly named as such). Where
discovery is proper in an ERISA case, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 governs. Ehler
v. Wheaton Franciscan Med. Plan, No. C08-2021, 2009 WL 722065, at *3 (N.D. Iowa
Mar. 18, 2009); see also Murphy v. Deloitte & Touche Grp. Ins. Plan, 619 F.3d 1151,
1162 (10th Cir. 2010).
1. Merits of Defendants’ Objections
Defendants have propounded two requests for production, each of which is tailored
to discover only such information as would support Defendants’ theory regarding
Plaintiff’s standing. As such, the Court is satisfied that the scope of discovery sought is
narrow enough that it is of the “limited” nature that may be proper in this ERISA case.
See Jarman, 998 F. Supp.2d at 378.
The final step in the Court’s inquiry is to assess each of Plaintiff’s substantive
objections to the discovery requests so that the Court may determine whether those
objections are sufficient to defeat the discovery requests. Plaintiff’s first objection is that
the Requests for Production “seek[ ] information outside of the administrative record.”
(Doc. 29-3 at 1.) The Court has found that the appellate nature of this case does not
preclude the reopening of discovery for purposes of investigating Plaintiff’s standing.
Plaintiff’s first objection to each Request for Production is overruled.
Plaintiff further objects to Request for Production Number One on the basis that
the Request “is contrary to the language of the Plan, seeks information not relevant to
the claims or defenses asserted by any party, and is not reasonably calculated to lead to
discoverable evidence.” (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff does not address this objection in its brief
(Doc. 33), and the Court is not inclined to speculate as to how the request could be
“contrary to the language of the Plan.” Additionally, it is far from clear how this
statement constitutes a valid objection to the Request. Even if the Request is “contrary
to the language of the Plan,” such an objection is of no consequence. Defendants
apparently do not seek the information to enable them to seek benefits contrary to the
Plan language, but merely to determine whether Plaintiff has standing.
The requests are calculated to obtain information relevant to Defendants’ defense
that Plaintiff lacks standing to pursue this action. (See Doc. 21 at 6.) As such, each of
the aforementioned objections to Request for Production Number One is overruled.
Plaintiff also objects that the Requests are overly broad and unduly burdensome.
(Doc. 29-3 at 2-3.)
Although Plaintiff argues that the catchall terms “related to,”
“concerning,” and “included, but not limited to” used in the Requests make the Requests
facially overbroad and unduly burdensome, Plaintiff has failed to state, specifically, why
such terminology would render discovery overly broad and unduly burdensome in this
case. That is, Plaintiff has raised the objections, but Plaintiff has not particularized its
objections such that the Court is able to discern. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(B)
(objections to requests must “state with specificity the grounds for objecting to the
request, including the reasons”); Steed v. EverHome Mortg. Co., 308 Fed. App’x 364,
371 (11th Cir. 2009) (“We have noted that boilerplate objections may border on a
frivolous response to discovery requests.”); Josephs v. Harris Corp., 677 F.2d 985, 992
(3d Cir. 1982) (“[T]he mere statement by a party that [a discovery request] was ‘overly
broad, burdensome, oppressive and irrelevant’ is not adequate to voice a successful
objection to an interrogatory. . . . [T]he party resisting discovery must show specifically
how each [discovery request] is not relevant or how each [request] is overly broad,
burdensome, or oppressive.”) (citation, internal quotation marks, and alteration omitted);
St. Paul Reins. Co., Ltd. v. Comm. Fin. Corp., 198 F.R.D. 508, 514 (N.D. Iowa 2000)
(“[T]he litany of plaintiffs’ boilerplate objections are unsubstantiated because they fail to
show specifically how each discovery request is burdensome [or] oppressive . . . by
submitting affidavits or offering evidence revealing the nature of the objections.”). As
such, the Court overrules the last of Plaintiff’s objections.
2. Timeliness of Defendants’ Objections
Nevertheless, it appears to the Court that Defendants’ discovery requests are
untimely. As stated above, Jones v. ReliaStar Life Insurance Company provides that
discovery on appeal is limited to the evidence before the administrator. 615 F.3d at 945.
Defendants have not explained why they failed to pursue this discovery during the
administrative proceedings. Nor have Defendants explained their failure to assert the
need for discovery at the time the Scheduling Order was entered in this matter.
Defendants have neither suggested nor shown that the issue of standing was raised during
the administrative proceedings. If the issue was raised below, Defendants have failed to
show the Court when and how it was asserted or whether the issue was preserved for
Even if the Court were to find the issue is the proper subject of discovery under
Jones, the Court finds it proper to deny Defendants’ motion as untimely. Defendants are
essentially seeking to amend the Scheduling Order to include some period of discovery.
A scheduling order “may be modified only for good cause and with the judge’s consent.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b)(4); see also LR 16(f) (“A motion to extend a scheduling order
deadline must demonstrate good cause for the requested extension.”); Rahn v. Hawkins,
464 F.3d 813, 822 (8th Cir. 2006), superseded on other grounds, 556 U.S. 148 (2009)
(“The primary measure of good cause is the movant’s diligence in attempting to meet the
order’s requirements.”). In ruling on motions to extend deadlines and continue trials,
the Court is guided by Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires
the Court and the parties to construe the rules “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive
determination of every action and proceeding.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 1; see also, Rouse v.
Farmers St. Bank of Jewell, 866 F. Supp. 1191, 1199 (N.D. Iowa 1994) (holding that
adherence to reasonable deadlines “is critical to maintaining integrity of court
Having raised the standing issue arising from the assignment, Defendants should
have known at the time of their motion to dismiss—and certainly by the time of the
submission of the proposed scheduling order—that they believed some discovery was
warranted under Jones. Instead of requesting a period of discovery and diligently
pursuing such discovery, Defendants simply served requests ten days before Plaintiff’s
brief was due.
Serving the requests in this fashion renders the requests untimely.
Defendants’ motion is therefore denied.
For the aforementioned reasons, Defendants’ Motion to Compel (Doc. 29) is
IT IS SO ORDERED this 1st day of October, 2018.
Mark A. Roberts
United States Magistrate Judge
Northern District of Iowa
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?