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Olivet Baptist Church v. Church Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 23, 2015



GEORGE M. MAROVICH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Olivet Baptist Church ("Olivet") filed suit against Church Mutual Insurance Company ("Church Mutual"), alleging, among other things, breach of an insurance agreement.[1] After several discovery disputes, Magistrate Judge Finnegan issued a Report and Recommendation in which she recommended that plaintiff Olivet be sanctioned. Olivet timely filed objections. For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation to the extent it is consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

Discovery in this case was originally scheduled to end on January 2, 2014 but was extended several times. At last count, discovery was to close by September 30, 2014, pursuant to Magistrate Judge Finnegan's July 22, 2014 order.

Plaintiff Olivet, a church, purchased from Church Mutual an insurance policy that went into effect on February 28, 2011. Prior to that, Olivet had been without insurance for some period of time. In its second-amended complaint, Olivet alleged that "[o]n March 1, 2011, and thereafter, the Property suffered damage due to wind, and/or other weather related conditions, as well as other covered events that took place within Cook County, IL." (Plf. Second Amended Complaint at ΒΆ 9). Naturally, discovery in this case covered such subjects as the dates and types of weather events, the extent of the damage and causation. Defendant believes that the damage to the church predated March 1, 2011.

The parties and their attorneys have had a number of disputes with respect to discovery in this case. Church Mutual filed its first motion to compel in October 2013. That motion was entered and continued a number of times, because the parties reported to Magistrate Judge Keys (who was, at the time, the Magistrate Judge assigned to the case) that they were attempting to work out their disputes.

Ultimately, the first motion was mooted when Church Mutual filed, on February 24, 2014, its second motion to compel. The primary focus of the second motion to compel was plaintiff's failure to produce documents that plaintiff's witnesses (Deacon Sawyer, Deacon Romeo and Deacon King) had mentioned during their depositions. Before those depositions, defendant had requested the production of documents reflecting the physical condition of the church prior to March 1, 2011. During the depositions, the deacons testified that they had possessed: (a) records of repairs to the church and its roof before March 1, 2011; (b) pictures of the church before March 1, 2011; and (c) engineering reports from an entity called Perry & Associates. The deacons also testified that they had given those documents to plaintiff's counsel. Because plaintiff's counsel had not produced the documents in discovery, defendant filed a motion to compel. Defendant also sought the minutes from the meetings of the Deacons' Board and the Board of Directors.

On February 28, 2014, Magistrate Judge Keys "granted in its entirety" Church Mutual's second motion to compel. Magistrate Judge Keys stated in his order:

The Court has reviewed the transcript of the deposition of two of the deponents. It is clear that documents described in the discovery request are in possession of the church. These witnesses have represented that they have forwarded these documents to their counsel. The Court notes that local counsel who has appeared before this court has indicated that he has turned over all of his documents to the defendants. To the extent that out of town counsel has documents in his possession, they are to be turned over by 3/21/14. These documents appear to be very important to the issues in this case. It is imperative that these documents be produced to the defendant forthwith.

(Docket entry 40) (emphasis added). Magistrate Judge Keys went on to say that defendant would be allowed to redepose the relevant witnesses if it needed to. He also extended the discovery deadline to May 31, 2014.

By April 16, 2014, Church Mutual filed its third motion to compel. The primary focus of the third motion to compel was the meeting minutes. Plaintiff had produced minutes of meetings held through December 6, 2006. Defendant found it surprising that plaintiff did not produce minutes for more-recent meetings. At the April 25, 2014 hearing on the motion, the parties agreed to visit the church and to confer in an attempt to resolve their disputes. Magistrate Judge Keys entered and continued the third motion to compel and extended the discovery cut-off date to July 31, 2014.

Soon thereafter, Magistrate Judge Keys retired, and the case was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Finnegan. Magistrate Judge Finnegan set for June 27, 2014 a status hearing, at which plaintiff's counsel failed to appear. A month later, defendant requested a discovery extension, and Magistrate Judge Finnegan extended the discovery cut-off date to September 30, 2014.

On July 23, 2014, defendant filed its fourth motion to compel. With the fourth motion to compel, defendant sought proper answers to several interrogatories it had propounded in July 2013. Specifically, in Interrogatory No. 4, defendant had asked plaintiff, "For each separate occurrence for which plaintiff is making claim against Church Mutual please state: (a) the precise date and time of the occurrence; (b) the nature of the occurrence (examples: hail, windstorm, tornado, torrential rains);..." Plaintiff's original answer to this interrogatory was: "Plaintiff objects as this Interrogatory is overly broad. Subject to the foregoing objection and without waiving the same, this relates to an ongoing problem from March 1, 2011 until the present. It was a result from storm-related and weather-related events, followed by repeating [sic] torrential rain events, and the condition of the property worsened after each occurrence." In other words, plaintiff did not provide a responsive answer. Plaintiff later amended the response to state: "(a) March 1, 2011; (b) It was a result of storm and weather-related events followed by repeating [sic] torrential rain events, and the condition of the property worsened after each occurrence..."

Defendant's interrogatories had also requested information on damages. In Interrogatory No. 5, defendant had asked plaintiff to "[d]escribe and itemize by date of occurrence, nature of occurrence (example: hail, windstorm, tornados, torrential rains) and cost of repair the damage sustained by you as a result of each of the occurrences described in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint." Plaintiff responded to Interrogatory No. 5 by stating, "All such information was provided Church Mutual on an ongoing basis. Plaintiff relied on our insurance company, Church Mutual to document each report and investigate each of these incidents. Moreover, Plaintiff had full expectation that Church Mutual would honor claims." Once again, the answer was not responsive to the interrogatory. Plaintiff later amended the response to add, "[Plaintiff] notified [defendant] on April 18, 2011 of the claims underlying the present matter. In addition, on October 15, 2011, despite delays in [defendant's] sending an adjuster to view the loss site, Mr. John Couture, of York Specialized Loss Adjusting met with Deacon Romeo at the loss site." This, too, was not responsive. Separately, plaintiff had supplied a damages report prepared by the Stephenson Group. The report was 700 pages long and itemized costs of $4, 196, 129.41 to repair the church.

On August 12, 2014, Magistrate Judge Finnegan entered the following order:

Defendant's fourth motion to compel plaintiff to provide complete responses to written discovery is granted in part and denied in part per the rulings stated on the record. Plaintiff shall provide supplemental answers that provide the date for each weather event, a description of each such weather event (e.g., windstorm, hail storm, tornado), and a description of the specific damages to the church resulting from each weather event and cost of repair. To the extent that Plaintiff is unable to provide this information, it must so state in the supplemental answers and will be bound by the answers at trial.

(Docket entry 58) (emphasis added). Judge Finnegan deferred ruling on defendant's request for sanctions.

On August 26, 2014, plaintiff served amended responses. In answer to Interrogatory No. 4, plaintiff stated, "The March 1, 2011 event was a windstorm that caused severe and continuing damage to the subject property. This is the only occurrence that Plaintiff is basing its suit upon. There logically were instances of rain, snow, and other weather-related events that occurred after the March 1, 2011 wind event, but, those are not specific occurrences giving rise to any independent claims in this matter. Those additional incidences simply caused continued damage that resulted from the initial event of March 1, 2011. Plaintiff cannot testify as to a specific date on which such other events occurred, but that they were after March 1, 2011." As to the damages, plaintiff answered, "Plaintiff is claiming the following amounts for the windstorm event of March 1, 2011. The specific line by line entries and totals are contained within the United Construction Consultants, LLC report which is in the possession of Defendants." Plaintiff then listed items totally $2, 877, 300.21.

Plaintiff's supplemental answer to the damages interrogatory was confusing to defendant, in the face of the previously-produced Stephenson Report, which had set repair costs at about $4.2 million. Defendant's counsel contacted plaintiff's counsel and noted that plaintiff had never produced a report by United Construction Consultants, LLC. On September 4, 2014, plaintiff served supplemental (and ...

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