• Fort Worth Court of Appeal Rejects Overbroad Discovery & Grants Mandamus for Insurer in Declaratory Judgment Action
  • February 7, 2014
  • Law Firm: Martin Disiere Jefferson Wisdom L.L.P. - Houston Office
  • The Ft. Worth Court of Appeals on Thursday issued a conditional writ of mandamus last Thursday after multiple Farmers Insurance entities challenged a trial court’s order granting the insured’s motion to compel written discovery. In In re Texas Farmers Insurance Co. et al, No. 02-13-00449-CV, — WL — (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Jan. 30, 2014), Farmers brought a mandamus proceeding arising out of a declaratory judgment action concerning the duty to defend and indemnify in a suit involving an all-terrain vehicle accident. The insured served discovery seeking, among other things, claims and training manuals and “all documents” relating to an applicable exclusion and to a broad set of prior insurance claims. Farmers objected and asserted various privileges, and the insured moved to compel.

    After a hearing, the trial court ordered production of responsive material over all of Farmers’ objections. The court did so even though the parties and the court agreed that the insured should withdraw one of the requests and serve a narrower one, and even though the court had reviewed neither a privilege log nor the documents themselves to determine if any of the asserted privileges applied. Farmers sought mandamus relief from the court of appeals, and the court of appeals stayed the order compelling discovery responses while the mandamus proceeding went forward.

    Of the eleven-page appellate court opinion, the analysis of the issues took just two paragraphs. The court of appeals first criticized the trial court’s compelling production over privilege objections before Farmers had even been required to prepare a privilege log, and without Farmers even submitting the contested documents for in camera inspection by the judge. Further, the trial court had erroneously ordered a response to the request for production that all parties had agreed would be narrowed, without acknowledging this agreement in its written order. Finally, the trial court compelled responses to requests seeking “‘all’ documents” that the court of appeals held were “facially overbroad as to breadth and scope.” The court of appeals therefore sustained Farmers’ mandamus issue and issued a conditional writ offering the trial court the opportunity to correct the identified errors.