United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
CERTAIN UNDERWRITERS AT LLOYD'S, LONDON SUBSCRIBING TO POLICY No. BO823PP1308460, et al, Plaintiffs,
ADVANFORT COMPANY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA CARROLL BUCHANAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for
Discovery Sanctions (Dkt. 76). Plaintiffs ask the Court to
sanction Defendant and impose default judgment for
Defendant's failure to comply with this Court's
earlier discovery order. For the reasons stated herein, the
Court shall GRANT IN PART Plaintiffs' Motion for
Procedural and Factual Background
about October 12, 2013, the Indian government seized the M.V.
Seaman Guard Ohio ("0/7/0"), a vessel chartered by
Defendant, and detained the guards and crew aboard the OHIO
(the "Guards" and "Crew"), charging them
with illegally importing weapons into the country ("the
Incident"). (Dkt. 35 at 1.)
November 16, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a complaint for
declaratory judgment against Defendant. (Dkt. 1.) Plaintiffs
filed their First Amended Complaint several weeks later.
(Dkt. 5.) The Amended Complaint seeks declaratory judgment
that a now-expired marine liability insurance policy
("the Policy") does not cover any of
Defendant's alleged damages arising from the Incident.
December 19, 2018, Defendant moved for partial summary
judgment with respect to counts 1-4, 6-8 of the Amended
Complaint. (Dkt. 11.) After complete briefing and oral
argument, the Court denied Defendant's summary judgment
motion on March 5, 2019. (Dkt. 33.)
denying summary judgment, the Court did permit the parties to
conduct limited discovery into a number of delineated topics.
(Id. at 6.) Discovery was to be concluded by
Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Id.) However, because
Defendant informed the Court that it intended to file a
Motion for Reconsideration, the Court stayed discovery
pending resolution of Defendant's motion. (Dkt. 35 at 4.)
On March 15, 2019, Defendant filed its Motion for
Reconsideration, which the Court denied on March 25, 2019.
(Dkts. 37, 46.) On June 4, 2019, the Court amended its
earlier order, extending the end of discovery until Tuesday,
June 25, 2019. (Dkt. 73.)
also brought counterclaims against Plaintiffs on three
separate occasions. The Court twice dismissed those claims
with leave to amend. (Dkts. 35, 50.) In dismissing
Defendant's Second Amended Counterclaims, the Court
provided Defendant leave to amend but warned that no
"further amendments" would be granted. (Dkt. 50 at
3.) Plaintiffs' Motion to Dismiss Defendant's Third
Amended Counterclaims remains pending. (Dkt. 68.)
March 27, 2019, shortly following the denial of
Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration, Plaintiffs served
their First Interrogatories and First Requests for Production
on Defendant. (Pl.'s Mot. to Compel Mem. Supp. at 3, Exs.
1-2.) On April 24, 2019, Defendant served its responses and
objections to Plaintiffs' discovery requests.
(Id. at 3, Exs. 3-4.) After meet-and-confer efforts
failed, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Compel on May 24, 2019.
other requests, Plaintiffs' motion to compel sought
amended responses to Interrogatories 1-10, 13, 14, and 18-20.
(Id. at 7-12.) For Interrogatories 3-10, Plaintiffs
argued Defendant either failed to answer or provided
completely evasive responses. (Id. at 9-11.)
Plaintiffs' interrogatories requested foundational
information about Defendant's claims. For instance,
Plaintiffs' interrogatories asked Defendant to identify
individuals with knowledge of claims against Defendant
(Interrogatory 3), to identify and describe all property
damage and bodily injury claims (Interrogatory 4), and to
identify claims against Defendant brought by its customers
(Interrogatory 5). (Id. at 9-10, Ex. 1.) Other
interrogatories focused on the circumstances surrounding the
Incident. For example, Plaintiffs requested that Defendant
identify all contracts the Guards were engaged with at the
time of the Incident (Interrogatory 6), the contracts the
OHIO was transporting any of the Guards to (Interrogatory 7),
and the activities of the Crew during and in the twenty-four
hours leading up to the Incident (Interrogatory 10).
(Id. at 10-11, Ex. 1.)
response, Defendant characterized Plaintiffs' motion as
"substantively baseless." (Def.'s Compel
Opp'n at 1.) Defendant first reasserted its objections;
objections it did not file until nearly a month after being
served with Plaintiffs' discovery requests. (Id.
at 1, 3-4.) Defendant then proceeded to argue that it
properly responded to each of the Interrogatories at issue.
(Id. at 4-7.) According to Defendant, it either
provided an appropriate narrative response, a citation to
produced documents where the information was located, or
simply did not know the information requested. (Id.)
hearing held on May 31, 2019, the Court, with a minor
exception, granted Plaintiffs Motion to Compel, (Hr'g Tr.
18:8-12, Dkt. 75), ordering Defendant to reanswer
Interrogatories 3-14, and 18-20 in narrative form (Hr'g
Tr. 17:10-13). In so ruling, the Court held that
Defendant's initial responses were "clearly
inadequate" as the Interrogatories merely requested
"basic information." (Hr'g Tr. 16:10-11.) The
Court instructed Defendant to, in its amended responses,
"state clearly what you do not have" should the
interrogatories ask "for information that you do not
have." (Hr'g Tr. 16:21-23.) Defendants were also
told that, should they refer to and identify documents in
their amended responses, they "must specifically refer
to the Bates number. Not just the group, but the Bates
number." (Hr'g Tr. 17:20-23.) Later that same day,
the Court entered an order granting in part and denying in
part Plaintiffs Motion to Compel. (Dkt. 67.)
7, 2019, Defendant provided an amended response to
Plaintiffs' interrogatories ("First Amended
Response"). (Pl.'s Mot. Sanctions Mem. Supp. at 3,
Ex. 1.) Three days later, Plaintiffs sent Defendant's
counsel a deficiency letter outlining remaining problems with
Defendant's discovery response. (Id., Ex. 2.)
The next day, on June 11, 2019, Defendant's counsel
refused to amend any of Defendant's responses, asserting
that after spending "countless hours reviewing its
records and all the relevant documents that it had
produced," Defendant provided the most detailed
responses it could with "all of the information that it
could find that was responsive to the requests."
(Id., Ex. 3 at 1.) Given that response, Plaintiffs
filed the instant motion for sanctions on June 18, 2019.
their motion for sanctions, Plaintiffs argue Defendant's
First Amended Response to Interrogatories 4-10, 13, and 18
failed to comply with the Court's earlier
order. (Pl.'s Mot. Sanctions Mem. Supp. at
6-18.) The motion again raises concerns pertaining to
Defendant's failure to provide specific, clear responses
to some interrogatories, insistence on asserting waived
objections, and refusal to cite to specific documents.
response, Defendant claims it provided Plaintiffs with all
the information available to it. (Def.'s Sanctions
Opp'n at 2.) Defendant asserts it satisfied its
obligations under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
providing as complete answers as it could given the
information it had access to. (Id. at 3-7.)
Defendant also directly claims, without evidence, that
Plaintiffs brought the instant motion for sanctions to
"maximize" Defendant's litigation costs.
(Id. at 9-10.)
8, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a reply in support of their motion
for sanctions. In the reply, Plaintiffs rely heavily on the
deposition testimony of several of Defendant's witnesses.
(Pl.'s Reply Sanctions at 2-11.)
12, 2019, the Court held a hearing on Plaintiff s motion for
sanctions. After hearing oral argument, the Court found that
"the defendant clearly failed to comply with my prior
order." (Hr'g Tr. 25:8-9, Dkt. 88.) The Court
faulted Defendant for not "answer[ing] interrogatories
as 'I don't know" when [it] didn't
know," and for "still equivocat[ing] and [engaging
in] double-speak all over the place without actually .. .
stating what exactly the facts are." (Hr'g Tr.
25:9-13.) The Court also noted that the answers actually
provided by Defendant were "misleading at best, but more
likely, obviously, just plain false based on the testimony in
the depositions." (Hr'g Tr. 25:16-18.) As a result,
finding that the "amended discovery responses are really
no better than the first set," the Court ordered
Defendant to "fully and completely comply with the
discovery requests" by July 17, 2019. (Hr'g Tr.
25:14-27:2.) Following the hearing, the Court entered an
Order continuing the motion for sanctions until July 19,
2019. (Dkt. 83.)
17, 2019, Defendant filed another amended response to the
disputed interrogatories ("Second Amended
Response"). (Dkt. 84.)
Court then held another hearing on the sanctions motion on
July 19, 2019. Although prepared to rule from the Bench,
Defendant's counsel insistence on making delayed,
additional arguments caused the Court to delay its ruling and
to take this matter under consideration to prepare and issue
this Memorandum Opinion and Order.