Opinion Released September 19, 2016

In this weekly blog, the Law Offices of Brandy Wingate Voss, PLLC will summarize recent decisions from the Thirteenth Court of Appeals and provide links to decisions on the court’s website.

In re State Farm Lloyds, No. 13-16-00362-CV (Memorandum Opinion Per Curiam; Panel Members: Justices Rodriguez, Benavides, and Perkes)

In this petition for a writ of mandamus, State Farm sought review of a discovery order requiring it to produce third-party re-inspection files.

Angelica Moreno Gongora’s home was damaged in a hailstorm, causing her to submit a claim pursuant to her homeowner’s insurance policy with State Farm. State Farm sent an adjuster—Garza—to inspect Gongora’s property.  Garza determined that Gongora’s claim would not exceed her deductible. Gongora disagreed and sued both State Farm and Garza.

After filing suit, Gongora invoked the appraisal clause in her homeowner’s policy, and State Farm re-inspected the claim. State Farm determined that Gongora’s damages were in fact more than ten times above the amount Garza initially estimated. State Farm thus paid Gongora appraisal damages.

Continuing to pursue her claims in court, Gongora sent State Farm a request for production, seeking “[a]ll documents relating to work performance, claims patterns, claims problems, commendations, claims trends, claims recognitions, and/or concerns for any person who handled the claim made the basis of this Lawsuit.” Essentially, these “re-inspection files” were internal audits and performance reviews of State Farm’s adjusters.

State Farm objected to the request on multiple grounds, and Gongora filed a motion to compel. Gongora agreed to limit the request to re-inspection documents about her adjuster—Garza—but State Farm insisted that any third-party claims were irrelevant, and regardless, its payment of the appraisal award foreclosed Gongora’s claims. The trial court issued an order in Gongora’s favor, requiring State Farm to produce re-inspection files related to Garza for a two-year period near the time of Gongora’s claim.

State Farm petitioned for a writ of mandamus from the Thirteenth Court of Appeals, claiming that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering production of re-inspection files for insurance claims not at issue in the litigation.

Held: The trial court did not abuse its discretion, and the case is distinguishable from the Texas Supreme Court’s recent opinion in In re National Lloyds Insurance Company. Mandamus is denied.

State Farm argued that the trial court’s order for production of re-inspection filed was overbroad because such files were irrelevant to the pending litigation. State Farm relied upon In re National Lloyds Insurance Company, 449 S.W.3d 486 (Tex. 2014) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam), in which the Texas Supreme Court granted mandamus relief to strike down a discovery order requiring National Lloyds to produce information regarding the overpayment and underpayment of third-party insurance claims. The Supreme Court held that the payment of unrelated third-party claims was irrelevant, and that digging through the insurance company’s files to find a similarly-situated case was an impermissible fishing expedition.

The Thirteenth Court however, distinguished In re National Lloyds from State Farm’s case. In Lloyds, the plaintiff sought discovery of third-party claims to find an analogous claimant. Gongora however, sought discovery to determine if State Farm was reasonable in relying on Garza’s evaluations. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the discovery order and the writ of mandamus was denied.

Read the Full Opinion Here