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Queen v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

August 7, 2019

VASILA QUEEN, Petitioner,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO QUASH SUBPOENA

          Edwin G. Torres United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Vasila Queen's (“Ms. Queen”) motion to quash two non-party subpoenas that Defendant served in May 2019. [D.E. 1]. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company (“State Farm”) responded to Ms. Queen's motion on June 4, 2019 [D.E. 4] to which Ms. Queen replied on June 21, 2019. [D.E. 7]. Therefore, Ms. Queen's motion is now ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the motion, response, reply, and relevant authority, and for the reasons discussed below, Ms. Queen's motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Queen filed a motion on May 13, 2019 [D.E. 1] to quash two non-party subpoenas that were issued in State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., et al. v. Parisien et al., No. 1:18-cv-00289-ILG (E.D.N.Y.) (the “Underlying Action”), a civil case currently pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The Underlying Action includes allegations of a fraud-derived racketeering enterprise in Brooklyn, New York that occurred in a clinic where physicians, chiropractors, acupuncture therapists, and medical sources providers submitted bills to State Farm for treatments to automobile accident claimants. State Farm alleges that these treatments were medically unnecessary, ineligible for reimbursement, and/or never occurred.

         One of the issues in the Underlying Action is whether non-physicians owned and controlled the Brooklyn clinic, directed patient treatment, and siphoned the proceeds of the treatment to themselves. If laypersons owned and controlled the healthcare corporations, those corporations are ineligible under New York law for the reimbursement of healthcare services and their claims for payment are deemed fraudulent. And any evidence that laypersons obtained the proceeds of the professional corporations constitutes proof of lay ownership and control.

         Discovery has revealed that, during the alleged conspiracy period, many of the defendants in the Underlying Action made large payments to businesses and individuals connected to a non-physician layperson named Tatiana Rybak (“Ms. Rybak”). One of Ms. Rybak's associates is Ms. Queen who owns a nail and hair salon located at the Trump International Hotel in Miami, Florida. State Farm claims that bank records show that 15 different healthcare providers, who worked at the clinic, wrote at least 70 checks either payable to Ms. Queen directly or payable as cash into Ms. Queen's bank account. These deposits occurred over a six-year period between February 2012 and February 2018, totaling $100, 000. None of the checks were for amounts over $10, 000 and, in some instances, large cash withdrawals were made from Ms. Queen's bank account shortly after the deposit.

         After reviewing these bank records, State Farm deposed several former employees. But, those employees invoked their Fifth Amendment right to self-incrimination and refused to answer questions related to specific payments. State Farm then served Rule 34 requests to defendants in the Underlying Action and requested that they produce any documents related to the payments to Ms. Queen. Yet, the documents requested are not in defendants' possession, custody, or control. Given the suspicious nature of these transactions and the unlikelihood that a New York healthcare provider would send unsolicited payments to a Miami nail salon owner, State Farm issued a subpoena to Ms. Queen to discover the purpose of these payments and determine the relationship that she has with the clinic.

         Following several unsuccessful attempts to serve Ms. Queen with a subpoena, State Farm was finally successful on March 27, 2019. The subpoena commanded Ms. Queen to appear for a deposition on April 24, 2019 and to bring with her certain documents. At the request of Ms. Queen's attorney, State Farm agreed to reschedule the deposition to a date and location convenient to Ms. Queen, her lawyer, and her Russian interpreter. On May 7, 2019, State Farm served two new subpoenas, one seeking responsive documents within 14 days and the other directing Ms. Queen to appear for a deposition on May 30, 2019. Rather than comply with the subpoenas, Ms. Queen filed a motion to quash because the discovery sought is irrelevant and it otherwise constitutes an undue burden.

         II. APPLICABLE PRINCIPLES AND LAW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 provides that a subpoena must be modified or quashed if it “requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matter” or “subjects a person to [an] undue burden.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(c)(3); see also Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 392 F.3d 812, 817-18 (5th Cir. 2004) (“Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45, a court may quash or modify a subpoena if it (1) fails to allow a reasonable time for compliance; (2) requires a person who is not a party to travel more than 100 miles from where the person resides; (3) requires disclosure of privileged or protected matter; or (4) subjects a person to undue burden.”) (footnote omitted). “Whether a burdensome subpoena is reasonable ‘must be determined according to the facts of the case,' such as the party's need for the documents and the nature and importance of the litigation.” Wiwa, 392 F.3d 818 (quoting Linder v. Dep't of Def., 133 F.3d 17, 24 (D.C. Cir. 1998)).

         To determine whether a subpoena imposes an undue burden, courts must consider at least six factors:

(1) [the] relevance of the information requested; (2) the need of the party for the documents; (3) the breadth of the document request; (4) the time period covered by the request; (5) the particularity with which the party describes the requested documents; and (6) the burden imposed. Further, if the person to whom the document request is made is a non-party, the court may also consider the expense and inconvenience to the non-party.

Wiwa, 392 F.3d at 818. As part of this inquiry, “[a] trial court has broad, but not unlimited, discretion in evaluating the circumstances of a case when considering quashing a subpoena on grounds of oppressiveness. It must carefully examine the circumstances presented to it and, when appropriate, consider the possibility of modifying the subpoena rather than quashing.” Northrop Corp. v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 751 F.2d 395, 403 (D.C. Cir. 1984).

         “Rule 26(c) allows the issuance of a protective order if ‘good cause' is shown. In addition to requiring good cause, this circuit has also required the district court to balance the interests of those requesting the order. A ‘district court must articulate its reasons for granting a protective order sufficient for appellate review.”' McCarthy v. Barnett Bank of Polk Cty., 876 F.2d 89, 91 (11th Cir. 1989) (citations omitted); see also Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Southeast Floating Docks, Inc., 231 F.R.D. 426, 429-30 (M.D. Fla. 2005) (“Rule 26(c) provides that upon a showing of good cause, a court ‘may make any order which justice requires to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.' The party seeking a protective order has the burden to ...


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