Denial of Discovery to Oppose Motion for Summary Judgment

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In Markel Ins. Co. v. Sumpter, 2022 WL 2703832 (D. Md. July 11, 2022)(Hazel, J.), the Court denied a request for discovery to oppose a motion for summary judgment.

Markel Insurance defended an alleged auto tort under a reservation of rights.  It then filed this action against both drivers for a declaration that its policy did not cover the incident, and Markel Insurance also moved for summary judgment prior to discovery.

One driver did not timely respond and provided no justification for the delay. The Court struck the untimely response, writing in a footnote that the stricken response failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact.

The other driver asserted that he had not received the motion. The Court rejected that position, stating that service is complete on mailing and non-receipt does not affect the validity of service.

That driver also asserted that he had a right to discovery before summary judgment could be entered against him.  The Court rejected that request under several well-settled principles.  It wrote:

  • “Generally speaking, ‘summary judgment [must] be refused where the nonmoving party has not had the opportunity to discover information that is essential to his opposition.’”
  • However, “[t]he Court is not prohibited from granting a motion for summary judgment before the commencement of discovery. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (stating that the court ‘shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact’ without distinguishing pre- or post-discovery).”
  • “[T]he party opposing summary judgment ‘cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party had made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds that more time was needed for discovery.’”
  • “To adequately raise the issue that discovery is needed, the non-movant typically must file an affidavit or declaration pursuant to Rule 56(d) … explaining why, ‘for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition,’ without needed discovery.”
  • “[F]ailure to file an affidavit may be excused ‘if the nonmoving party has adequately informed the district court that the motion is premature and that more discovery is necessary’ and the ‘nonmoving party’s objections before the district court served as the functional equivalent of an affidavit.’”
  • “As this Court has explained, a ‘non-moving party’s Rule 56(d) request for additional discovery is properly denied ‘where the additional evidence sought for discovery would not have by itself created a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment.’”
  • “The Court is mindful that it should grant a Rule 56(d) request for discovery if ‘the information requested is in the sole possession of the moving party, and where the district court would be otherwise unable to conduct a proper summary judgment assessment without the requested evidence.’”
  • “[A] non-movant may not ‘demand[ ] ‘discovery for the sake of discovery.’”
  • “‘Vague assertions’ that more discovery is needed are insufficient.”
  • “A material fact is one that ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.’”

The Markel Insurance Court was faced with an insurance coverage dispute.  That is an issue of contract interpretation.  On the facts presented, the driver’s requested discovery would not present a genuine dispute of material fact.

Markel Insurance does not break new ground in enunciating the principles governing discovery to oppose summary judgment, but it presents a cautionary road map for non-moving litigants that are seeking discovery.

On this point, Maryland Rule 2-501 is similar to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d).  See Maryland v. Federal Summary Judgment Rule.

UPDATE: October 8, 2022

The excellent Gibbons Law Alert has posted Charles H. Chevalier and Christine A. Gaddis, DNJ Court Denies Request for Early Summary Judgment Finding Motion Made Mid-Fact Discovery Premature – Gibbons Law Alert (Sep. 29, 2022), in which – – on the facts presented – – the court reached the opposite result.

Clearly, these decisions are fact sensitive, and context is everything.