Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Shelton v. Am. Motors Corp.

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

June 11, 1986, Submitted ; December 2, 1986, Filed

No. 85-2442

Opinion

 [*1324]  FLOYD R. GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge.

The defendants, American Motors Corporation, American Motors Sales Corporation, and Jeep Corporation, appeal from the district court's order granting the plaintiffs' motion for default judgment. The district court entered default judgment against the defendants as a sanction for their in-house counsel's repeated refusal to answer deposition questions concerning the existence of certain documents. The district court held that the information sought by the plaintiffs is not protected by the work-product doctrine or the attorney-client privilege, and that counsel's repeated refusals to respond [**2]  warranted default judgment on the issue of liability. 106 F.R.D. 490. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse.

I. BACKGROUND 

Coletta Shelton died as a result of an accident that occurred when the Jeep CJ-5 she was driving overturned on a roadway in Sebastian County, Arkansas. The Jeep CJ-5 was designed, manufactured, and sold by the defendants (hereinafter referred to collectively as AMC). Coletta's parents filed this product liability action against AMC, alleging various theories of recovery, including strict liability, negligence, and failure to warn. Since its inception, the  [*1325]  case has been plagued by discovery disputes.

Shortly after initiating the action, the plaintiffs filed notices to take depositions, specifically naming twenty-one deponents and describing ten "Rule 30 (b)(6) categories." 2 AMC moved to quash the depositions, and sought a protective order in which it offered to produce six individuals who possessed the information sought by the plaintiffs. The court ordered AMC to produce for deposition those six individuals and, if necessary, any additional persons with knowledge of the ten Rule 30(b)(6) categories. Following [**3]  the depositions of the persons produced by AMC, the plaintiffs moved for sanctions, including default judgment, alleging that AMC falsely represented to the court that the six individuals possessed the same information as the twenty-one individuals initially named by the plaintiffs, and that AMC specifically instructed the individuals with knowledge of the ten described categories not to answer certain questions. The district court referred all discovery matters to the magistrate, who denied the plaintiffs' motion for sanctions.

The plaintiffs then filed notice to take the depositions of several more individuals, including Rita Burns. Burns is employed by AMC as an attorney in its Litigation Department,  [**4]  and she was assigned specifically to the case at bar as AMC's supervising "in-house counsel." AMC sought a protective order and moved to quash the depositions. The magistrate granted the protective order with respect to certain Rule 30(b)(6) categories, but denied AMC's motion to quash. The plaintiffs deposed Burns, but she refused to answer several questions on the basis that the information sought by the plaintiffs was protected by the work-product doctrine or by the attorney-client privilege. The questions which Burns refused to answer primarily concern the existence or nonexistence of various documents regarding the Jeep CJ. The plaintiffs again moved for sanctions, including default judgment, on the basis of Burns' refusal to answer those questions. The magistrate denied the motion, but ordered AMC to make Burns available to give her deposition before the magistrate so that he could rule on any objections made by AMC concerning the work-product doctrine or the attorney-client privilege.

Read The Full CaseNot a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.

805 F.2d 1323 *; 1986 U.S. App. LEXIS 34150 **; 22 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 125; 6 Fed. R. Serv. 3d (Callaghan) 568

James R. Shelton and Elizabeth Ann Shelton, Co-administrators of the Estate of Coletta K. Shelton, Appellees, v. American Motors Corporation, American Motors Sales Corporation, and Jeep Corporation, Appellants

Subsequent History:  [**1]   Petition For Rehearing En Banc Denied January 30, 1987.

Prior History: Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Honorable H. Franklin Waters, Judge.

Disposition: The court reversed the district court's grant of the motion for default judgment of plaintiffs, parents of child killed in an automobile accident, because the information sought by plaintiffs from the deposition of the in-house counsel of defendant automobile manufacturers was protected by the work product doctrine as "mental impressions" and the default judgment was, therefore, unwarranted as a sanction.

CORE TERMS

documents, deposition, work product, discovery, attorney-client, work-product, questions, opposing counsel, district court, deposing, circumstances, preparing, Jeep, nonexistence, default judgment, in-house, legal theory, plaintiffs', sanctions, discovery process, trial counsel, trial court, mental impressions, refuse to answer, acknowledgment, possessed, repeated

Civil Procedure, Methods of Discovery, Depositions, Oral Depositions, Privileged Communications, Work Product Doctrine, General Overview, Fact Work Product, Discovery, Opinion Work Product, Pretrial Judgments, Default & Default Judgments, Default Judgments, Discovery & Disclosure, Misconduct During Discovery, Judgments