Law School Case Brief
In re Ford Motor Co. - 211 S.W.3d 295 (Tex. 2006)
Mandamus is proper when the trial court has abused its discretion by committing a clear error of law for which appeal is an inadequate remedy. Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 22.002(a). Moreover, appeal is inadequate when a trial court erroneously orders the production of confidential information or privileged documents.
Matthew Marroquin died after being partially ejected from a Ford Expedition that rolled over after being struck at an intersection. His family filed a product liability suit against Ford and requested numerous documents from Volvo, a wholly-owned-but-distinct Ford subsidiary that was not a party in the underlying case. To facilitate discovery while maintaining the confidentiality of Volvo's documents, the parties agreed to a "Stipulated Sharing Confidentiality Protective Order Regarding Volvo Documents" ("protective order"). The protective order, however, excluded certain documents from its scope, including "documents that have been submitted to any government entity without request for confidential treatment." In a separate action, certain company documents were made public. The Marroquin family then argued that the same documents be considered non-confidential, which the trial court granted. Ford Motor Company and intervenor Volvo Car Corporation sought a writ of mandamus to vacate the trial court's order that declared certain Volvo documents non-confidential under a provision in a stipulated protective order.
Should mandamus be granted?
The Supreme Court of Texas conditionally granted a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to vacate its order deeming the document non-confidential. The court held that the only reasonable interpretation of the order was that the manufacturer and company were the ones whose voluntary submission would forfeit the privilege. In this case, however, a clerk of court in another state mistakenly allowed others access to the documents. The trial court plainly erred when it deemed the documents non-confidential. The terms of the order made clear that trade secrets were not the only materials worthy of protection, and it merited mention that the order at issue closely tracked the language of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(7), which broadly protected not only trade secrets but an array of other confidential information. The manufacturer and company took proper action to maintain the documents' confidentiality such that the trial court's ruling was improper.
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