Chudasama v. Mazda Motor Corp.

Citation123 F.3d 1353
Decision Date15 September 1997
Docket Number95-8921,Nos. 95-8896,s. 95-8896
Parties, 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 609 Bhupendra CHUDASAMA; Gunvanti B. Chudasama, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. MAZDA MOTOR CORPORATION; Mazda Motor of America, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)

Charles M. Shaffer, Jr., Michael M. Raeber, King & Spalding, Atlanta, GA, Jerry A. Buchanan, Buchanan & Land, Columbus, GA, Richard H. Willis, Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, Atlanta, GA, Thomas Field, Stroock, Stroock, & Lavan, New York City, for Defendants-Appellants.

William S. Stone, Kevin R. Dean, Blakely, GA, James E. Butler, Jr., Joel O. Wooten, Jr., Butler, Wooten, Overby & Cheeley, Columbus, GA, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

Before TJOFLAT and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges, and NANGLE *, Senior Circuit Judge.

TJOFLAT, Circuit Judge:

This case illustrates the mischief that results when a district court effectively abdicates its responsibility to manage a case involving contentious litigants and permits excessive and dilatory discovery tactics to run amok. Not only did the district court fail to manage discovery in this case, it in effect delegated the duty to manage to the plaintiffs' counsel. To protect themselves from the plaintiffs' inevitable overreaching, the defendants resorted to self-help and did not provide full discovery. Their tactic resulted in draconian sanctions, including the entry of a default under Rules 26 and 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Finding that the district court abused its discretion, we vacate the order imposing sanctions and direct that the case be assigned on remand to another district judge.

In part I of this opinion, we describe the discovery disputes below and the district court's management of the case. In part II, we delineate the scope of our jurisdiction over these consolidated appeals. We conclude, in part III, that the court's order was improper under Rule 37 and, in part IV, that the order was improper under Rule 26 as well. Having decided that the order must be vacated, we explain in part V why the chief district judge must assign the case to another district judge on remand.

I.

On May 16, 1991, Bhupendra Chudasama and his wife, Gunvanti B., appellees, purchased a used 1989 Mazda MPV minivan (the "MPV minivan") from Jays Dodge City, a Columbus, Georgia Dodge dealer. On the morning of October 15, 1991, Gunvanti Chudasama was injured when Bhupendra Chudasama lost control of the minivan and it collided with a utility pole. 1 Mrs. Chudasama sustained a broken pelvis and broken facial bones; Mr. Chudasama was uninjured. Mrs. Chudasamas' medical bills totaled approximately $13,000, and she lost approximately $5,000 in wages. The accident left the MPV minivan, worth approximately $11,000, beyond repair.

On April 30, 1993, the Chudasamas filed a products liability action against the appellants--Mazda Motor Corp. ("Mazda Japan"), a Japanese company, and Mazda Motor of America, Inc. ("Mazda America"), an American subsidiary of Mazda Japan, (collectively "Mazda")--in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. 2 The complaint pointed to two alleged defects in the MPV minivan as the cause of the Chudasamas' accident and resulting injuries: (1) the brakes were likely to cause "the driver's unexpected loss of control ... in the highway environment of its expected use," and (2) the "doors, side panels and supporting members [were] inadequately designed and constructed, and fail[ed] to provide a reasonable degree of occupant safety so that they [were] unreasonably likely to crush and deform into the passenger compartment." Their complaint contained four counts: three standard products liability counts--strict liability, breach of implied warranty, and negligent design and manufacture--and one count of fraud. Each count sought compensatory damages to cover Mrs. Chudasama's medical bills and lost wages, to compensate her for pain and suffering, to compensate Mr. Chudasama for his loss of his wife's "society, companionship and services," and to cover the loss of the vehicle. All but the breach of implied warranty count also sought punitive damages.

Over the next two years, the parties engaged in protracted discovery disputes. As has become typical in recent years, both sides initially adopted extreme and unreasonable positions; the plaintiffs asked for almost every tangible piece of information or property possessed by the defendants, and the defendants offered next to nothing and took several steps to delay discovery. In this case, however, the district court never attempted to resolve the parties' disputes and force the parties to meet somewhere in the middle of their respective extreme positions. As a result, what began as a relatively common discovery dispute quickly deteriorated into unbridled legal warfare.

We see no useful purpose in describing the drawn-out discovery battle in detail; 3 a relatively brief summary will suffice. On July 28, 1993, the Chudasamas served Mazda with their first interrogatories and requests for production. Both documents were models of vague and overly broad discovery requests. The production requests, for example, contained 20 "special instructions," 29 definitions, and 121 numbered requests (some containing as many as 11 subparts). Similarly, the interrogatories contained 18 "special instructions," 29 definitions, and 31 numbered interrogatories. "One" interrogatory included five separate questions that applied to each of the 121 numbered requests for production, arguably expanding the number of interrogatories to 635. 4

The production requests all but asked for every document Mazda ever had in its possession and then some. For example, the Chudasamas sought detailed information about practically all of Mazda's employees worldwide. They requested production of

all documents relating to organizational charts, books or manuals of Mazda ... which will or may assist in identifying an [sic] locating those operating divisions, committees, groups, departments, employees, and personnel ... involved in the conception, market analysis, development, testing, design safety engineering and marketing of the product for all years during which the product has been developed, designed, manufactured and marketed.

Record, vol. I, no. 20, at 17, produc. req. C.2. They also sought "all documents relating to any organizational chart or structure for each of Mazda['s] ... committees, sub-committees, boards, task forces, and technical groups which took any part in overseeing the design, market analysis, cost/benefits analysis, economic feasibility analysis, development, testing and safety engineering of the product." Record, vol. I, no. 20, at 18, produc. req. C.5.

The scope of these requests becomes apparent only after reading the Chudasamas' definition of the term "product":

This word means the Mazda MPV Minivan involved in the incident and all vehicles similar, though not necessarily identical, to that Minivan. The word includes all variations of 1989 Mazda MPV Minivan vehicles, as well as all variations of the MPV Minivan vehicles produced by Mazda ... in all years before and after the incident. The term should be construed to include each and every component part of the vehicle and more specifically the related components of the assemblies and subassemblies of the vehicle's chassis, wheelbase, steering system, suspension system, braking system, side and side supporting system.

Record, vol. I, no. 20, at 9. The Chudasamas thus asked for production of nearly every document ever made that would list or assist in finding every person that ever had anything to do with any component of any year model of the MPV minivan "and all vehicles similar."

Another representative example of the breadth of discovery sought by the Chudasamas involves Mazda's advertising campaigns. They requested production of

all documents relating to any print and broadcast media advertisements, catalogues, sales brochures, product inserts, or promotional information of any kind, relating to the product issued by or on behalf of Mazda ... for the purpose of marketing the product to consumers in the United States .... [or] in any other country where the product was marketed.

Record, vol. I, no. 20, at 23, produc. req. D.20, D.21. In other words, the Chudasamas wanted every document related to any form of advertising anywhere in the world of any year Mazda MPV minivan and "all vehicles similar" and all components thereof.

In addition to being broad, several requests were so vague as to be all but unintelligible. For example, the Chudasamas requested "all documents reflecting the conditions and circumstances of the environment of use of the product." Record, vol. I, no. 20, at 19, produc. req. D.2. "Environment of use" is defined by the Chudasamas as "real-world conditions to which motor vehicles are actually exposed in their use by members of the public including, but not limited to, the occurrence of collisions and/or side-impacts." Record, vol. I, no. 20, at 6.

Other requests simply asked Mazda to research the Chudasamas' case. They requested "copies of any and all governmental statutes, regulations, or standards, industry standards, corporate standards, authoritative articles or treatises, which Mazda ... contends or admits are applicable to the design, development, testing, safety engineering or distribution of the product," Record, vol. I, no. 20, at 21, produc. req. D.12, and "all documents in [Mazda's] libraries ... which address the design, engineering, and manufacturing of cars and trucks that address brake failures and/or side-impact accidents, injuries, integrity, and/or crush," Record, vol. I, no. 20, at 28, produc. req. E.10. 5 Neither request was limited to documents prepared by or for Mazda or to documents relating to the "product." A...

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