Sanders v. Ayrhart

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Citation404 P.2d 589,89 Idaho 302
Docket NumberNo. 9408,9408
PartiesFloyd V. SANDERS, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Walter Earl AYRHART, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date28 July 1965

Page 589

404 P.2d 589
89 Idaho 302
Floyd V. SANDERS, Plaintiff-Respondent,
Walter Earl AYRHART, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 9408.
Supreme Court of Idaho.
July 28, 1965.

[89 Idaho 303]

Page 590

Benoit & Benoit, Twin Falls, for appellant.

[89 Idaho 304] Murphy, Schwartz & Cunningham, Shoshone, Richard H. Seeley, Jerome, for respondent.

Elam, Burke, Jeppesen & Evans, Boise, [89 Idaho 305] Merrill & Merrill, Pocatello, [89 Idaho 306] Hepworth & Nungester, Buhl, Kramer, Walker, Pope & Plankey, Twin Falls, amici curiae.

McQUADE, Chief Justice.

On or about June 12, 1962, while driving his automobile in the State of California, defendant was involved in an automobile collision. Plaintiff's wife, who was a passenger in defendant's automobile at the time, was killed. Plaintiff commenced this action for damages for her death.

Attorneys for plaintiff served written interrogatories upon the defendant, which interrogatories were calculated to elicit information as to: (1) the coverage and limits of defendant's liability insurance policy, if one existed; (2) names and addresses of any witnesses to the accident; (3) any investigation of the accident made by the defendant or anyone on his behalf; (4) statements made by witnesses to such

Page 591

investigator; (5) photographs taken at the scene of the accident or of the automobiles involved. Defendant objected to these interrogatories. [89 Idaho 307] Upon a hearing of these objections, they were overruled by the trial court. The day after this hearing plaintiff's attorney took defendant's deposition, wherein oral interrogatories similar to the written interrogatories were directed to the defendant. Upon advise of his attorney, the defendant refused to answer. There was no showing at that time by the plaintiff as to undue hardship or an injustice (I.R.C.P. 26[b]).

Plaintiff then moved that defendant be compelled to answer both the written and oral interrogatories. After a hearing the trial court issued an order compelling defendant to answer the interrogatories. The defendant, again on advice of counsel, refused to comply with said order. The trial court thereupon held the defendant in contempt of court.

From the order of the district court adjudging defendant in contempt of court, this appeal is taken.

The first issue presented by the defendant's assignments of error is whether defendant's liability insurance coverage is discoverable under Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff sought by interrogatories Nos. 27 and 29 to elicit information to determine if defendant has casualty insurance and if so, the limitations thereof. I.R.C.P. 33, 1 inter alia, provides that the [89 Idaho 308] interrogatories 'may relate to any matters which can be inquired into under rule 26(b) 2.' It is well settled that under Federal

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Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b), upon which I.R.C.P. 26(b) is patterned, relevancy to the subject matter is the basic test as to discoverability. 2A Barron and Holtzoff, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 647 (Wright ed.); 4 Moore, Federal Practice, p. 1175 (2d ed.), and cases cited therein. Therefore, although the discovery rules have liberalized the scope of examination before trial, we follow the rule that relevancy is the test, whether a party may be required to answer questions propounded by an opposing party.

The cases upholding discoverability of insurance coverage do so in the main on the basis that relevancy under the discovery rules has an expanded meaning and since knowledge of the policy limits by the plaintiff would lead to more purposeful discussions of settlement such knowledge is relevant to the subject matter. Novak v. Good Will Grange No. 127, Patrons of Husbandry, Inc., 28 F.R.D. 394 (D.Conn.1961); Johanek v. Aberle, 27 F.R.D. 272 (D.Mont.1961); Schwentner v. White, 199 F.Supp. 710 (D.Mont.1961); Superior Ins. Co. v. Superior Court, 37 Cal.2d 749, 235 P.2d 833 (1951); Laddon v. Superior Court, 167 Cal.App.2d 391, 334 P.2d 638 (1959); Maddox v. Grauman, 265 S.W.2d 939, 41 A.L.R.2d 964 (Ky.1954); People ex rel. Terry v. Fisher, 12 Ill.2d 231, 145 N.E.2d 588 (1957); Lucas v. District Court, 140 Colo. 510, 345 P.2d 1064 (1959). Those cases denying [89 Idaho 309] discoverability do so on the basis that it is not 'relevant to the subject-matter.' McClure v. Boeger, 105 F.Supp. 612 (E.D.Pa.1952); Flynn v. Williams, 30 F.R.D. 66 (D.Conn.1958); Langlois v. Allen, 30 F.R.D. 67 (D.Conn.1962); Jeppesen v. Swanson, 243 Minn. 547, 68 N.W.2d 649 (1955); Bean v. Best, 76 S.D. 462, 80 N.W.2d 565 (1957); Brooks v. Owens, 97 So.2d 693 (Fla.1957); Di Pietruntonio v. Superior Court, 84 Ariz. 291, 327 P.2d 746 (1958); State ex rel. Bush v. Elliott, 363 S.W.2d 631 (Mo.1963); State ex rel. Hersman v. District Court, 142 Mont. 139, 381 P.2d 799 (1963).

We feel these latter cases present the better reasoning and we are particularly impressed with the following language from Jeffesen v. Swanson, supra:

'It would seem to us that, even though the discovery is not to be limited to facts which may be admissible as evidence the ultimate goal is to ascertain facts or information which may be used for proof or defense of an action. Such information may be discovered by leads from other discoverable information. The purpose of the discovery rules is to take the surprise out of trials of cases so that all relevant facts and information pertaining to the action may be ascertained in advance of trial. Where it is sought to discover information which can have no possible bearing on the determination of the action on its merits, it can hardly be within the rule. It is not intended to supply information for the personal use of a litigant that has no connection with the determination of the issues involved in the action on their merits. Balazs v. Anderson, D.C.N.D.Ohio, 77 F.Supp. 612.' 68 N.W.2d at page 656.

While acknowledging the practical utility that the knowledge of insurance coverage offers a plaintiff in evaluating his claim, the court in the Jeppesen case points out:

'Under the guise of liberal construction, we should not emasculate the rules

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by permitting something which never was intended or is not within the declared objects for which they were adopted. Neither should expedience or the...

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    ...97 So.2d 693 (Fla.1957); Y.M.C.A. of Metropolitan Atlanta, Inc. v. Bailey, 107 Ga.App. 417, 130 S.E.2d 242 (1963); Sanders v. Ayrhart, 89 Idaho 302, 404 P.2d 589 (1965); Muck v. Claflin, 197 Kan. 594, 419 P.2d 1017 (1966); Jeppesen v. Swanson, 243 Minn. 547, 68 N.W.2d 649 (1955); Page 267 S......
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    ...750-51 (1958); Ruark v. Smith, 147 A.2d 514, 515 (Del.Super.Ct.1959); Brooks v. Owens, 97 So.2d 693, 699 (Fla.1957); Sanders v. Ayrhart, 89 Idaho 302, 404 P.2d 589, 592 (1965); Jeppesen v. Swanson, 243 Minn. 547, 68 N.W.2d 649, 658 (1955); Bush v. Elliott, 363 S.W.2d 631, 636-37 (Mo.1963); ......
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