State ex rel. Williams v. Mauer

Citation722 S.W.2d 296
Decision Date16 December 1986
Docket NumberNo. 68107,68107
PartiesSTATE ex rel. Marvin C. WILLIAMS, et al., Relators, v. Honorable William F. MAUER, Judge, Respondent.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri

James Borthwick, Truman K. Eldridge, Jr., Kansas City, for respondent.

ROBERTSON, Judge.

On September 4, 1985, respondent, the Honorable William F. Mauer, Presiding Judge of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, entered a case management order (the "order") relating to sixteen pending civil suits alleging asbestos-related injuries. The relevant portions of the Order are set out in Appendix A. By its terms, the order also applies to any asbestos-related actions filed subsequent to its entry. The order purports "to establish a uniform procedure for the conduct and coordination of orderly discovery in pre-trial procedures ... in order to facilitate pre-trial proceedings and to avoid duplication, undue burden and expense whenever possible...."

Relators filed a petition for a writ of prohibition in the Court of Appeals, Western District, claiming that respondent's order is contrary to the Rules of Civil Procedure of this Court and is therefore null and void. The Western District issued its preliminary rule in prohibition, and following argument, made its preliminary rule absolute. We granted respondent's application to transfer; we have jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, § 10. Preliminary rule ordered quashed.

I.

"The Supreme Court may establish rules relating to practice, procedure and pleadings for all courts and administrative tribunals, which shall have the force and effect of law...." Mo. Const. art. V, § 5. Rule 50.01 permits trial courts to "make rules governing the administration of judicial business if the rules are not inconsistent with the rules of this Court, the Constitution or statutory law in force...."

Relators argue that portions of respondent's order are inconsistent with the Rules of Civil Procedure. Relator contends that respondent's order is, therefore, in excess of respondent's jurisdiction and prohibition is an appropriate remedy. Respondent urges that his order is not inconsistent with the Rules of Civil Procedure; respondent further claims that relators have an adequate remedy on appeal and that prohibition does not properly lie in this case.

Prohibition is appropriate to compel a trial judge to comply with the rules of this Court where there is no adequate remedy by appeal. State ex rel. Bullington v. Mason, 593 S.W.2d 224 (Mo. banc 1980). Prohibition is also appropriate where a trial judge seeks to permit discovery which is expressly forbidden by statute. State ex rel. Faith Hospital v. Enright, 706 S.W.2d 852 (Mo. banc 1986).

Here, relators claim that respondent's order is forbidden by Rule 50.01. Prohibition is the proper remedy to test respondent's authority in such a circumstance. State ex rel. Gulf Oil Corp. v. Weinstein, 379 S.W.2d 172, 175 (Mo.App.1964). We caution, however, that a preliminary rule in prohibition will be made absolute only where there is a clear excess of jurisdiction. State ex rel. Public Defender Commission v. Bonacker, 706 S.W.2d 449, 451 (Mo. banc 1986).

II.

Those portions of respondent's order that relators claim exceed his authority can be divided into issues dealing with requirements for plaintiffs' initial petitions in asbestos-related cases (the "petition issues") and issues relating to discovery (the "discovery issues"). For purposes of discussion we address these issues separately.

A.

Relators argue that by requiring persons claiming injury from asbestos-related products to file, with their petitions:

A master identification list (p 12(a)),

a list of physicians and medical facilities at which the plaintiff was treated for any illness (p 12(b)),

copies of any medical opinions indicating that a plaintiff or decedent had an asbestos-related disease (p 12(c)),

a list of any lawsuits or workers' compensation claims filed by plaintiff both for asbestos and non-asbestos-related injuries (p 12(d)), and

authorizations for defendants to obtain:

Social Security records, tax records, employment records, workers' compensation records, hospital and physician medical records, union records, military records and Veterans' Administration records

(p 13), respondent's order imposes unfair and arbitrary burdens on asbestos victims in connection with the institution of their lawsuits. Relators also challenge Paragraph 11 of the order which requires that:

All future petitions shall include, to the extent then known, the diagnosis of the alleged asbestos-related disease, the date of diagnosis of the disease, and the alleged period of exposure, and the plaintiff's social security number.

Relators claim that these requirements contradict Rule 55.05, which provides that a petition need only contain "(1) a short and plain statement of the facts showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (2) a demand for judgment for the relief to which he deems himself entitled...."

Relators also contend that Paragraphs 12 and 13 violate relators' due process and equal protection rights, unlawfully amend the Rules of Civil Procedure, and constitute an impediment to access to the courts in violation of Mo. Const. art. I, § 14. For the reasons which follow, we do not reach the merits of relators' claims regarding the petition issues.

Each of the relators in this action filed a petition for damages prior to the entry of respondent's order. None of these relators has been denied access to the courts by respondent's order. None of these relators has had his petition dismissed for failure to comply with Paragraphs 12 and 13 of the order.

On close inspection, it is apparent that these relators are attempting to protect the rights of future plaintiffs who may file a petition claiming an asbestos-related injury.

Prudential principles of justiciability, to which this Court has long adhered, require that a party have standing to bring an action. Standing requires that a party have a personal stake arising from a threatened or actual injury. Harrison v. Monroe County, 716 S.W.2d 263 (Mo. banc 1986).

Here, relators claim a threatened injury to future plaintiffs who may allege asbestos-related injuries. They have no personal stake in their challenge to Paragraphs 12 and 13 of respondent's order. Relators are, therefore, without standing to challenge the petition requirements of respondent's order. 1

B.

With regard to the discovery issues, relators urge that:

(1) Paragraph 14 of respondent's order violates Rule 57.03 by imposing additional requirements to the procedure for taking a deposition;

(2) Paragraph 14 of the respondent's order requires a plaintiff to provide additional information in his notice of deposition, in violation Rule 56.01(b)(4) and 57.03(b);

(3) Paragraph 14(h)(12)(i) is contrary to Rule 57.03(a) because it imposes on critically ill plaintiffs the obligation to furnish the information required in Paragraphs 12 and 13 of respondent's order prior to taking the deposition of the critically ill;

(4) Paragraphs 21(b) & (d) are contrary to this Court's decision in State ex rel. Gray v. Jensen, 395 S.W.2d 143 (Mo. banc 1965), and Rules 56.01 and 57.01 in that they require the plaintiff to provide the defendant with a designation of the witnesses plaintiffs intend to call at trial; and

(5) Paragraph 23 of respondent's order establishes time limitations for joinder of parties contrary to Rule 52.06. 2

Unlike relators' petition issue claims, the discovery issues raised by relators are justiciable. Having filed their lawsuits, the discovery provisions of respondent's order are presently applicable to these relators as they attempt to prosecute their causes of action. These relators face a threatened injury in which they have a personal stake. Relators therefore have standing to challenge the discovery provisions of respondent's order.

At the outset we note that relators have presented no evidence of respondent's application of this order in a manner which is inconsistent with our Rules. Our review of the order is thus limited to its facial validity. Where the order is susceptible to an interpretation which is not inconsistent with our Rules, we shall adopt that interpretation.

1.

Rule 50.01 prohibits a circuit court from adopting a rule that is inconsistent with the rules of this Court. In Douglas v. Thompson, 286 S.W.2d 833, 835 (Mo.1956), this Court addressed the question of whether a circuit court rule requiring a plaintiff to list his address on the petition was contrary to the civil code which did not impose such a requirement. This Court said:

We cannot say this rule requiring the plaintiff's address conflicts with the [Civil] Code or is an unreasonable requirement for large cities, where it could have an important purpose to facilitate investigations and the use of the discovery procedure of the code.... The additional requirement of the Circuit Court rule for the plaintiff's address ... is one which is not unreasonable, burdensome or difficult to comply with; and we hold the Court could properly make it under authority of rule 3.05(b) [now 50.01].

Douglas stands for the proposition that a trial court may impose requirements in addition to those imposed by the Rules of Civil Procedure, provided the additional requirements imposed are not unreasonable under the circumstances, not unnecessarily burdensome or not inconsistent with the Rules. Contrary to relators' argument, additional requirements are not definitionally inconsistent with the Rules.

Here the trial court determined that relators' litigation presents the exceptional problems which are the hallmark of complex litigation--problems of discovery and logistics which attend the broad range of issues and sheer volume of evidence which a large number of parties raise in support of their various positions. It would be improvident for this...

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