Walker v. Packer

Decision Date19 February 1992
Docket NumberNo. C-9403,C-9403
Citation35 Tex.Sup.Ct.J. 468,827 S.W.2d 833
PartiesCharles F. WALKER and Mary Jeanette Walker et al., Relators, v. The Honorable Anne PACKER, Judge, Respondent.
CourtTexas Supreme Court
Dissenting Opinion by Justice Gammage May 7, 1992.

Les Weisbrod and Michael S. Box, Dallas, for relators.

Philipa Remington, Stephen W. Johnson, James A. Williams, Kevin J. Keith, Martha L. Strother, Gary W. Sibley, Dallas and Delmar L. Cain, Austin, for respondent.


PHILLIPS, Chief Justice.

This original mandamus action involves two pre-trial discovery requests sought by relators, plaintiffs in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The first discovery dispute involves documents which the plaintiffs seek from one of the defendants, while the second involves documents which they seek from a nonparty for impeachment purposes. As to the first matter, we hold that relators have not presented a sufficient record to demonstrate that the trial court clearly abused its discretion in failing to grant them all requested relief. As to the second, we hold that relators have an adequate remedy by appeal. Thus, mandamus is inappropriate, and we deny the writ.

The St. Paul and Aetna Records

Catherine Johanna Walker sustained brain damage at birth in January 1983. In January 1985, her parents, Charles F. and Mary Jeanette Walker, sued Dr. Paul Crider, the obstetrician, St. Paul Hospital, where Catherine was born, and Iris Jean White, a nurse attending at the delivery.

In August 1987, the Walkers served on St. Paul their third request for production of documents pursuant to Tex.R.Civ.P. 167. One request asked for:

Any and all writings, notes, documents, letters, etc., concerning, mentioning, alluding to, or making reference to (either directly or indirectly), the tape recorded statement given by Nurse White to an Aetna adjuster, including but not limited to any notes or entries in any Aetna adjuster's file, any attorney's file, or any file or writing in possession of any employee, representative or agent of St. Paul Hospital. This request is in reference to the tape recorded statement which you have been unable to locate, but which was previously requested....

St. Paul responded as follows:

In an effort to respond to this request, this Defendant again checked with all appropriate personnel and files at St. Paul Hospital and the law firm of Bailey and Williams. No such statement or taped recording was found. For the third time the Aetna Casualty and Surety Company was asked to check its records and files and a partially transcribed statement was located, a copy of which is attached. No taped recording was located.

Nearly two years later, the Walkers filed a motion to compel under Tex.R.Civ.P. 215, asserting that St. Paul failed to respond completely to the request. 1 The Walkers complained that "St. Paul Hospital did not even respond to what was requested in the request for production--that is, writings, notes, and notations in the adjuster's file or attorney's file mentioning, alluding to, or making reference to the tape recorded statement of Nurse White." At about the same time, the Walkers also served on Aetna Casualty and Surety Company, St. Paul's insurer, an "Amended Notice of Intention to Take Deposition Upon Written Questions--Duces Tecum," seeking, among other things, the same documents. Aetna moved to quash the notice.

The trial judge appointed a special master to review the Walkers' motion to compel and Aetna's motion to quash. After an evidentiary hearing on September 5, 1989, the master prepared findings, which formed the basis for two extensive orders signed by the trial court on September 20, 1989. In the first order, the court found that the Walkers were "entitled to all documentation sought in [the request] from the files of Defendant St. Paul or its attorney of record, but not from the files of Aetna Insurance Company, except as they may appear in the files of St. Paul or the attorneys of record of St. Paul." The court also stated that it "has been advised that St. Paul has supplied all documentation that is responsive to [the request], but that additional documentation will be made available to the Court for in camera review." The court therefore sustained the Walkers' motion to compel "to the extent that on Friday, September 8, 1989 the Special Master will review in the Chambers of the 134th District Court the relevant portions of the St. Paul files and their attorney [sic] files, which may be in response to Plaintiff's request...." The court, however, did not order St. Paul to produce documents from Aetna's files for in camera inspection. 2

After the master's September 8 in camera inspection, the court ordered discovery of three additional documents from the files of St. Paul and its attorneys, which it found "relate to the matters sought in discovery and should be supplied after irrelevant portions of such documents are stricken."

After unsuccessfully seeking relief in the court of appeals, the Walkers moved for leave to file a petition for writ of mandamus with this court, arguing that the trial court clearly abused its discretion by refusing to order St. Paul to produce the documents from Aetna's files and by ordering that portions of the other responsive documents be stricken. The Walkers contend that the order was a clear abuse of discretion because St. Paul 1) never objected to the Walkers' request for production, 2) had a superior right to the Walkers to compel production of the documents in Aetna's possession, and 3) never asked that any parts of the documents be excised.

The record before us does not include the statement of facts from the evidentiary hearing on the Walkers' motion to compel production. Without it, we cannot determine on what basis the trial judge and the special master reached their conclusions. Since we cannot assess whether or not the trial court's order was correct, we obviously cannot take the additional step of determining that the court's order, if incorrect, constituted a clear abuse of discretion.

As the parties seeking relief, the Walkers had the burden of providing this Court with a sufficient record to establish their right to mandamus relief. Since an evidentiary hearing was held, the Walkers had the burden of providing us not only a petition and affidavit, see Tex.R.App.P. 121(a)(2)(C) and (F), but also a statement of facts from the hearing. See, e.g., Cameron County v. Hinojosa, 760 S.W.2d 742, 744 (Tex.App.--Corpus Christi 1988, orig. proceeding); Greenstein, Logan & Co. v. Burgess Mktg. Inc., 744 S.W.2d 170, 177 (Tex.App.--Waco 1987, writ denied); see also Western Casualty & Surety Co. v. Spears, 730 S.W.2d 821, 822 (Tex.App.--San Antonio 1987, orig. proceeding). 3 Having failed to meet this burden, the Walkers have not provided us with a record upon which they can establish their right to mandamus relief against St. Paul.

The Obstetrics Faculty Records

The second discovery dispute arises out of the Walkers' attempt to secure documentary evidence to impeach one of the defendants' expert witnesses, Dr. Larry Gilstrap, a faculty member in obstetrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Dallas ("the Center"). Gilstrap testified at his deposition that expert witness fees earned by obstetrics faculty members are deposited into a "fund" in the obstetrics "billing department"; that obstetrics faculty members get paid "indirectly" from this fund; that the fund is handled by Judy Wagers, a Center employee; and that he was unaware of any obstetrics department policy restricting faculty members from testifying for plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases.

Thereafter, the Walkers noticed Wagers' deposition, requesting that she provide all documents regarding (1) the operation of the above-mentioned "fund" from 1985 to 1988; and (2) limitations placed upon obstetrics faculty members relating to their testimony in medical malpractice cases. The Center, on behalf of Wagers, moved to quash the notice, arguing that the request for documents was "vague and overly broad" and that production would be "costly and burdensome."

Two months later, in an unrelated lawsuit, the Walkers' counsel deposed Dr. Alvin L. Brekken, another obstetrics faculty member at the Center. Dr. Brekken testified that the obstetrics department's official policy, distributed in writing to all faculty members, requires a doctor to obtain authorization from other faculty members before testifying for any plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. Based on this testimony, the Walkers sought a court order to depose Wagers and obtain the requested documents.

After reviewing the Gilstrap and Brekken depositions and pleadings of counsel, the trial court ordered the Center to produce the documents for in camera review by the special master. Subsequently, in her September 20, 1989 order, the trial judge denied the discovery, stating in part:

[S]uch requested discovery is improper pursuant to the Rulings of the Supreme Court of Texas in Russell v. Young [452 S.W.2d 434 (Tex.1970) ], as the potential witness is not a party to the suit and the records do not relate to the subject matter of the suit, but are sought solely for the purpose of impeachment, according to the Plaintiffs' pleadings.

Although noting that some of the documents "would be relevant to this cause of action," the court nevertheless denied discovery because "all such documents are controlled by the Russell decision."

In Russell, a party sought wholesale discovery of financial records of a potential medical expert witness who was not a party to the lawsuit. 4 The documents requested did not relate directly to the subject matter of the suit, but were sought solely in an attempt to impeach the potential witness by showing bias or prejudice. The credibility of the witness, however, had not yet been put in doubt. Under these circumstances, we held that the documents were not discoverable, and we directed ...

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