December 30, 1991: Malautea v. Suzuki Motor Corp.

CV 490-322 (S.D. Ga.)

In the Malautea wreck, the plaintiff was severely injured when his Suzuki Samurai rolled over and his seat belt failed. In the product liability action that ensued, Suzuki persistently interposed frivolous objections and willfully violated Court orders compelling the production of various documents. As a result, the Court struck Suzuki's answer and entered default. In this thirty-eight page order, the Court outlined Suzuki's bad faith refusals to comply with the Court's discovery orders. Suzuki's violations were numerous. For instance, Suzuki refused to produce certain transcripts in direct violation of a Court order. As soon as the plaintiff moved for sanctions, however, Suzuki produced the transcripts. The Court recognized the abusiveness of this tactic: "A party should not have to file a motion to compel followed by a motion for sanctions to obtain discoverable material from an opponent." Suzuki also undermined the discovery process by asserting frivolous objections. In response to Suzuki's objections to the vagueness and ambiguity of plaintiff's discovery requests, the Court again admonished Suzuki: "To the ordinary layperson, the terms 'test, research or other investigation,' and 'risk of rollover' are clear and unambiguous. The Defendants and their lawyers, however, have managed to inject ambiguity into these ordinary words. . . . The Defendants' complaints about ambiguity are part of their overall plan to obstruct the Plaintiff's discovery attempts." Suzuki also falsely claimed that there were no discussions (and, thus, no documents) between Suzuki and General Motors Corp. regarding the subject vehicle and its rollover potential. The plaintiff, however, obtained these very documents directly from General Motors Corp. and disproved Suzuki's claim that the documents did not exist: "When the Plaintiff asked Suzuki to provide information about these discussions, Suzuki deliberately withheld this information. . . . It is clear, moreover, that the Defendants refused to divulge this information, even after the Court ordered them to do so, because the information itself was so damaging." As a result of the pattern discovery abuse Suzuki displayed, the Court concluded that striking Suzuki's answer and entering default was the only appropriate sanction: "Anything less would be a mere slap on the wrist." The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Court's sanctions order in its entirety. See 987 F.2d 1536, 1542-47 (11th Cir. 1993) ("In this case, the defendants richly deserved the sanction of a default judgment. . . . Too many attorneys, like defense counsel in this case, have allowed the objectives of the client to override their ancient duties as officers of the court. In short, they have sold out to the client.")

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