West Virginia Record

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Going straight to the top not always the correct idea

By The West Virginia Record | Mar 16, 2012

Sometimes, going straight to the top makes sense. Sometimes, it doesn't.

If you had a complaint about the food or service at your favorite McDonald's or Dairy Queen, you might go direct to the store manager, but you wouldn't call the corporate office long-distance and demand to speak to the CEO of the entire chain.

Expecting the chief executive of a giant enterprise with thousands of outlets across the country to know the petty details of conditions at one particular store far removed from corporate headquarters isn't reasonable.

But not everyone is reasonable -- and some people seem to enjoy being a nuisance, whatever the motivation.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has struck a blow against this kind of nuisance by overturning a lower court's order requiring a corporate CEO to submit to depositions for a local civil case.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance had sought relief from a Jefferson Circuit Court order requiring depositions from Roger Crandall, the company's president, chief executive officer, and chairman.

The Supreme Court concluded that the Apex rule, setting guidelines for the deposition of high-ranking corporate officials, does indeed apply to Crandall.

"If the party seeking the deposition cannot show that the official has any unique or superior personal knowledge of discoverable information, the circuit court should grant the motion for protective order and first require the party seeking the deposition to attempt to obtain the discovery through less intrusive methods," Justice Margaret Workman wrote for the Court.

Why were the attorneys who sued Mass Mutual demanding depositions from Crandall? Did they believe that the president of a company with 1,800 offices and 13 million clients would have pertinent information about individual policies written in a distant state? Or, was it a tactic to "up the ante" and make a case for quick settlement?

Whatever the motivation, the court has now brought this nuisance to a proper end.

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