CHARLESTON - The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has blocked the Jefferson County Circuit Court from forcing the CEO of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Roger Crandall, to be deposed.
“This is the second time this case has been before the Court within the past year on the same issue,” wrote the court, per curiam, on the case that came out of two in a series of retirement plan cases filled against Mass Mutual and others.
The first time the Court heard the case, referred to as MassMutual I, the issue before the court was whether “a high-ranking corporate official who is without any personal or unique knowledge of the facts and circumstances of a case can be compelled to be deposed, despite the availability of other corporate witnesses and other means of discovery.”
The Court adopted the “apex disposition rule” in MassMutual I which states that a party seeking to depose a high-ranking corporate official must show that the official has “unique or personal knowledge” of discoverable information.
If this “unique or personal knowledge” can't be established, then the circuit court was to issue a protective order and require the seeking party to try and obtain the discovery sought through less intrusive methods.
After sending the case back to the Jefferson court with the issue clarified, “just 14 days after the mandate was issued, the Respondents served amended notices of deposition on the Petitioner.”
The defendants once again filed for a protective order and, as before, Judge David H. Sanders denied their motion, ruling “this court holds that although Plaintiffs have failed to prove Roger Crandall has unique or personal knowledge of the issue outlined above” they had been unable to discover the information they sought, creating the necessity to depose the CEO.
In this case, styled MassMutual II, the Court found the same result as it found in MassMutual I, speaking more directly on the issue this time:
“The circuit court and the Respondents failed to follow the directive of this Court in MassMutual I. Instead, the circuit court agreed with the Respondents very narrow and misguided view of our MassMutual I decision that they did not have to show that Mr. Crandall had unique or personal knowledge, because “[t]he Supreme Court of Appeals simply wants a record.... This Court expected the circuit court and the parties to follow the law set forth in MassMutual I in deciding whether to allow the deposition of Mr. Crandall. The circuit court failed to implement both the letter and the spirit of the mandate issued in MassMutual I, taking into account this Court’s opinion and the circumstances it embraced.”
The Court granted the Writ of Protection, directing the circuit court to enter a protective order prohibiting the deposition of Crandall.