Relevancy dictates denial of discovery protective orders.


Byline: Barry Bridges

A Superior Court judge has denied a local car dealership's motion for a protective order to preclude certain discovery requests made by a customer who brought an action connected to the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

The suit is one of thousands brought in state courts against dealers who sold Volkswagens fitted with illegal devices that gave false emissions readings.

Judge Brian P. Stern declined defendant Scott Motors' attempt to shield certain information from discovery, finding that the plaintiff's requests were consistent with the standard spelled out in Superior Court Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1).

Stern prefaced his decision by describing the trial courts' discretion over such matters, writing that "this court is guided by the principle that Rhode Island's discovery rules 'are liberal [and] designed to promote broad discovery among parties.'"

And considering Rule 26(b)(1)'s guidance that discovery may be obtained as to non-privileged matters that are "relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action," Scott Motors' motion for a protective order did not pass muster.

"Importantly, the question of relevancy is more loosely construed during discovery than at the trial phase; therefore, whether the information obtained will be admissible at trial is insignificant during discovery," Stern wrote.

The 10-page decision is Taylor v. Scott Motors, Inc., Lawyers Weekly No. 61-102-18. The full text of the ruling can be found here.

'Broader standard'

Plaintiff's counsel Jeffrey H. Gladstone of Partridge, Snow & Hahn said the decision is important because so little has been written recently on the scope of discovery and what the standards are in Rhode Island, especially with protective orders.

"It's a very good primer on the subject and something that all litigators should read because it's a great resource on some of the key points on what's discoverable and not discoverable," the Providence lawyer said. "It speaks to issues that we run across every day."

At the discovery stage, Gladstone said, the test is whether the requested information has the potential to lead to relevant evidence.

"Relevance with regard to discovery is a much broader standard. Information just has to be relevant to the subject matter of the particular case," he added.

According to Gladstone, the information sought in the discovery requests in the suit before Stern is significant because Scott Motors is denying liability to its car-buying...

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