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State ex rel. Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. v. King

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

November 1, 2019

State ex rel. Jaguar Land Rover Limited, Petitioner
v.
The Honorable Charles King, Judge of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, and Patricia A. Lyles, Respondents

          (Kanawha County 15-C-1023).

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         The petitioner herein, Jaguar Land Rover Limited ("Jaguar"), by counsel Philip J. Combs and Gordon L. Mowen, II, petitions this Court for a writ of prohibition. In its petition, Jaguar asks this Court to prohibit the Circuit Court of Kanawha County from enforcing its orders entered October 15, 2018, sanctioning Jaguar for failure to comply with the circuit court's discovery orders, and February 11, 2019, imposing sanctions of costs and attorney's fees therefor. The respondent herein, Patricia A. Lyles ("Ms. Lyles"), by counsel Scott S. Segal and Jason P. Foster, contend that the circuit court properly sanctioned Jaguar and awarded her costs and attorney's fees.

         Upon consideration of the parties' briefs, oral arguments, and the appendix record, this Court concludes that Jaguar has not met the standard for the issuance of a writ of prohibition in this case. Accordingly, we deny the requested writ of prohibition. Because this case does not present a new or significant issue of law, and for the reasons set forth herein, we find this case is proper for disposition as a memorandum decision under Rule 21 of the West Virginia Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         This case originated in November 2014 when the plaintiff, Ms. Lyles, was driving her 2013 Land Rover LRS HSE vehicle and was rear-ended by a coal truck on U.S. Route 119 at Trace Fork in Kanawha County, West Virginia. Ms. Lyles, who was seventy years old at the time of the accident, was rendered a paraplegic and is now paralyzed from the chest down. In May 2015, Ms. Lyles filed suit against the vehicle manufacturer, who is the petitioner herein, Jaguar Land Rover Limited, a U.K. entity; the seat and seatbelt manufacturers; and various defendants associated with the coal truck involved in the accident.

         On April 20, 2016, Ms. Lyles served petitioner Jaguar with her first set of interrogatories and request for production of documents. Jaguar responded with a motion to quash, which was met by Ms. Lyles' motion to compel, and additional responsive pleadings. Following a hearing, the circuit court, on August 26, 2016, entered its first discovery order, which granted Ms. Lyles' motion to compel and denied Jaguar's motion to quash. In rendering its ruling, the circuit court rejected Jaguar's claims that the Hague Evidence Convention governs and found, instead, that the case is governed by the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure and that Rules 33 and 34 of the Rules of Civil Procedure require a response to written discovery within thirty days. The court then ordered Jaguar to respond to Ms. Lyles' discovery requests within fifteen days from the order's entry.

         Ms. Lyles then filed an emergency motion to compel Jaguar to respond to her second set of interrogatories. Following a hearing before the discovery commissioner, the circuit court entered a second discovery order on November 28, 2016, directing Jaguar to provide the discovery requested by Ms. Lyles within twenty days of the entry of the order; this order was amended for clarification on December 6, 2016, and also included the twenty-day response deadline.

         On December 20, 2016, Ms. Lyles and Jaguar entered into an "Agreement Regarding the Production of Documents" ("Core Documents Agreement"), whereby Jaguar would identify and provide the referenced documents, which Jaguar believed to constitute Hague Convention compliant discovery and to which Ms. Lyles agreed, to Ms. Lyles within twenty-one days of entry of the order by the High Court of London, which order was entered February 2, 2017. Although this order required Jaguar to produce the referenced documents by February 23, 2017, Jaguar did not provide this discovery to Ms. Lyles until July 10, 2017.

         Thereafter, on October 30, 2017, Ms. Lyles requested Jaguar to supplement its discovery responses within ten days; Jaguar responded that the Rules of Civil Procedure allow thirty days to answer discovery requests and responded by letter dated November 28, 2017, whereby Jaguar indicated that it would review the Core Documents production.

         On December 5, 2017, Ms. Lyles filed a second motion to compel responses to her first set of interrogatories and request for production of documents. Jaguar, by letter dated December 21, 2017, informed Ms. Lyles that it had not, in fact, provided her everything referenced in the Core Documents Agreement but that it would do so by January 2018. Jaguar also opposed Ms. Lyles' second motion to compel.

         At the direction of the circuit court, the discovery commissioner held a hearing on Ms. Lyles' second motion to compel and provided a recommendation to the circuit court, which the court adopted by third discovery order entered January 24, 2018. By that order, the circuit court directed Jaguar to provide the referenced documents to Ms. Lyles within thirty days of the entry of the court's order. Jaguar objected and filed a motion to vacate this order. By order entered February 7, 2018, the circuit court denied Jaguar's motion to vacate. Jaguar objected and moved to amend the court's order.

         Ms. Lyles then filed the motion for sanctions that led to the instant petition for writ of prohibition. In her motion, Ms. Lyles recounted Jaguar's failure to provide requested and agreed-upon documents in discovery, as well as Jaguar's repeated opposition to the circuit court's discovery orders. She requested relief including striking Jaguar's affirmative defenses, taking her factual allegations as true, and her "costs and attorney['s] fees associated with all discovery disputes [she] has had with [Jaguar]." Jaguar opposed Ms. Lyles' motion for sanctions, and the discovery commissioner held a hearing thereon. By fourth discovery order entered October 15, 2018, the circuit court adopted the discovery commissioner's recommendation to grant Ms. Lyles' motion for sanctions and directed Ms. Lyles to submit an affidavit detailing her costs. The court further required Jaguar "by no later than the 26th day of October, 2018 to supplement their responses to [Ms. Lyles'] discovery by detailing which documents produced by Bates Number or other identification are responsive to [Ms. Lyles'] Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents." Finally, the circuit court denied the additional relief requested by Ms. Lyles vis-à-vis Jaguar's affirmative defenses and her factual allegations. Jaguar objected to the fees and costs submitted by Ms. Lyles.

         The discovery commissioner subsequently filed his recommendation regarding sanctions, including a summary of the expenses approved for Ms. Lyles' various attorneys. Although her counsel reported fees of $332, 472.26, the discovery commissioner recommended approving only $67, 295.00 of that amount and included Exhibit C which specifies, in unredacted form, the allowable expenses for each attorney. The discovery commissioner additionally recommended that Jaguar be charged with his expenses, as well, in the amount of $8, 312.25; this amount reflects half of the total time the discovery commissioner worked on this case because he discounted his fee given his feeling that his evaluation of the parties' arguments took longer than he had expected. Jaguar objected to this recommendation, but the circuit court adopted the same by order entered February 11, 2019. It is from this order that Jaguar has filed the instant petition for writ of prohibition.

         When faced with a petition for prohibitory relief, this Court previously has held that "[a] writ of prohibition will not issue to prevent a simple abuse of discretion by a trial court. It will only issue where the trial court has no jurisdiction or having such jurisdiction exceeds its legitimate powers." Syl. pt. 2, State ex rel. Peacher v. Sencindiver, 160 W.Va. 314, 233 S.E.2d 425 (1977). In the case sub judice, Jaguar contends that the circuit court exceeded its legitimate authority by finding that it had committed discovery misconduct and by imposing sanctions therefor. In such circumstances, we have held:

In determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for cases not involving an absence of jurisdiction but only where it is claimed that the lower tribunal exceeded its legitimate powers, this Court will examine five factors: (1) whether the party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the lower tribunal's order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the lower tribunal's order is an oft repeated error or manifests persistent disregard for either procedural or substantive law; and (5) whether the lower tribunal's order raises new and important problems or issues of law of first impression. These factors are general guidelines that serve as a useful starting point for determining ...

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