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Davis v. Ross

    Brief Fact Summary. Gail Davis (Plaintiff) instituted this defamation action based on a letter written and disseminated by Diana Ross (Defendant). Plaintiff sought one million dollars in compensatory damages and one million dollars in punitive damages.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Information of Defendant’s net worth may not be discovered until a verdict awarding punitive damages is made.

    Facts. In Plaintiff’s defamation action against Defendant based on a letter written and disseminated by the Defendant, the complaint states the Plaintiff was employed as an executive assistant to Defendant. Defendant’s letter to Plaintiff stated that Defendant had to layoff Plaintiff because either her work or personal habits were unacceptable. Plaintiff sued alleging that the letter contained false statements. The district court granted Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss on the ground that the text of the letter was not libelous, as it only expressed Defendant’s dissatisfaction, rather than making a representation of Plaintiff’s job performance. The court of appeals reversed and remanded stating that the letter may have a defamatory interpretation. The case is currently before the court to hear the parties’ cross-motions to compel discovery.

    Issue. Whether parties cross motion to compel discovery should be granted?

    Held. Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel Discovery should be denied, whereas Defendant’s Motion should be granted. Plaintiff seeks discovery of information concerning Defendant’s net worth and annual income, arguing that Defendant’s wealth is relevant to an action for punitive damages. The Plaintiff’s interests in proving the amount of the Defendant’s wealth must be balanced against the Defendant’s right to privacy and desire not reveal such information. However, Defendant should not be compelled to disclose private facts to anyone until it is found that Plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages. Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel discovery of information regarding Defendant’s wealth is denied. Plaintiff’s second discovery request is for documents reflecting bills by Defendant’s law firm. Plaintiff argues that this information is discoverable because the Defendant stated that defense counsel was an important witness. Plaintiff is entitled as to the relationship between Defendant and defense counsel, however the amount of fees earned is not probative of a witness’ bias. Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel Discovery of Defendant’s legal fees is denied. Plaintiff’s last discovery request is to learn the names of other employees who have complained about the Defendant and the nature of their complaints. Plaintiff seeks discovery of this information to determine whether Defendant was a good or bad employer, and is not probative of whether Plaintiff’s personal or work habits were satisfactory. The information sought by Plaintiff is irrelevant to any material issue and thus the motion is denied. Defendant seeks discovery of Plaintiff’s treatment by a psychiatrist during the period that Plaintiff worked for Defendant. Defendant argues that the material is relevant and that the physician-patient privilege has been waived. When the mental or physical condition of the Plaintiff is at issue, the physician-patient privilege is waived. Defendant argues that Plaintiff put her mental condition at issue when she sued to recover for great mental pain and anguish and thus waived the physician-patient privilege. If the Plaintiff sues to recover for mental pain and anguish, she may not subsequently deny the Defendant the evidence she needs to argue that there was no damage. Thus, Defendant’s Motion to Compel Discovery of Plaintiff’s treatment by a psychiatrist is granted.

    Discussion. Evidence must be relevant to the case in order to be admissible in court. According to the Federal Laws of Evidence, relevant evidence means evidence that has the tendency of making the existence of a fact of the case more probable or less probable than without the evidence. For evidence to be discoverable Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that material need only be relevant to the subject matter of the action for good cause. Some information that is not directly important for the case could be relevant to the claims or defenses raised in the action. The rules do not place any restriction on what a party may do with the information obtained in the discovery process. Generally an inquiry into Defendant’s financial status is not permitted, but it may be permitted in cases when punitive damages are sought.


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