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Discovery - Mandamus: Ex Parte Industrial Warehouse Services, Inc.

Ex parte Industrial Warehouse Services, Inc., [Ms. 1170013, Mar. 2, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2018). This plurality opinion by Justice Parker (Main and Sellers, JJ., concur; Stuart, C.J., concurs in the result; Bolin, Wise, and Mendheim, JJ., concur in part and dissent in part), grants in part and denies in part a writ of mandamus sought by defendant Industrial Warehouse Services, Inc. challenging discovery orders entered by the Bibb Circuit Court. The underlying case involved a motor vehicle collision involving a truck driven by an IWS employee.

IWS contended that certain of plaintiff’s discovery requests sought proprietary information and/or trade secrets and requested plaintiff’s consent to a protective order limiting use of the information and documents to the instant litigation. However, plaintiff’s counsel sought to use the discovered information in future litigation. Ms. *3-4. When the parties could not agree, IWS filed a motion for protective order as to its bills of lading and its operation and safety manuals. Ms. *4. On September 25, 2017, the circuit court denied IWS’s motion for protective order.

On October 2, 2017, IWS filed a motion to reconsider and in support of the motion filed an affidavit from its Director of Safety and Human Resources. Ms. *6. The affidavit indicated that IWS’s bills of lading contain information subject to confidentiality agreements with IWS clients. The affidavit also indicated that IWS’s operations and safety manuals are created in house or purchased from trucking compliance companies. Ms. *6-7.

As the movant, IWS “had the burden of demonstrating good cause for the protective order it [sought].” Ms. *10. The opinion concludes based on the evidence that IWS had demonstrated that the information in its bills of lading is confidential and meets the definition of trade secrets set forth in § 8-27-2(1). The Court issued a writ of mandamus reversing the trial court’s refusal to enter an order protecting the bills of lading.

However, the opinion concludes that IWS failed to demonstrate that the information in its operations and safety manuals is confidential or a trade secret. Ms. *17-18. Accordingly, the Court declined to issue a writ of mandamus with regard to those documents.

Significantly, the opinion notes that to the extent IWS argues that the circuit court exceeded its discretion by requiring the production of documents as far back as six months prior to the date of the automobile collision, that “IWS has not demonstrated that this scope-of-discovery issue is appropriate for mandamus review, and, thus, we do not address it.” Ms. *22, n. 6.

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