A panel of the Seventh Circuit split 2-1 on whether to halt a district judge's order that called for a big drug-maker in Germany to ship a baker's dozen of its workers to New York for depositions. In re Petition of Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., No. 13-3898 (7th Cir. Jan. 24, 2014). The court opted to rescind the come-to-New-York order but upheld, for now at least, other sanctions against Boehringer.
Judge Posner explains the panel's thinking on the Main Issue:
The problem is the form the sanction ordered by the judge took—ordering Boehringer to be the court’s agent in violating federal legal limitations on compelled discovery in foreign countries, merely so that depositions could be shifted [from Europe] to a place inconvenient for the [German] witnesses who are to be deposed. They are to be punished for the sins of their employer. And they are not even corporate bigwigs, who might feel humiliated by a travel order; so far as appears, they are merely research scientists. They are not responsible for Boehringer’s contumacy, yet they are the targets of the sanction.
Id. at 4-5.
The dissent, by Judge Hamilton, opposed relief by the "extraordinary" writ of mandamus instead of through the normal course, which involves defying an order and then pressing an appeal after the district court holds you in contempt. His Honor deemed Boehringer a wuss:
The extraordinary thing in this case is that the petitioners themselves recognize these alternatives, but they just seem too weak-kneed to use them. They explain in note 6 of their petition that they do not want to refuse to comply with the order because they respect the court and because they do not want “to further jeopardize their interactions with the [district] court by willfully disregarding its order.”
We should not enable this approach to litigation. With all due respect, this is a major league discovery dispute in high-stakes international litigation. Refusing to comply with a discovery order you believe is unlawful is the respectful course and the orderly procedure. E.g., Allendale Mut. Ins. Co. v. Bull Data Systems, Inc., 32 F.3d 1175, 1179 (7th Cir. 1994) (dismissing appeal of discovery order where party failed to take that step). Refusal is a serious step that makes a party think hard about how important the issue is and how confident it is in its position. See, e.g., Ott v. City of Milwaukee, 682 F.3d 552, 555 (7th Cir. 2012) (“The adversely affected party is expected to put its money where its mouth is, so to speak, before an appeal will be heard.”); Reise[ v. Board of Regents], 957 F.2d [293,] 295–96[ (7th Cir. 1992)].
Judges understand that the option of refusal and contempt is available for a party that is truly serious about wanting prompt appellate review of a discovery order. Taking this option does not indicate the kind of lack of respect that these defendants had been showing prior to the second sanctions order. The petition should be rejected on procedural grounds alone. We need not and should not enable the use of mandamus as an alternative, thereby inviting far too many interlocutory appellate reviews of discovery orders.
Id. at 9. Judge Hamilton also believed the district court acted within its power to impose sanctions for Boehringer's abuse of its discovery duties:
There is no reason for this court to have qualms about whether the defendants can or will order their employees to comply with the district court’s sanctions order. Courts routinely issue orders to corporate parties that require them to order their employees to do things they might prefer not to do, such as appear for a deposition, answer interrogatories, or search for documents for discovery. Nor is there anything unusual about having these defendants order an employee to travel across an international border, whether for meetings or for depositions. These defendants are part of a global pharmaceutical enterprise. Their employees travel across international borders all the time.
Id. at 12.
For another mandamus fight over making people travel, see "Court Hearing Tax Case Went Too Far by Telling Feds to Send Someone with Power to Settle, Ninth Circuit Rules".