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Ex parte Farley

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

June 21, 2019

Ex parte Randy Farley
v.
Transport America, Inc. In re: Randy Farley

          Etowah Circuit Court, CV-18-900604

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          PER CURIAM

         On August 15, 2018, Randy Farley filed in the Etowah Circuit Court ("the trial court") a complaint against his employer, Transport America, Inc. ("Transport America"), seeking an award of workers' compensation benefits. Among other things, Farley alleged that he had suffered a permanent vocational impairment as a result of an on-the-job injury. Transport America answered and denied liability.

         During the pendency of discovery in the action, Transport America asked Farley to execute releases in order for it to obtain Farley's Social Security disability records, Social Security earnings records, Alabama Department of Internal Revenue records, and Alabama Department of Labor records regarding workers' compensation and unemployment benefits. Farley opposed that request, arguing that no provision of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure required the execution of those releases. Transport America filed in the trial court a motion requesting an order compelling Farley's execution of the releases. Farley opposed that motion to compel.

         On February 26, 2019, the trial court entered an order stating that, "[i]f [Farley] is alleging a non-scheduled injury and/or a vocational loss, then he is to sign said releases for [Transport America]. However, if [Farley] is alleging a scheduled injury, then [Farley] is not required to sign said releases." It appears to be undisputed that Farley has alleged an injury that is not scheduled under the Workers' Compensation Act and vocational loss. On March 1, 2019, Farley filed a "motion to reconsider" the February 26, 2019, order. On March 12, 2019, the trial court entered an order denying the motion to reconsider. On March 25, 2019, within 42 days of the entry of the February 26, 2019, order, Farley timely filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in this court from the February 26, 2019, order. See Rule 21(a)(3), Ala. R. App. P. ("The petition shall be filed within a reasonable time. The presumptively reasonable time for filing a petition seeking review of an order of a trial court or of a lower appellate court shall be the same as the time for taking an appeal."); Rule 4(a)(1), Ala. R. App. P. (providing that an appeal must be filed within 42 days of the entry of the order or judgment from which the appeal is taken).[1]

         In his brief filed in support of his petition for a writ of mandamus, Farley argues that neither the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure nor other Alabama law permits a trial court to enter an order compelling a party to execute a release of documents to the opposing party; he contends that requiring him to execute the releases would result in an overly broad release of information. In its response to the petition, Transport America alleges that Farley did not seek a protection order to narrow the scope of any information obtained under executed releases. Transport America also argues that this matter is not appropriate for review by way of a petition for a writ of mandamus under the authority of Ex parte Ocwen Federal Bank, FSB, 872 So.2d 810 (Ala. 2003). In that case, our supreme court stated:

"Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy and will be granted only where there is '(1) a clear legal right in the petitioner to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) properly invoked jurisdiction of the court.' Ex parte Alfab, Inc., 586 So.2d 889, 891 (Ala. 1991). This Court will not issue the writ of mandamus where the petitioner has '"full and adequate relief"' by appeal. State v. Cobb, 288 Ala. 675, 678, 264 So.2d 523, 526 (1972) (quoting State v. Williams, 69 Ala. 311, 316 (1881)).
"Discovery matters are within the trial court's sound discretion, and this Court will not reverse a trial court's ruling on a discovery issue unless the trial court has clearly exceeded its discretion. Home Ins. Co. v. Rice, 585 So.2d 859, 862 (Ala. 1991). Accordingly, mandamus will issue to reverse a trial court's ruling on a discovery issue only (1) where there is a showing that the trial court clearly exceeded its discretion, and (2) where the aggrieved party does not have an adequate remedy by ordinary appeal. The petitioner has an affirmative burden to prove the existence of each of these conditions."

872 So.2d at 813 (emphasis added).

         The court in Ocwen then noted that, generally, an appeal provides an adequate remedy for challenging a discovery order and, therefore, that filing a mandamus petition is not an appropriate method for challenging a trial court's discovery rulings; the court noted the expense to the judiciary associated with review of interlocutory discovery orders and the interruption of litigation as reasons for not reviewing all petitions for a writ of mandamus pertaining to discovery orders. Ocwen, 872 So.2d at 813. In Ocwen, our supreme court held that Alabama's appellate courts would no longer review a discovery order by way of a petition for a writ of mandamus, except

"(a) when a privilege is disregarded ...; (b) when a discovery order compels the production of patently irrelevant or duplicative documents, such as to clearly constitute harassment or impose a burden on the producing party far out of proportion to any benefit that may obtain to the requesting party ...; (c) when the trial court either imposes sanctions effectively precluding a decision on the merits or denies discovery going to a party's entire action or defense so that, in either event, the outcome has been all but determined, and the petitioner would be merely going through the motions of a trial to obtain an appeal; or (d) when the trial court impermissibly prevents the petitioner from making a record on the discovery issue so that the appellate court cannot review the effect of the trial court's alleged error."

872 So.2d at 813-14.

         In this case, this court granted a motion filed by Farley to allow him to submit a reply brief in response to Transport America's answer to his petition for a writ of mandamus. In that reply brief, Farley argues that Transport America has mischaracterized his petition for a writ of mandamus as challenging a discovery order. Farley contends that Ocwen and similar authority do not preclude review of this matter by a petition for a writ of mandamus because, he says, his argument is that the February 26, 2019, order is not a permissible discovery order and that the method for obtaining information pursuant to that order is outside the methods of discovery that are listed in Rule 26(a), Ala. R. Civ. P. However, another portion of Rule 26 provides, in part:

"Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is: (I) relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action, whether it relates to the claim or defense of the party seeking discovery or to the claim or defense of any other party; and (ii) proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. It is not ground for objection that the ...

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