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Deposing Your Opponent’s Corporate Officers in Your Florida Commercial Litigation

When you are involved in a commercial contract dispute, there are many very important parts to the process. In some cases, the most important activity may actually take place before the trial, during the discovery process. This stage can involve many different options available to you to further your interests in the case. One of these tools is the deposition, including taking depositions of the corporate officers of your opponent. In a recent case originating in Miami regarding the management of a Key West hotel, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld a trial judge’s ruling that allowed a plaintiff to go forward with its depositions of two of the defendant’s highest officers. Even though the two officers didn’t have day-to-day roles in the management of the Key West hotel, the plaintiff had done enough to convince the courts that their depositions were “reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence.”

The source point of this litigation was a 2009 contractual agreement between the two litigants in this case, Remington Lodging & Hospitality LLC and Southernmost House LTD. The agreement called for Remington to provide management services for Southernmost’s property, the Southernmost House hotel in Key West. In 2015, Southernmost sued Remington, alleging that the manager had defaulted on the terms of the contract in multiple ways. Remington defended, arguing that it was completely compliant with the terms of the deal.

As part of the pre-trial litigation process, Southernmost sent Remington a demand seeking to conduct depositions of two of Remington’s highest-ranking officers, its president and its CEO. Remington asked the trial court in Miami to issue a protective order that would have scuttled the depositions. Remington’s argument was that the pair were two of the highest-ranking officers in a company that was based in Texas, employed in excess of 8,000 people, and managed 94 properties in 28 states. In short, the two officers knew nothing about the specifics of the day-to-day management of Southernmost House or the operations at that property, and deposing them would be pointless. The two officers submitted documents to the court in which they also stated that they knew nothing about the details of the management of Southernmost’s property and had no information about the specific allegations contained in this lawsuit.

Despite what Remington and its officers claimed, Southernmost offered evidence that the officers had met with ownership from the hotel once and that they had also had at least one conversation with their lower-level executives about the management of Southernmost. This was enough to defeat the management company’s protective order request and allow the depositions to go forward. The minimum standard for pursuing discovery is much lower than the standard for admitting evidence in a trial. In discovery actions, like depositions, the party seeking to conduct the disputed deposition only has to prove to the court that what it seeks to do is “relevant to the subject matter of the action or which appears reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence,” and it isn’t covered by any type of privilege.

In this case, there was no valid privilege that would apply to the officers’ deposition testimony, and, since they admitted in their affidavits that they’d discussed the management of Southernmost with their subordinate executive employees, it was not unreasonable for the hotel to claim that the depositions were calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

There are many options and techniques available to a party in a commercial dispute in order to gain a permissible advantage in the case. The manner in which you conduct discovery, including depositions, is one of these. The experienced Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman have been conducting commercial litigation cases for many years and have helped numerous clients navigate the entire process from the earliest discovery all the way to trial. Our attorneys can help you pursue your case from start to finish.

Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation.

More blog posts:

Defending Against Summary Judgment Motions in Your Florida Commercial Litigation Case, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, July 8, 2016

Florida Court Blocks Subtenant’s Request for Information About Tenant’s Commercial Lease Terms With Landlord, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, April 7, 2015

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