Report from consulting expert to stay secret, appeals court rules

David Yates Aug. 24, 2010, 10:43am

A report entailing the "mental impressions" of a "consulting-only expert," who aided in formulating legal strategies in an automobile collision lawsuit, will stay secret, thanks to a recent appeals court ruling.

In January 2007, Pennsylvania resident Brandon Culp filed suit against Nevada-based Schneider National Carriers and one its truck drivers, Beaumont resident Phillip Johnson.

Court papers show that on Jan. 9, 2005, Culp was traveling westbound on Highway 20 in Mississippi when Johnson, who was carrying a load for Schneider, rear-ended him and forced him into the guardrail, causing the vehicle to overturn and eject him onto the highway pavement.

After filing the suit, Culp's counsel, Mississippi attorney James Nobles Jr., attempted to contact former Schneider employee and claims representative Mehdi Arradizadeh, court papers say.

In response, Johnson and Schneider filed a motion for protective order, petitioning Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court, to cease all of Nobles' communications with Arradizadeh and to compel him to identify "all fact witnesses he refused to disclose, including all former (defendant) employees ... who he improperly characterized as 'consulting experts' to evade disclosure."

Culp agreed to cease attempting to contact Arradizadeh, but refused to disclose the identity of former Schneider employees that he characterized as consulting experts, court papers say.

However, on June 16 Judge Sanderson granted the motion and ordered Culp to give up the identities of the Schneider employees, forcing him to appeal.

On appeal, Culp contends the judge abused his discretion by ordering the disclosure of information regarding the identity of the "consulting-only expert," and to disclose the report of the incident, which entailed the "mental impressions" of the expert, court papers say.

On Aug. 19 justices seated on the Ninth Court of appeals released a per curiam opinion partially granting Culp's appeal.

Justices found that Culp failed to show Judge Sanderson erred by ordering him to give up the identity of consultant but did, however, find that the judge erred in ordering him to disclose his report on the matter.

"Because the real parties in interest may not discover information about relator's litigation strategies, after reviewing the report, we conclude that relator may not be required to disclose the individual's report," the opinion states.

"Accordingly ... we conditionally grant a writ of mandamus and instruct the trial court to vacate that portion of the June 16, 2010, order that requires relator to disclose the individual's report. We are confident that the trial court will comply, and the writ will issue only if it does not."

Schneider and Johnson are represented by attorneys Jon B. Burmeister, Marvin B. Peterson Jr. and Mary Ann Starks.

Trial case No. B178-394
Appeals case No. 09-10-00308-CV

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