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In re Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

April 26, 2017

IN RE THE GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO

         Original Mandamus Proceeding[1]

          Sitting: Karen Angelini, Justice Marialyn Barnard, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Karen Angelini, Justice

         Relator, The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, filed this petition for writ of mandamus challenging a discovery order granting real parties in interest[2] access to a Goodyear facility to observe and record tire manufacturing machines in operation. Relator also filed a motion for temporary stay of the enforcement of the discovery order during the pendency of this mandamus proceeding. This court granted the stay and requested a response. We conditionally grant the petition for writ of mandamus.

         Background

         This proceeding arises out of a traffic accident in Dimmit County, Texas, which occurred on June 11, 2013, when a cement truck collided with a vehicle driven by Ramiro Munoz, resulting in Munoz's death. The Plaintiffs contend the collision was a result of a catastrophic failure of the left front tire on the cement truck, a "385/65R22.5 Goodyear G286" manufactured by Goodyear in 2009 in a tire plant in Danville, Virginia using an "RTN" tire manufacturing machine. The Plaintiffs filed suit against Goodyear and the company that owned and operated the cement truck.

         On May 12, 2015, the Plaintiffs propounded discovery on Goodyear. Included in the discovery was the request for production at issue in this mandamus proceeding:

REQUEST FOR PRODUCTION NO. 6:
Please produce the tire building machines used to place the innerliner and steel belts into precured 385/65R22.5 G286 tires made at Goodyear's Danville, Virginia plant from April 9 to May 9 of 2009 (if the tire building machines requested are no longer available, please produce the machines as similar as is practicable to the machines requested).

         Goodyear objected to this request for production on the grounds that it was vague, overbroad, not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, was actually a request for entry into the Goodyear plant and thus subject to a greater level of scrutiny than a request for production, was a fishing expedition, was unduly burdensome, and sought "information which is a trade secret, confidential, or of some other highly-sensitive commercial or proprietary nature."

         On October 23, 2015, the Plaintiffs filed a motion to compel production of the tire building machines as part of a response to a motion to compel discovery filed by Goodyear. According to the Plaintiffs' motion, the production of the tire building machines would involve entering the Danville tire plant, observing the manufacturing process and videotaping the process. Goodyear filed a response to the motion to compel on November 3, 2015. Goodyear supported its response with the declaration of Monroe Griffith, a manager at Goodyear's Danville plant.

         In his declaration, Griffith stated he had been employed by Goodyear as a "Q-Tech Manager since 2012." According to the declaration, Goodyear stopped producing the subject tire in 2010. In addition, the plant underwent significant changes since the subject tire was built, with new equipment added and existing equipment modified or removed. There had also been turnover in personnel. Further, none of the tires being constructed on RTN machines at the plant were being built to the same specifications as the subject tire.

         According to the Griffith declaration, Goodyear designed the RTN machines used to manufacture the subject tire and the machines were built to Goodyear specifications. In addition, people seeking access to the RTN machines would have to pass near other processes and equipment and see details of the tire building process unrelated to the subject tire. Goodyear developed the "designs, manufacturing processes and quality systems . . . at great expense, " does not make them publicly available, and they "are maintained in confidence by Goodyear." Griffith testified the designs, manufacturing processes and quality systems "cost millions of dollars to develop." According to Griffith, Goodyear limits access to the tire plant and takes steps to prevent dissemination of information regarding tire manufacturing operations. Visitors to the plant are required to "sign nondisclosure agreements prohibiting disclosure of any proprietary, trade secret information they may encounter while in the plant." Employees must agree not to disclose information without prior authorization, and access to the computer system is controlled with user identification numbers and passwords. Employees are given confidential material only on a "need-to-know basis."

         In his declaration, Griffith discussed the burden of setting up the RTN machines to produce the tires responsive to the discovery order, which include the resulting loss of production, the need to assign personnel to ensure the safety of the inspection team, and the need to involve the union under Goodyear's collective bargaining agreement with its employees.

         The Plaintiffs' motion to compel was heard on November 4, 2015. At the conclusion of the hearing the trial judge stated that he was granting the Plaintiffs' request "as represented to the Court at this hearing, not necessarily as reflected in the written motion[.]" On December 2, 2015, the trial court signed an "Order on Motion to Compel Production of Tire Building Machines Subject to Limitations and Confidentiality." The order required Goodyear allow plaintiffs' expert, "one counsel, " and a videographer access to the RTN tire machines while in operation. The order further allowed the visual observation and videotaping by plaintiffs' videographer of: (1) the normal operation of the RTN machines that were used to manufacture the tire involved in the lawsuit while in operation, or if those machines no longer exist or cannot be identified, a machine as similar as practical, while those machines are in use during the first- and second-stages of the tire building process; (2) an RTN machine in operation manufacturing a similar tire to the one involved in this litigation "that is nearest as is practical to the alternative design that is proposed by the Plaintiffs with respect to the wider No. 4 belt;" and (3) an RTN machine in operation manufacturing a similar tire to the one involved in this litigation "that is nearest as is practical to the alternative design that is proposed by the Plaintiffs with respect to the thicker undertread design." The order specified all videotape be turned over to Goodyear to maintain and further specified Goodyear would not be required to produce the tapes unless ordered to do so by the trial court following an in-camera inspection.

         Goodyear filed a motion for reconsideration on December 15, 2015. The trial court heard the motion to reconsider on January 28, 2016, but signed no order. The trial court held another hearing on August 31, 2016, after which the trial court signed an order denying ...


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