Every corporate defendant dreads the prospect of having to produce its President or CEO for deposition in a case where they have no unique personal knowledge or involvement and the relevant information is available from other sources. Many federal courts prohibit these so-called "apex" depositions, recognizing that forcing busy executives to testify when they have no significant personal knowledge or involvement would impair their ability to manage the corporation’s business. Many state courts, however, allow these depositions to go forward, resulting in a significant split in authority -- and commensurate forum shopping.
In General Motors LLC v. Buchanan, a Georgia trial judge ordered that former General Motors CEO Mary Barra had to testify in a case involving an alleged defect in a Chevy Trailblazer. The plaintiff's justification for wanting her testimony was not based on any knowledge she possessed that was unique to the case, but instead her general knowledge of safety issues and corporate culture. General Motors' petition for review was granted by the Georgia Supreme Court, supported by amicus filings from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, UPS, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines and others.
Lawyers on both sides of the "v" are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Buchanan decision because of the importance "apex" deposition requests play in civil case discovery. We will be monitoring this and other cases on this topic and keep our readers apprised
On October 19, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed to address the application of the doctrine, and the relevant burden of proof, in General Motors LLC v. Buchanan.