Back in November of 2021, I told everyone to keep an eye on the Georgia Supreme Court case General Motors LLC v. Buchanan, which (I thought) would squarely answer the question of whether the so-called "Apex Doctrine" protected high-ranking corporate executives from being deposed in lawsuits where they have little to no knowledge of the underlying case. On June 1, the Peach State's highest court issued a decision that litigants on both sides of the question claim are helpful to their positions.
Those representing corporations note that although Buchanan did not adopt the "Apex Doctrine" outright, it requires trial courts to consider the doctrine's factors and make specific findings before an apex deposition can be ordered. Absent such findings, a protective order preventing the deposition may be appropriate. Those representing plaintiffs counter by reading Buchanan's refusal to adopt the doctrine as an acknowledgement that apex depositions may be appropriate in certain cases and a reaffirmation of the broad scope of deposition discovery.
While my personal reading is that Buchanan is more favorable to corporations than plaintiffs, the decision is a mixed-bag. In some respects, it adds even more murkiness to a still unclear area in discovery jurisprudence. In many jurisdictions, it appears clarity on this issue can only be achieved through legislative action.
The 8-0 opinion recognizes for the first time in the Peach State that an individual's lack of personal, unique knowledge of relevant facts and whether information can be obtained through less burdensome means than their deposition are important factors in determining protective orders.