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Ash v. Cort

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT


decided: February 26, 1975.

RICHARD A. ASH, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF, AND ON BEHALF OF BETHLEHEM STEEL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STEWART S. CORT, LEWIS W. FOY, EDWARD D. BICKFORD, BERNARD D. BROEKER, ALBERT M. REED, C. THOMPSON STOTT, IVOR D. SIMS, CROWDUS BAKER, JESS H. DAVIS, THOMAS S. GATES, ROBERT B. HOBBS AND GEORGE P. JENKINS, ALL BEING DIRECTORS OF BETHLEHEM STEEL CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES, AND BETHLEHEM STEEL CORPORATION, NOMINAL APPELLEE

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA.

Van Dusen, Gibbons and Hunter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hunter

Opinion OF THE COURT

HUNTER, Circuit Judge:

In this case we must decide whether a district court order denying a motion to perpetuate testimony pending appeal under F.R.C.P. 27(b) is a final order, appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.*fn1 We conclude that it is a final order. Having jurisdiction to review the order, we must next decide whether denial of the motion to perpetuate testimony was an abuse of discretion in this case. We find no abuse of discretion and, therefore, affirm the district court's denial of the Rule 27(b) motion.

I

Plaintiff-appellant is a shareholder in Bethlehem Steel Corporation who seeks derivative damages in favor of the corporation against the directors for allegedly illegal political contributions and injunctive relief prohibiting future contributions allegedly violative of 18 U.S.C. § 610.*fn2

This is the third time this case has come before us. In a per curiam opinion filed in 1973, this court affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction.*fn3 Ash v. Cort, 471 F.2d 811 (3d Cir., 1973). The district court subsequently granted defendant appellee's motion for summary judgment on grounds that no cause of action had been stated. This court reversed in an opinion by Chief Judge Seitz. 496 F.2d 416 (3d Cir., 1974).

On July 20, 1974 defendant filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court seeking to review this court's 1974 holding that a cause of action had been stated. The writ was granted on November 11, 1974, sub nom. Cort v. Ash, 419 U.S. 992, 95 S. Ct. 302, 42 L. Ed. 2d 264, 43 U.S.L.W. 3273 (1974).*fn4

On June 13, 1974 plaintiff filed the instant Rule 27(b) motion in the district court. The motion was denied and the present appeal followed.*fn5

Plaintiff-appellant asserts that denial of its Rule 27(b) motion was an abuse of discretion. Defendant-appellees move to dismiss the appeal on grounds that there has been no final appealable order. In the alternative, they allege that the denial was not an abuse of discretion.

II

Appealability

Rule 27(a) provides for perpetuation of testimony prior to trial, Rule 27(b) in turn deals with perpetuation of testimony pending appeal.*fn6 The scope of discovery allowed under Rule 27 is much narrower than that available under the general discovery provisions of Rule 26.*fn7 Rule 27 applies. . .

to situations where, for one reason or another, testimony might be lost to a prospective litigant unless taken immediately . . .. Such testimony would thereby be perpetuated or kept in existence and, if necessary, would be available for use at some subsequent time. Petition of Ferkauf, 3 F.R.D. 89, 91 (S.D. N.Y., 1943).

Rule 27 properly applies only in that special category of cases where it is necessary to prevent testimony from being lost.

Unlike the usual discovery motion, the denial or grant of which has been considered interlocutory and non-appealable,*fn8 motions to perpetuate testimony must be judged by different standards.*fn9 In Mosseller v. United States, 158 F.2d 380 (2nd Cir., 1946), the Second Circuit held appealable the granting of a Rule 27(a) motion to perpetuate testimony in advance of trial. The court reasoned that the district court order authorizing depositions was a final order under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 "because it [granted] all the relief sought in the petition and [disposed] of the proceeding." 158 F.2d at 383.*fn10 Accord Martin v. Reynolds Metals Corporation, 297 F.2d 49, 52 (9th Cir., 1961).

The denial of a motion to perpetuate testimony would also seem to require immediate review. "An action refusing relief under Rule 27 would appear to be even more final [than the granting of such a motion], for it may have the effect of making it impossible for the petitioner to maintain an action or defense." Moore 9 Federal Practice P 110.13[3] at 159 (1970).

Although there are no cases specifically addressing the question of appealability of Rule 27(b) orders,*fn11 we perceive no reason for treating these differently than Rule 27(a) motions. The same narrow purpose of perpetuating testimony for later use obtains under both 27(a) and 27(b). The Rule 27(a) order is deemed final because it is the only matter pending in the district court at a time when no complaint has yet been filed. Similarly, when an appeal has been lodged in a higher court, a Rule 27(b) motion is the only matter pending before the district court. Since it is the only matter in the district court, a denial or grant of a Rule 27(b) motion is final in just the way the Second Circuit characterized as final, the grant of a 27(a) motion in Mosseller.*fn12

As such we conclude that we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to review the instant denial of Rule 27(b) relief.

Abuse of Discretion

We reiterate that Rule 27 is not a substitute for discovery. It is available in special circumstances to preserve testimony which could otherwise be lost. In addition, the text of the Rule makes it clear that reversal is warranted only when the trial judge has committed an abuse of discretion.*fn13 The Rule states that the trial court " may allow the taking of the depositions of witnesses to perpetuate their testimony . . . if the court finds that the perpetuation of the testimony is proper to avoid a failure or delay of justice . . .." (Emphasis added.) F.R.C.P. 27(b).

The present appeal must fail both because appellant misperceives Rule 27 as a substitute for general discovery*fn14 and because he has failed to show any abuse of discretion by the trial court.

In support of his abuse of discretion charge appellant asserts that there has been "no discovery in two years of litigation." (Appellant's brief at 5). Without some showing that continued delay in granting discovery is likely to result in a loss of evidence, the assertion that no discovery has yet taken place is plainly irrelevant to Rule 27. Appellant makes almost no attempt to show why the requested testimony must be perpetuated. In conclusory terms, appellant's brief merely states:

There exists a substantial risk that testimonial evidence will become unavailable if discovery is further postponed. It is probable that the officers and directors having first hand knowledge are over fifty years of age. They are all senior officers of a large industrial corporation. One director has already died. Memories may fade. . . . (Appellant's brief at 12).

Although age may be a relevant factor in showing that testimony must be perpetuated to avoid loss,*fn15 we simply cannot agree that these conclusory remarks in any way show that evidence is likely to be lost while the appeal is pending.

Since plaintiff failed to assert reasons*fn16 why it was necessary to perpetuate this testimony, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's denial of the motion.

III

For the foregoing reasons, we find that the district court order denying a Rule 27(b) motion to perpetuate testimony pending appeal was not an abuse of discretion. The motion to dismiss the appeal will be denied and the district court order affirmed.


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