One reason that class actions are notable is that the discovery is particularly one-sided. The plaintiff likely has few documents, and little to say in deposition about her claims. So the defense spends much of its time in discovery – there’s no better way to say it – playing defense: making sure that it has adequate strategies to address the vulnerabilities in any information it produces.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers consider the 30(b)(6) deposition one of their primary offensive tools. As a result, many defense lawyers treat the 30(b)(6) representative like the goalie in a hockey game: if he can prevent the other side from scoring any points, he’s done his job. But, under certain circumstances, the 30(b)(6) representative can play offense as well as defense. Since the defendant possesses most of the information, it has firsthand knowledge as to why a class action may not be the appropriate vehicle for a lawsuit. And the 30(b)(6) corporate representative deposition allows the corporation to select a corporate spokesperson to make the argument against certification.
How important is the 30(b)(6) deposition to the case against class certification? Potentially, it can be a game-changer. For example, in a 2008 opinion, the Southern District of Florida denied certification based on the testimony in several 30(b)(6) depositions. In Pop’s Pancakes, Inc. v. NuCO2, Inc., 251 F.R.D. 677, 686-87 (S.D. Fla. 2008), a class action filed by two restaurants against an equipment lessor claiming that it improperly hid fees in its beverage-equipment contracts, the district court found that the plaintiffs could not demonstrate that there were any common issues of law or fact justifying certification. What was the basis for this decision? The testimony of one of the corporate representatives, who said in his deposition that:
while there are generally four different contracts customers have with the Defendant, two of which are subject to the assessment of property taxes, that every month some customers switch from a contract where no equipment is leased, and thus, no property tax assessed to one where the customer leases the equipment from NUCO, [and] that there were various administrative processing fees charged based upon individual negotiations with the various customers, which can only be determined by reviewing the individual customer’s agreement.
The lesson here is a simple one. The 30(b)(6) deponent is not just a goalie. Prepared properly, with the right facts behind him, he can score points, too.