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Quinter v. Volkswagen of America

decided: April 19, 1982.



Before Hunter and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges, and Ackerman,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Higginbotham


This case involves an appeal from a Judgment and Order of the district court finding appellant Byron Bloch in civil contempt for violation of a Protective Order issued by the district court and assessing against Bloch a compensatory fine of $10,000. Bloch challenges the validity of the Protective Order, the applicability of the Order to him, and the district court's finding that he violated the Order.

We conclude that the narrow issue in this case requiring reconsideration by the district court is the fine assessed against Bloch. We remand for the district court to do so in accordance with our findings below.


This case arises out of a lawsuit brought in 1976 by plaintiff Rodney Quinter against Volkswagen of America and Volkswagenwerk, A.G. (Volkswagen) to recover damages for injuries sustained in a 1974 accident involving a Volkswagen Beetle.*fn1 Appellant Byron Bloch, an automobile safety design consultant was retained by Quinter and his counsel, Henry H. Wallace, as a consultant and expert witness.

On January 5, 1979, after a three-hour hearing, Judge Maurice B. Cohill, Jr. granted Quinter's Motion for an Order Compelling Production of Documents and Things for Inspection, Copying or Photocopying. At that same hearing the district court also granted Volkswagen's motion for a protective order to cover certain materials Volkswagen considered trade secrets. Bloch was involved in this hearing to the extent that he provided affidavits for Quinter's submission to the district court in opposition to Volkswagen's motion. The district court denied without a hearing Quinter's Motion for Reconsideration of January 18, 1979, and on January 23, 1979, entered the following order:

AND NOW, to-wit, this 23rd day of January, 1979, after careful consideration of the proposed Protective Order filed by the defendants above-named, pursuant to paragraph 5 of the Order of this Court dated January 5, 1979, said proposed order be and the same hereby is rejected as being unnecessarily burdensome and complex.

In lieu thereof, it is HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that items obtained by plaintiff or his counsel pursuant to discovery in this case are protected, and neither plaintiff nor his counsel shall themselves copy or permit others to copy said items or otherwise use them for any purpose other than that directly and reasonably related to the above-captioned case.

Order of the Court dated January 23, 1979, at App. 47a.*fn2

Pursuant to this Order, Volkswagen turned over to Wallace in March, 1979, a number of documents, including the document at issue in this appeal, a computerized index list of various crash tests and other tests performed by Volkswagen on its automobiles (Index List). During a visit to Pittsburgh in the summer or fall of 1979, Bloch was given the Index List and a copy of the Protective Order by Wallace.

On November 8, 1979, Bloch participated in an ABC television program called "20/20," which dealt with the crashworthiness of Volkswagen Beetles and the susceptibility of persons riding in Beetles involved in rear end collisions to serious injury. During the program Bloch noted that the Index List was the subject of a protective order and held it up before the television cameras for the viewing audience to see. The district court concluded that the viewing audience was probably unable to read the Index List, but that the narrator, Sylvia Chase, and the television cameramen probably were able to read it.

On December 26, 1979, Volkswagen filed a Motion for Sanctions in response to Bloch's appearance on "20/20." Judge Alan Bloch, to whom the case had been assigned in November, 1979, denied Volkswagen's motion on February 28, 1980.*fn3 Volkswagen then filed a Petition for a Rule to Show Cause for Adjudication of Civil Contempt for the alleged failure of Quinter, his counsel, Wallace, and Bloch to comply with the district court's Protective Order. Volkswagen charged in its petition that Bloch's use of ...

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