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United States ex rel. Robinson v. Indiana University Health Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 2, 2016

UNITED STATES ex rel. Judith Robinson, STATE OF INDIANA, Plaintiffs,
v.
INDIANA UNIVERSITY HEALTH INC. formerly known as CLARIAN HEALTH PARTNERS, INC., HEALTHNET, INC., Defendants. JUDITH ROBINSON bringing this action on behalf of the United States of America and the State of Indiana, Relator.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STRIKE RELATOR'S PROPOSED ERRATA CHANGES

          Mark J. Dinsmore, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Strike Relator's Proposed Errata Changes. [Dkt. 206.] Defendants seek to strike eight changes from Relator's errata sheet, submitted after a portion of Relator's deposition was taken on April 4, 2016. Relator's deposition remains open, and the parties plan to meet once more to conclude it.

         In support of their Motion, Defendants argue that Relator made substantive changes to her deposition testimony on her errata sheet and argue that such changes are impermissible under Thorn v. Sundstrand Aerospace Corp., 207 F.3d 383 (7th Cir. 2000), and must be stricken. In response, Relator argues that the challenged errata changes are not material and that, particularly because the deposition remains open, the Defendants may appropriately examine Relator on the changes when the deposition resumes. According to Relator, Thorn does not grant the Court authority to “strike” an errata change outside of the context of a motion for summary judgment. In reply, Defendants argue that the procedural posture of their Motion is irrelevant to whether the changes should be stricken, respond to the argument that the changes were not material, and ask in the alternative for additional time to depose Relator if their Motion is denied.

         The threshold issue before the Court addresses the materiality or substantive character of Relator's errata sheet changes is whether Thorn empowers the Court to “strike” such changes under the present procedural posture of this case. Relator submitted her errata sheet pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(e)(1), which provides that a “deponent must be allowed 30 days after being notified by the officer that the transcript or recording is available in which: (A) to review the transcript or recording; and (B) if there are changes in form or substance, to sign a statement listing the changes and the reasons for making them.” Any changes must be appended by the designated officer to the back of the transcript. Id. 30(e)(2) (“The officer . . . must attach any changes the deponent makes during the 30-day period.”).

         In Thorn v. Sundstrand Aerospace Corp., Judge Posner writing for the Seventh Circuit explained that errata changes under Rule 30(e)(1) may sometimes be disregarded, reasoning by analogy to what is frequently referred to as the “sham affidavit doctrine.” 207 F.3d at 389. In Thorn, the plaintiff complained of age discrimination when his employment was terminated as part of a reduction in force. The defendant submitted an errata sheet for a deposition correcting what plaintiff considered to be evidence of age discrimination:

When Linton was asked at his deposition what criteria his superiors had told him to employ in making selections for the RIF, he answered that he was to decide “which people did we feel have the longest-term potential for those whose product lines we were eliminating.” Later-after Curran had pointed to the quoted passage as being evidence of age discrimination (because of the reference to “longest-term potential, ” which Curran treats as a synonym for “youngest”)- Linton submitted an errata sheet in which he sought to change the quoted words to “which people were associated with the products that had the longest term potential versus those whose product lines we were eliminating.” Thus the words “did we feel have the longest-term potential for” were to be replaced by “were associated with the products that had the longest-term potential versus.”

Id. at 388. The trial judge determined that the court could consider the correction, but that summary judgment for defendant was required regardless of the errata change.

         Though consideration of the errata sheet would play no role in the outcome of the appeal (the court would have affirmed summary judgment regardless of the errata change), Judge Posner held that, under the circumstances, the trial judge should have disregarded the defendant's post-deposition correction:

What [the defendant's representative] tried to do, whether or not honestly, was to change his deposition from what he said to what he meant. Though this strikes us as a questionable basis for altering a deposition, it is permitted by Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(e), which authorizes “changes in form or substance” (emphasis added); though fortunately the rule requires that the original transcript be retained (this is implicit in the provision of the rule that any changes made by the deponent are to be appended to the transcript) so that the trier of fact can evaluate the honesty of the alteration. We also believe, by analogy to the cases which hold that a subsequent affidavit may not be used to contradict the witness's deposition that a change of substance which actually contradicts the transcript is impermissible unless it can plausibly be represented as the correction of an error in transcription, such as dropping a “not.”

Id. at 389 (citations omitted). The court cited to five cases as examples of cases holding “that a subsequent affidavit may not be used to contradict the witness's deposition;” each of the five cases affirmed the invocation of this rule along with their accompanying grants of summary judgment. Id. (citing Piscione v. Ernst & Young, L.L.P., 171 F.3d 527, 532-33 (7th Cir. 1999); Bank of Illinois v. Allied Signal Safety Restraint Sys., 75 F.3d 1162, 1168-69 (7th Cir. 1996); Russell v. Acme-Evans Co., 51 F.3d 64, 67-68 (7th Cir. 1995); Schiernbeck v. Davis, 143 F.3d 434, 437-38 (8th Cir. 1998); Raskin v. Wyatt Co., 125 F.3d 55, 63 (2d Cir. 1997)). The only other Seventh Circuit case to cite Thorn for its holding on disregarding errata sheets is Truly v. Sheahan, 135 Fed.App'x 869, 871 (7th Cir. 2005). Truly was an unpublished decision citing Thorn for the proposition that “a litigant may not rewrite deposition testimony to manufacture issues of fact and defeat summary judgment where the correction cannot be plausibly interpreted as a correction to the transcript.” Id.

         Respectfully declining to follow the district court opinions that have suggested or held to the contrary, [1] the Court finds that the plain text of Rule 30(e)(1)(B) coupled with the language actually used by Judge Posner compels the conclusion that Thorn does not empower the Court to provide the remedy Defendants seek. Instead, Thorn permits a trial judge to disregard substantive errata changes on summary judgment where the changes do not reflect errors in transcription. Rule 30(e)(1)(B) allows for “changes in form or substance, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(e)(1)(B) (emphasis added), a proposition that Thorn did not disturb. In fact, the court noted that changing a deposition “from what [one] said to what [one] meant” “is permitted” by Rule 30(e), “questionable” though such a change may be. Thorn, F.3d at 388 (emphasis added). What is impermissible is for a party to attempt to rely upon such bald changes to defeat summary judgment. This conclusion is supported by Thorn's procedural posture as an affirmance of summary judgment; its reliance upon cases all situated in the summary judgment context; the Seventh Circuit's lone subsequent citation to Thorn in Truly as providing that “a litigant may not rewrite deposition testimony to . . . defeat summary judgment, ” 135 Fed.App'x at 871; and the court's professed reasoning “by analogy” to the so-called sham affidavit doctrine.

         The background of the sham affidavit doctrine lends further support to this tailored reading of Thorn. The emergence of the doctrine may be traced to the Second Circuit's decision in Perma Research & Development Co. v. Singer Co, 410 F.2d 572 (2d Cir. 1969). See Bank of Illinois, 75 F.3d at 1170 (“In Miller v. A.H. Robins Co., 766 F.2d 1102 (7th Cir. 1985), Judge Harlington Wood, Jr., relying upon Perma Research & Development Co., noted that a party ought not be able to thwart a summary judgment by ‘creating issues of fact through affidavits that contradict their own depositions.'” (citation omitted)); Collin J. Cox, Reconsidering the Sham Affidavit Doctrine, 50 Duke L.J. 261, 267 (2000) (“Much of the lore surrounding the sham affidavit doctrine originated with the Second Circuit's decision in Perma Research & Development Co. v. Singer Co.”). There, the court recognized that permitting an affidavit to create a genuine issue of material fact on summary judgment over an otherwise-unequivocal deposition would be unfair to the other party whose opportunity to cross-examine had passed. See Perma Research, 410 F.3d at 578 (“The deposition of a witness will usually be more reliable than his affidavit, since the deponent was either cross-examined by opposing counsel, or at least available to opposing counsel for cross-examination.” (internal quotation omitted)). That is, a “party who resists summary judgment” may not be permitted to “hold back his evidence until the time of trial.” Id. (emphasis added).

         The Seventh Circuit has also emphasized that the sham affidavit doctrine is uniquely tailored to the needs of the summary judgment procedure, where the ruling judge is not permitted to assess the movant's credibility. The court noted in Adelman-Tremblay v. Jewel Companies, Inc. that “the purpose of summary judgment motions-to weed out unfounded claims, specious denials, and sham defenses-is served by a rule that prevents a party from creating issues of credibility by allowing one of its witnesses to contradict his own prior testimony.” 859 F.2d 517, 521 (7th Cir. 1988). The sham affidavit doctrine, therefore, reflects the judgment that affidavits cut from whole cloth and offered solely to create issues of fact “are so lacking in credibility as to be entitled to zero weight in summary judgment proceedings unless the affiant gives a plausible explanation for the discrepancy.” Beckel v. Wal-Mart Associates, Inc., 301 F.3d 621, 623 (7th Cir. 2002). Without the doctrine, even an affidavit “involv[ing] contradictions so clear that the only reasonable inference was that the affidavit was a sham designed to thwart the purposes of summary judgment” would in fact preclude summary judgment, Castro v. DeVry Univ., Inc., 786 F.3d 559, 571 (7th Cir. 2015), because the court otherwise could not grant summary judgment without intruding upon “the jury's role in resolving questions of credibility, ” Bank of Illinois, 75 F.3d at 1169.

         Thorn must thus be read in accordance with Judge Posner's own explanation that he was reasoning by analogy to cases like Bank of Illinois and later cases like Castro (which in turn relies upon Bank of Illinois) and Beckel-and the reasoning supports the same. In nearly every other procedural posture, the Court-as-factfinder is free to evaluate the credibility of, and assign weight to, all offered evidence. See, e.g., Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(e)(2) (explaining the sanctions that the court may impose upon “finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party” of electronically stored information). The sham affidavit doctrine and the Thorn extension were therefore developed to ensure that summary judgment procedure could not be undermined by clever counsel taking advantage of the extremely exacting requirement that there be “no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (emphasis added); Bank of Illinois, 75 F.3d at 1169 (“If such contradictions were permitted . . . the very purpose of the summary ...


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