final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion
under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.
Petition for Writ of Certiorari-Original Jurisdiction.
G. Cantero of White & Case LLP, Miami, and Larry M. Roth
of Larry M. Roth, P.A., Winter Park, for Petitioner.
Peek Luka and Celene H. Humphries of Brannock &
Humphries, Tampa, for Respondent.
Motor Corporation seeks certiorari review of an order
granting an application for a letter rogatory to take the
examination of Mr. Osamu Suzuki, its current Chairman and
former Chief Executive Officer. In the order, the trial court
found that the "apex doctrine" does not apply
outside the governmental context and that Mr. Suzuki was
uniquely able to provide information relevant to this case.
We deny the petition because the trial court's decision
does not depart from the essential requirements of law.
Winckler's case alleges that on June 16, 2013, the brakes
failed on his GSX-R series Suzuki motorcycle while he was
riding it. The bike crashed and paralyzed Mr. Winckler from
the waist down. Four months after the accident, Suzuki Motor
Corporation issued a recall on the brakes of its GSX-R series
Winckler filed a products liability suit against Suzuki Motor
Corporation related to his accident and the brake issue. In
the course of discovery, he sought a letter rogatory from the
trial court seeking to take the examination of the Chairman
of the Board of Suzuki Motor Corporation in Japan.
See Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.300(b). Mr. Winckler's
application stated that the Chairman "possesses unique
knowledge about specific facts relevant to [the]
allegations," citing the Chairman's involvement with
a document addressing the brake issue and a related email.
Motor Corporation filed objections to the application and a
motion seeking protection under the apex doctrine. Its
position was that its top-level corporate manager should not
be subject to examination when others within the corporation
could testify to the relevant issues.[*] It also filed a declaration
from Chairman Suzuki in opposition to the application,
stating that he has "no independent memory" of
reviewing or signing the document regarding the brake issue
and "no personal knowledge" of the details.
hearing in October 2018, the trial court granted the motion
for a letter rogatory. It found that the apex doctrine
hadn't been applied outside of the governmental context
and couldn't be applied to the corporate officer here.
Besides rejecting the apex doctrine, the court found that
that the Chairman had personal involvement and could uniquely
provide case-relevant information due to having personal
involvement with the brake issue. After the trial court
granted the application, this petition for writ of certiorari
review petitions for writ of certiorari for "(1) a
departure from the essential requirements of the law, (2)
resulting in material injury for the remainder of the case
(3) that cannot be corrected on postjudgment appeal."
Citizens Prop. Ins. Corp. v. San Perdido Ass'n,
104 So.3d 344, 351 (Fla. 2012) (citations omitted). Our
analysis focuses on the first prong-a departure from the
essential requirements of the law. A departure from the
essential requirements of the law is "a violation of a
clearly established principle of law." State v.
Belvin, 986 So.2d 516, 525-26 (Fla. 2008) (quoting
Belvin v. State, 922 So.2d 1046, 1048 (Fla. 4th DCA
Motor Corporation argues that the trial court's order
granting a letter rogatory violates the apex doctrine. The
problem with its argument is that the doctrine is only
clearly established in Florida in the government context,
with respect to high-ranking government officials. The
essence of Florida's apex doctrine is that "[an]
agency head should not be subject to deposition,
over objection, unless and until the opposing parties have
exhausted other discovery and can demonstrate that the
agency head is uniquely able to provide relevant
information which cannot be obtained from other
sources." Dep't of Agric. & Consumer Servs.
v. Broward Cty., 810 So.2d 1056, 1058 (Fla. 1st DCA
2002) (emphasis added). "[A] party seeking to depose a .
. . high-ranking governmental official must
demonstrate the personal involvement of the official in a
material way or the existence of extraordinary
circumstances." Horne v. Sch. Bd. of Miami-Dade
County, 901 So.2d 238, 241 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005) (emphasis
added). We highlight "agency head" and
"governmental official" because we have noted
before that "no Florida court has adopted the apex
doctrine in the corporate context." Fla. Office of
Ins. Regulation v. Fla. Dep't of Fin. Servs., 159
So.3d 945, 951 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015); see also Remington
Lodging & Hospitality, LLC v. Southernmost House,
Ltd., 206 So.3d 764, 765 n.1 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016). We
emphasized in that case (though in dicta) "that the
government context is distinguishable [from the corporate
context] because of separation of powers concerns."
Id. And so, it follows that because the apex
doctrine hasn't been adopted in the corporate context,
the trial court did not depart from the essential
requirements of the law by refusing to apply this doctrine to
Suzuki Motor Corporation's corporate officer.
trial court's decision that the Chairman's deposition
was reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of
admissible evidence provides no basis for us to quash the
order below. See Fla. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280(b)(1)
(allowing a party to discover any matter that is not
privileged and is relevant to the subject matter of the
pending action or appears reasonably calculated to lead to
the discovery of admissible evidence); Univ. of W. Fla.
Bd. of Trs. v. Habegger,125 So.3d 323, 325 (Fla. 1st
DCA 2013). In deciding whether to grant a writ of common-law
certiorari, we are not so much concerned with “the mere
existence of legal error as much as with the seriousness of
the error.” Combs v. State,436 So.2d 93,
95-96 (Fla. 1983). The district court should grant a petition
“only when there has been a violation of a clearly
established principle of law resulting in a miscarriage of
justice.” Id.; see also Jones v.
State,477 So.2d 566, 569 (Fla. 1985) (Boyd, C.J.,
concurring specially) (noting that a "departure from the
essential requirements of law . . . means an inherent
illegality or irregularity, an abuse of judicial power, an
act of judicial tyranny perpetrated with disregard of
procedural requirements, resulting in a gross miscarriage of
justice)." Here, we are mindful that trial courts have
broad discretion in overseeing discovery and in protecting
persons from whom discovery is sought. Fla. R. Civ. P.
1.280(c); Rojas v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 641
So.2d 855, 857 (Fla. 1994). In this instance, the trial
court's order cited specific evidence supporting its
conclusion that the Chairman was personally involved with
recall-related corporate documents and uniquely able to
provide relevant information. Cf. Remington Lodging &
Hospitality, 206 So.3d 764; Racetrac Petroleum v.