Defendant, Owens-Illinois, Inc., has appealed a final judgment against it based upon a jury verdict awarding damages to plaintiffs, Marion Lewis and James Lewis. The cause of action sued upon is premised upon the allegation that defendant carelessly and negligently manufactured a bottle intended for use in bottling and distributing carbonated beverages, which negligence proximately caused the bottle to explode resulting in injuries to plaintiffs.
During the discovery stages of the case plaintiffs propounded to defendant a series of 44 interrogatories, the last four of which required defendant to state the name and address of each person who had made a claim against it as the result of the explosion of a bottle manufactured by it at any time within five years prior to the date of the explosion which injured plaintiffs, together with full information on each cause of action which may have been filed against defendant during the five-year period seeking damages for personal
Being dissatisfied with defendant's answer to the last four interrogatories propounded by them, plaintiffs filed a motion to compel defendant to clarify the answer previously given by it and to make a more complete answer to the interrogatories. On August 28, 1970, the trial court granted plaintiffs' motion and by order of that date directed defendant to produce the names and addresses of each person making a claim of any type against it within a period of five years prior to the accident involved in this case or, in the alternative, to answer the last four interrogatories propounded by plaintiffs to which a satisfactory answer had not been made. When defendant failed to comply with the court's order of August 28, plaintiffs filed a motion in the cause praying for an order compelling defendant to comply with the court's prior order, which motion was heard by the court on November 12, 1970. On that date the court rendered its order requiring defendant to answer the last four interrogatories previously propounded to it by plaintiffs within 14 days from the date of the order and providing that, upon failure of defendant to make compliance therewith, its defenses would be stricken and default judgment entered against it on the issue of liability.
On December 3, 1970, at an ex parte hearing held before the court without notice to defendant, plaintiffs' attorney submitted an affidavit averring that defendant had not complied with the court's previous order of November 12, 1970, within 14 days thereafter by answering the four interrogatories previously propounded to it. Acting upon this affidavit, the court immediately entered its order striking the defenses theretofore pleaded by defendant and entering default judgment against it on the issue of liability, leaving for trial only the remaining issue of damages.
On December 8, 1970, defendant Owens-Illinois, Inc., filed in the cause its motion asking the court to set aside its order of December 3, 1970, striking its defenses and entering default judgment against it. By this motion defendant's attorney alleged that shortly after entry of the court's order of November 12, 1970, requiring defendant to produce certain information or answer the four interrogatories previously propounded to it by plaintiffs, defendant's attorney immediately attempted to contact defendant's general counsel in its legal department at Toledo, Ohio, to urge that the information be furnished immediately; that the general counsel was out of town and could not be immediately reached; that defendant's local attorney thereupon requested the desired information by correspondence and shortly thereafter was assured by defendant's general counsel that the information was in the process of being compiled and would be promptly forwarded as soon as it was complete; that the necessary information reached defendant's local attorney on December 4, 1970, whereupon he immediately called by telephone the attorney for plaintiffs to advise that the information had been received and would be furnished forthwith but plaintiffs' attorney was out of town so the information was left with his secretary with the request that it be transmitted to her employer; that it was not until three days later on December 7, 1970, that defendant's attorney received a copy of the order previously rendered by the court on December 3, 1970, striking its defenses and entering default judgment against it on the issue of liability; that defendant's attorney's efforts to secure plaintiffs' attorney's consent to have the order of December 3 rescinded and set aside proved to no avail. Defendant attached to his motion a copy of the report received by him from general counsel of defendant in Ohio furnishing the information requested by plaintiffs through their interrogatories.
It is appellant's position that the trial court abused its discretion and committed reversible error when it denied appellant's motion to rescind and set aside the court's previous order striking its defenses and entering default judgment against it. Appellant strenuously urges that the record affirmatively establishes that it diligently endeavored to secure the information required of it by the court's order of November 12, 1970, and that its failure to furnish the desired information within 14 days thereafter as required by the court's order was not the result of willful neglect or refusal in bad faith to comply with the court's directions. Under the circumstances appellant asserts that it should have been permitted to furnish the information desired by appellees even though it was not received until after the deadline fixed by the court's order and thereafter to be permitted to defend the case on the issue of liability as well as damages.
Rule 1.380, Rules of Civil Procedure, 30 F.S.A., provides that if any party refuses to obey an order directing it to answer any interrogatories submitted pursuant to Rule 1.320 or Rule 1.340, Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may make such orders in regard to the refusal as are just and, among others, the court may order that the pleadings or parts thereof filed by the disobedient party be stricken and judgment by default entered against him.
The Florida rule relating to the sanctions available against a party who disobeys a court's order regarding discovery is a counterpart of and taken from Rule 37(b) (2), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In commenting upon the function of this rule, Barron and Holtzoff say:
Similarly, Professor Moore, in his work on Federal Practice, in commenting upon the proper application of this rule says:
The construction placed upon the rule by the federal courts has been followed by the courts of Florida. In speaking of the rule and its proper application, the Second District Court of Appeal in a well-considered opinion by Judge Pierce said:
To similar effect is the holding of the Fourth District Court of Appeal which, in an opinion by Judge Owen, said:
The foregoing holding by the court was reaffirmed in the later case of Ohio Realty Investment Company v. Lawyers Title Insurance Corporation
Based upon the foregoing authorities we deem it inescapable that the judgment appealed herein must be reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings. Firstly, it is obvious that the court's order of November 12, 1970, requiring defendant to answer the interrogatories propounded by plaintiffs within 14 days thereafter was not self-executing. While it is
Secondly, even if notice had been given to defendant of the hearing for the purpose of imposing sanctions, the record is clear that such severe action was not authorized. There is no evidence from which one could reasonably conclude that defendant's failure to comply with the court's order of November 12, 1970, within the 14 days limited thereby was a result of willfulness or bad faith. No finding to this effect was made by the court in the order imposing sanctions. In the absence of such a finding by the court based upon competent evidence adduced before it, the order imposing such drastic action is not authorized.
The judgment appealed is accordingly reversed and the cause remanded with directions that the court's order of November 12, 1970, striking the defenses interposed by defendant and entering default judgment against it on the issue of liability be rescinded and set aside, and for further proceedings consistent with the views set forth herein.
SPECTOR, C.J., and JOHNSON, J., concur.
"(b) (2) Other Consequences. If any party or an officer or managing agent of a party refuses to obey an order made under subdivision (a) of this rule requiring him to answer designated questions * * *, the court may make such orders in regard to the refusal as are just, and among others the following:
* * * * * *
"(iii) An order striking out pleadings or parts thereof or staying further proceedings until the order is obeyed or dismissing the action or proceeding or any part thereof or rendering a judgment by default against the disobedient party;"