The Ultimate Disguise Might Win a Halloween Costume Contest, But It Won’t Win Points With a Judge

In our practice, we have definitely encountered more than one deponent who, upon learning that his or her deposition was going to be recorded by videotape, was less than thrilled by the prospect. Fortunately for us, we have never seen someone like Joseph P. Bertand, a plaintiff who went to extraordinary lengths to avoid giving a deposition in his lawsuit. See Bertrand v. Yellow Transp., Inc., et al., No.: 3:08-01123, 2010 WL 2169499 (M.D. Tenn. May 28, 2010), . While Bertrand is an employment law case, we found his antics so amusing that we had to share.

Mr. Bertrand, acting pro se (which will be no surprise to anyone after reading the order issued by the District Court in this case), filed a litany of claims against the defendants arising from what he contended was his retaliatory termination from his employment with Yellow Transportation. He complained of racial discrimination, sex-based discrimination, national origin discrimination, violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, defamation and sexual harassment. I feel certain that at the very outset of this lawsuit, there was little doubt that anything about his case would go smoothly. After Mr. Bertrand repeatedly tried to unilaterally notice depositions rather than consulting with opposing counsel as a courtesy, the Court issued an order requiring that the parties cooperate with each other in scheduling convenient dates for depositions. Pursuant to the order, and after consultation, Mr. Bertrand agreed to be deposed on October 6, 2009. Several days after receiving his deposition notice, however, Mr. Bertrand realized that it provided for the videotaping of his deposition, prompting him to notify defendants of his objection.

Mr. Bertrand was not satisfied with defendants’ explanation that they were allowed to take his deposition by videotape, and he filed a motion for a protective order against the videotaping, complete with 67 pages of documents. Among Mr. Bertrand’s objections were references to elusive “sealed agreements” that he had with defendants regarding the recording of depositions, suspicions that the defendants would post the video on the world-wide web for all to see, or even that defendants could steal his identity once they had his image. Despite multiple attempts to contact Mr. Bertrand without success regarding his motion and no showing of a reason why the deposition could not be videotaped, the Court ordered that his deposition proceed.

On October 6th, Mr. Bertrand dutifully appeared as scheduled, albeit wearing all black and several layers of clothing, with the outermost garment appearing to be a large nylon athletic top with a hood that he donned on his head. Mr. Bertrand also wore a large black, bushy wig covering his entire forehead down to his black sunglasses, a fake bushy mustache and a beard. In all, Mr. Bertrand’s face was completely hidden, with his disguise even impeding his ability to speak as he had to keep moving his false mustache out of his teeth. The only victory after 40 minutes of negotiations was to get Mr. Bertrand to remove his sunglasses. The deposition was suspended and later followed by a Motion to Dismiss filed by the defendants as a discovery sanction or, alternatively, for a Motion to Compel Mr. Bertrand’s deposition.

Mr. Bertrand’s response (no surprise here) told a very different story. He noted that the videotaped deposition might have been a pornography filming session masquerading as a court ordered deposition! He even claimed that the defendants’ attorney wanted to sexually harass him by begging Mr. Bertrand to remove some of his clothing and hair, which Mr. Bertrand claimed to take as unwanted sexual requests. Among his myriad of other excuses were complaints about the age and quality of the video equipment and that the lighting was extremely bright and caused heat-induced headaches.

While the Court did not dismiss the action at that time, it entered an order compelling Mr. Bertrand to appear for a videotaped deposition in the judge’s chambers on a mutually agreeable date within 30 days of the order. The next 30 days passed, however, without any contact with the Court to schedule the deposition in chambers, whereupon the defendants again filed a Motion to Dismiss. The Court learned that during that 30-day period, Mr. Bertrand filed five motions calculated to delay or thwart his deposition, including a motion to allow him to face away from the video camera and “blinding” lights to avoid the high heat, thermal radiation, electromagnetic radiation, and black body radiation and to protect his eyes from at least temporary retinal burn, welder’s flash and snow blindness. Another motion sought to prevent the defendants from setting the video to music or to filming in color. Further objections were based on health reasons, including high blood pressure and a non-cancerous growth on Mr. Bertrand’s eye. Naturally, he failed to explain how those conditions would impacted by a videotaped deposition.

Mr. Bertrand’s actions finally led to the dismissal of his lawsuit on May 28, 2010. The reasoning of the Court is instructive to practitioners encountering difficult litigants. The Court reasoned that the plaintiff had disobeyed multiple discovery orders and had abused the judicial process by filing multiple frivolous motions. The frivolous motions were held to be akin to abuse of the judicial process from the filing of frivolous lawsuits. Each of Mr. Bertrand’s filings had little to do with the merits of the case, but instead related to tangential issues.

While we are certain that the defendants and their counsel are now breathing a long sigh of relief, we would wager that they may not have heard the last of Mr. Bertrand. He certainly does not strike us as a quitter!

We often fondly reflect back on our own tales of strange encounters and unusual antics by opposing parties and do not tire of telling those war stories (Like, for instance, our deposition during which a widow proceeded to carry on a conversation with her husband’s ashes, which she brought with her in a duffel bag, and the time when a deponent proceeded to “diaper” an urn containing the ashes of a deceased pet monkey. Yes – Those are both true stories.) We are sure that defense counsel in Mr. Bertrand’s case will be telling this story for years to come. We know that we would.

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