Case Summary: Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Chiles Power Supply, Inc., 332 F.3d 976 (6th Cir. 2003)
Whether statements made during settlement negotiations are privileged and therefore protected from third-party discovery.
Pursuant to Rule 408 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which states that "evidence of conduct or statements made in compromise negotiations is.not admissible," the Sixth Circuit ruled that communications made in furtherance of settlement are privileged.
Chiles Power Supply (Heatway), purchased rubber hoses from Goodyear Tire & Rubber (Goodyear), which it incorporated into equipment that it sold to Julian. After the hose in the system failed, Julian filed suit in federal district court in Colorado against Goodyear and Heatway. Prior to this lawsuit, Heatway entered into another contract with Goodyear for another rubber hose model. However, Heatway refused to pay the contract price for the new rubber hose once it became aware of the hose failures from its previous contract with Goodyear. Goodyear, subsequently filed suit in Ohio state court for the nonpayment of the second contract. The case was removed to federal court and Heatway counterclaimed on the grounds of breach of implied warranty of merchantability. Unsuccessful settlement negotiations between Goodyear and Heatway followed and the jury ultimately ruled for Goodyear on Heatway's counterclaims. After the jury verdict, Heatway publicly disclosed confidential information obtained during settlement discussions. The federal district court ordered Heatway not to make any more statements revealing confidential discussions and allowed Goodyear to respond "in whatever form or fashion it [chose]" to Heatway's previous statement. Julian filed a motion with the federal district court in Colorado to compel Heatway to testify regarding the information disclosed from the settlement discussions. The Colorado federal court denied Julian's motion on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction to overrule another court's order. Julian then joined the Goodyear case and petitioned the federal court to vacate or modify the confidentiality order preventing the parties from discussing their settlement negotiations. The district court denied the motion, finding that the content of settlement discussions is always confidential. Julian appealed.
The Sixth Circuit applied a balancing test to determine whether statements made during settlement negotiations are discoverable. In applying this balancing test, the Court considered several factors, including the tradition of confidential settlement discussions in this country, the public policy favoring the confidentiality of such discussions, the need for confidentiality to promote effective negotiations, and the "inherent questionability of the truthfulness of any statements made [during settlement discussions]." The Court also noted that although Rule 408 "does not require exclusion when the evidence is offered for another purpose, such as proving bias or prejudice of a witness, negativing a contention of undue delay, or proving an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation or prosecution," Julian failed to prove that the statements at the center of the case constituted an exception to Rule 408. In finding that Julian did not prove a "legitimate, admissible use," the Court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Julian's motion to vacate or modify the order. This case emphasizes the importance of confidentiality in settlement negotiations, ultimately finding that exceptions to confidentiality requirements occur only in rare circumstances and require a significant showing of proof.