Refusing to Testify in Civil Depositions based on the Fifth Amendment

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” We’ve all heard those words a thousand times in crime dramas, as the cops handcuff the bad guy and haul him away. Most lawyers recognize that as part of the Miranda warning, uttered by police in criminal cases to avoid violating the suspect’s rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

What many don’t know, especially here in Asia, is the Fifth Amendment may also provide a valid excuse – even for foreign citizens – to avoid testifying in a U.S. civil lawsuit. On its face, the Fifth Amendment appears to be limited to criminal cases. It states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” However, courts have long held that the Fifth Amendment privilege “can be asserted in any proceeding, civil or criminal, administrative or judicial, investigatory or adjudicatory.” Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441, 445 (1972).

Consequently, it is not uncommon for witnesses in civil lawsuits to refuse to answer deposition questions based on that privilege, so long as the testimony could possibly lead to criminal liability. At first, the tactic may seem an easy way out for the witness. However, there are serious risks to invoking – or not invoking – the privilege, so anyone for whom the subject may be relevant should consult with experienced Fifth Amendment counsel. Continue reading

Obtaining Discovery in the U.S. for use in Taiwan Legal Proceedings

Any litigant in Taiwan who seeks discovery from a U.S. adversary will face serious challenges, because Taiwan’s legal system lacks a formal discovery system. There are no procedures for interrogatories, document production requests or depositions. Moreover, even if a litigant were to apply to the Taiwan judge and obtain an order requiring discovery responses from a U.S. entity, any attempt to enforce that order would have to be made from Taiwan to the U.S. through a cumbersome letters rogatory process.

However, there may be a solution under U.S. law. 28 U.S.C. §1782 states that the U.S. district court where a person or entity is located may order that person or entity to give testimony or produce documents or things, for use in a foreign or international tribunal, upon application of an interested person. So, is that the answer? May a party to legal proceedings in Taiwan use §1782 to obtain discovery from a U.S. party? Perhaps, but subject to certain limitations.

First, there’s the question of whether the demanding party qualifies as an interested person. Fortunately, if the demanding party is a litigant there should be no problem, as the U.S. Supreme Court has explained in Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., 542 U.S. 241, 254 (2004) that, “litigants are included among, and may be the most common example of, the ‘interested person’ who may invoke §1782.” Continue reading

Compelling Involuntary Depositions of Inventors in Taiwan

It is common in U.S. patent litigation for a party accused of infringement to seek to depose inventors of the patents-in-suit. If the inventors are officers, directors or managing agents of a party and live or work in the U.S., it should be a routine matter to compel their depositions pursuant to the federal rules of civil procedure (FRCP). If the inventors are located outside the U.S. and do not consent to be deposed, the process is more burdensome, but often their depositions can be compelled pursuant to the provisions of the Hague Convention or other relevant treaty.

However, the process may be especially difficult if the inventor is located in Taiwan, is unwilling, and is no longer, or never was, employed by a party. First, Taiwan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, so any attempt to compel the unwilling witness will have to proceed by way of letters rogatory. Second, if the inventor is not an officer, director or managing agent, the FRCP won’t apply and one must find another legal basis for ordering the testimony.

A number of courts have found that legal basis in the invention assignment agreement that the inventor signed in order to give up his rights in the patent. Invention assignment agreements usually contain language requiring the inventor to render certain assistance to the assignee of the patent. Depending on the particular facts and contract language, it is not unusual for a U.S. court to order a party to produce a foreign inventor to testify at deposition or trial, overseas or in the U.S., based on the notion that the assignment agreement gives the party “control” over the inventor.

What the courts gloss over is the extreme difficulty a party may encounter attempting to compel the inventor to comply with the order if the inventor refuses. In Taiwan, in particular, parties generally lack such control. Continue reading

Taking Depositions in Asia for use in U.S. Litigation. Part II: Logistics.

Due to the costs and difficulties of taking depositions outside the U.S., one should usually search for alternate solutions first. Try to limit the scope of required foreign evidence, obtain the evidence through other means, obtain it from the target’s parent company, subsidiaries, affiliates, employers or officers who are located in the U.S. or, if possible, convince the witnesses to fly to the U.S. to be deposed.

When such tactics won’t suffice, depositions can be taken in Asia, but one should prepare carefully to ensure the process will be successful and testimony will be admissible in court. If the depositions will take place in Japan, several months will be required just to reserve a room in the embassy or consulate and obtain required visas. Even in less rigid countries, it can be daunting lining up qualified interpreters, stenographers and making other critical arrangements, while ensuring compliance with applicable U.S., foreign and possibly international laws.

Consequently, prudent counsel will prepare well in advance, seeking stipulations from opposing counsel, informing the presiding U.S. judge of the plans, obtaining necessary orders, and retaining foreign counsel to assist with foreign laws and logistics. Continue reading

Taking Depositions in Asia for use in U.S. Litigation. Part I: Legal Basis.

Earlier this year, the judge in a US patent infringement lawsuit issued an Order requiring three Japanese witnesses to be deposed in Taiwan, rather than California or Japan, because taking the depositions in California would have been too inconvenient for the witnesses and taking them in Japan would have involved too many legal and procedural hurdles.

The witnesses argued the depositions should be held in Japan, because they lived and worked there (their Japanese employer was a defendant and they were being deposed as agents or officers) and US courts recognize a general right for witnesses to be deposed near their residence or place of business. Opposing counsel argued for California, because the onerous requirements concerning taking depositions in Japan allegedly offset any inconvenience of forcing the witnesses to travel. The judge settled on Taiwan as a compromise, “present[ing] minimal inconvenience to the witnesses and avoid[ing] the procedural and legal impediments to conducting the depositions in Japan.”

When taking depositions of foreign witnesses for use in US litigation, the process can be greatly simplified if the witnesses will agree to be voluntarily deposed in the US. Absent such consent, FRCP Rule 28 authorizes several procedures for initiating depositions in a foreign country. However, as explained below, each of those options has limitations and the process can be challenging. Continue reading