Dougherty v. Heller (other)Annotate this Case
A special complement of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania assembled to address multiple issues raised in this appeal. The underlying civil action was a defamation case arising out of a newspaper column written by defendant-appellee Karen Heller, and published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in November 2009. The column contained negative commentary about purported actions of plaintiff-appellant John Dougherty, who was the Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 and a self-described public figure and a participant in numerous civic and philanthropic activities. When confronted with information demonstrating that the commentary concerning Appellant’s conduct was false, Appellee conceded the unfoundedness and publicly apologized. The misinformation, however, appeared on Appellee’s Facebook page for an indeterminate period of time after the apology and apparently remained available through third-party sources until several years later. Appellant’s attorneys expressed concern that video footage resulting from the deposition should not be displayed for any purpose beyond the litigation. Appellee’s attorney, for her part, repeatedly indicated that she intended to use the videotape solely for purposes of the litigation, and that she would abide by all of her obligations under the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Professional Conduct. She declined, however, to make a specific commitment that was asked of her by appellant's counsel. Appellee’s attorney then suggested an arrangement whereby the videotape deposition would proceed as planned, and she would agree not to give the tape to anyone for ten days, during which time Appellant could seek a protective order or other relief from the court. Appellant’s lawyers declined this proposal. The court of common pleas entered an order granting Appellee’s motion to compel and denying Appellant’s motion for protective relief. The court directed Appellant to appear for a videotape deposition within fifteen days. Although the court believed that the potential abuse of a videotape deposition was separable from the merits, it did not accept that the issue was so important as to justify as-of-right interlocutory appellate review. A divided en banc Superior Court affirmed. The issues raised by this appeal for the Supreme Court's review centered on a threshold objection to temporary judicial assignments to the Supreme Court and a challenge to a supplanted order that previously had dismissed the appeal. In addition, a jurisdictional question was raised concerning whether a common pleas court’s denial of a motion for a protective order of the videotaped deposition constituted a collateral order subject to as-of-right interlocutory appellate review. Finally, on the merits, the appeal of the common pleas court’s refusal to issue a protective order proscribing such dissemination. The application for relief challenging temporary judicial assignments made to the Supreme Court for purposes of resolving this appeal was denied. The Superior Court's order was vacated, this appeal quashed as an unauthorized interlocutory one, and the matter was remanded to the common pleas court.