The issue in this case was whether the financial condition of Wexford Health Sources, the defendant in this federal lawsuit, is relevant for Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) to apply. This rule limits discovery to that which is “relevant to any party’s claim or defense.” If a corporate defendant’s wealth may not be considered when assessing punitive damages, it is not “relevant,” but if it may be properly considered then, of course, it is relevant. In this U.S. Federal District Court of Illinois (Central District) lawsuit, the initial question to be answered was whether Wexford’s financial condition could be investigated through discovery; this was answered mostly by the case of Zazu Design v. L’Oréal, 979 F.2d 499 (7th Cir. 1992).
In Zazu, a case relied upon by Wexford, the defendant in this case, the court considered the defendant’s appeal in a trademark infringement action. The court reversed and remanded, finding that the plaintiff did not have superior rights in trademark to the defendant and, even if it had, the damages award was excessive.
Regarding the punitive damages award, the court noted that although courts “take account of a defendant’s wealth when an amount sufficient to punish or deter one individual may be trivial to another,” such may not be the case when the defendant is a corporation. The court explained: