Va. Dep’t of Corrs. v. Jordan (P)

The district court properly quashed a subpoena by two Mississippi death-row inmates who, in support of a challenge to their state’s lethal-injection procedures, sought documents and testimony about Virginia’s execution practices. The district court reasonably found that the petitioners didn’t have a need for further discovery from the Department, a nonparty, that outweighed the burdens the discovery would impose.

Like Mississippi, Virginia carries out executions using a three-drug protocol that includes compounded midazolam. Also like Mississippi, it previously used pentobarbital in place of midazolam. And like Mississippi, Virginia is eager to keep the identity of its drug supplier secret, lest pressure from death-penalty opponents cause the supplier to stop providing the state with drugs for use in executions.

The district court reasonably found it unlikely that the Department would have useful additional information under any of the petitioners’ theories. The Department had already provided documents showing that it, like Mississippi, could not obtain pentobarbital and had been unable to do so for several years. It did not use a single-drug protocol and never had. The Department also produced its execution manual and testimony describing drug storage and testing.

Moreover, the district court reasonably found that both the Department and its drug supplier would be burdened by the disclosure of the supplier’s identity, which most of the outstanding requests sought to uncover. This would harm the supplier’s own confidentiality interest, one recognized by Virginia law. It would also impede Virginia’s ability to carry out executions by chilling Virginia’s current drug supplier, as well as potential future suppliers, from providing drugs for executions.

Nonparties faced with civil discovery requests deserve special solicitude. Here, the request for more discovery was unsupported by a genuine need that outweighed the burdens involved.


Va. Dep’t of Corrs. v. Jordan (P), No. 17-7594, Apr. 11, 2019. 4th Cir. (Richardson) from EDVA at Richmond (Lauck).

Categories: 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Opinions, Published

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