United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
JACKSON MUNICIPAL AIRPORT AUTHORITY, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS
GOVERNOR PHIL BRYANT, ET AL. DEFENDANTS
KEITH BALL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
the Court are two motions, both concerning potential
deposition witnesses Joey Songy, Bobby Morgan, and Alice
Perry. Plaintiffs have filed a motion to compel  their
depositions, while Governor Bryant seeks to prevent them
via a motion for protective order . As an
initial matter, the Court denies Plaintiffs' motion to
compel  as premature, because the Court cannot compel
depositions for which a proper notice of deposition has not
been served. See Byrd v. Castlepoint Fla. Ins. Co.,
No. CV 15-634-BAJ-RLB, 2016 WL 1559584, at [*]2 (M.D. La. Apr.
18, 2016). However, because the two motions involve the same
witnesses, factual circumstances, and questions of law, the
Court also considers the briefing and exhibits submitted with
regard to Plaintiffs' motion to compel  in deciding
Governor Bryant's motion for protective order . For
the reasons described below, the Court finds that Governor
Bryant's motion for protective order  should be
granted in part, and denied in part.
and Procedural History
case concerns governance of the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers
International Airport (“Jackson-Evers Airport”).
The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (“JMAA”)
currently oversees the airport. Plaintiffs, including the JMAA
and its Board of Commissioners, challenge the legality of
Mississippi Senate Bill 2162 (“SB 2162”), which
would abolish the JMAA and replace it with a new entity, the
Jackson Metropolitan Area Airport Authority. The Complaint
alleges, inter alia, that Defendants, through
passage of SB 2162, violated the Equal Protection and Due
Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. See
 at 39-49. More specifically, the Complaint states,
“Plaintiffs, in their individual capacities and as
citizens and taxpayers of the City of Jackson and the State
of Mississippi, . . . allege that Senate Bill 2162 was based,
either in whole or in part, on discriminatory
purposes.” Id. at 41.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 initial disclosures, Governor Bryant did not
specifically identify individuals with personal knowledge of
Plaintiffs' claims. [255-4] at 1-2. Instead, he listed
several categories of individuals, including “[a]ny
individuals identified in documents produced, or otherwise
identified in discovery in this action.” Id.
at 2. In his interrogatory responses, Governor Bryant
identified “persons . . . identified in the documents
produced by the parties . . . and in the documents Bates
labeled DEF 000151-003001” as having
“discoverable knowledge that would tend to support or
refute any claim, defense, or element of damages in this
action.” [255-7] at 2. Governor Bryant produced
documents Bates Numbered 002940 and 002949-52 that identify
Joey Songy, Bobby Morgan, and Alice Perry as employees in the
Governor's Office who either wrote or received emails or
memoranda related to SB 2162 prior to its passage.
See [255-6] at 2-6.
took the Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6) deposition of Governor
Bryant's Office. [255-1] at 2. The Governor's Office
designated Drew Snyder, Governor Bryant's then-Deputy
Chief of Staff, Policy Director, and Counsel, to testify on
its behalf. Id.,  at 2-3. Snyder testified that
in preparation for the deposition, he met with Governor
Bryant, Chief of Staff Joey Songy, Policy Adviser Bobby
Morgan, and Senior Policy Advisor Alice Perry. [255-1] at
3-4. Songy, Morgan, and Perry confirm via affidavits
that they met with Snyder prior to the 30(b)(6) deposition to
review produced documents with him. [259-1] at 2-3; [259-2]
at 2; [259-3] at 2. They each testify that they provided
Snyder with “all the information [they] could recall
which could conceivably be encompassed by the examination
topics to ensure Mr. Snyder was fully prepared to testify as
the Governor's Office's 30(b)(6) designee.”
to Governor Bryant, “[s]everal questions [during the
deposition] involved documents the Governor's Office
generated in 2015, and communications involving the
office's members during the 2016 Legislative Session -
including Chief of Staff Joey Songy, policy adviser Bobby
Morgan, and/or policy advisor Alice Perry.”  at 3.
During the deposition, Snyder testified that prior to
Governor Bryant signing SB 2162, Songy, Morgan, and Perry
each had meetings or conversations concerning the
Jackson-Evers Airport with individuals not employed within
the Governor's Office. See [259-4] at 44-45
(discussing meeting Perry and Morgan had with representative
of Southwest Airlines); id. at 46-47 (discussing
meeting about SB 2162 that included Bobby Morgan and Senator
Harkins, who introduced SB 2162); id. at 48-49
(discussing conversation between Bobby Morgan and Senator
Harkins concerning SB 2162); id. at 32-33
(discussing conversation between Joey Songy and Senator
Harkins in early January 2016); [266-1] at 4-5 (discussing
possible conversations between Joey Songy and counsel for the
Madison County Board of Supervisors regarding governance of
the airport). Governor Bryant admits that “[i]n 2014,
while serving as the Governor's economic development
policy advisor, ” Songy developed a
“concept” for “changing Jackson-Evers'
governing structure . . . .”  at 11; see
[259-4] at 21-31.
the 30(b)(6) deposition, Plaintiffs' counsel wrote to
Governor Bryant's counsel, attempting to schedule the
depositions of Songy, Morgan, and Perry.  at 4. Governor
Bryant's attorney declined to make the three individuals
available for depositions, contending that any allegedly
relevant topics had already been addressed in the 30(b)(6)
deposition and that the depositions would be unreasonably
burdensome. [255-8] at 1. Subsequently, Plaintiffs filed
their motion to compel , and the Governor filed his
motion for protective order .
normal circumstances, the party seeking the protective order
[to prevent a deposition] bears the burden of establishing
good cause.” Freedom From Religion Found., Inc. v.
Abbott, No. A-16-CA-00233-SS, 2017 WL 4582804, at *10
(W.D. Tex. Oct. 13, 2017), appeal dismissed, No.
17-50956, 2018 WL 1989629 (5th Cir. Mar. 14, 2018)(citing
Landry v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n Int'l
AFL-CIO, 901 F.2d 404, 435 (5th Cir. 1990)).
“However, when a party seeks to depose a high-ranking
government official, ‘exceptional circumstances'
must exist before an involuntary deposition will be
permitted.” Id. (citing In re
F.D.I.C., 58 F.3d 1055, 1060 (5th Cir. 1995)).
“Once the court has determined the government official
qualifies as ‘high-ranking,' the burden shifts to
the party seeking to depose the high-ranking official to
demonstrate extraordinary circumstances.” Id.
at *11 (citing Thomas v. Cate, 715 F.Supp.2d 1012,
1048 (E.D. Cal. 2010)). “Courts will generally only
consider subjecting a high ranking government official to a
deposition if the official has first-hand knowledge related
to the claims being litigated and other persons cannot
provide the necessary information.” Id.
(citing Bogan v. City of Boston, 489 F.3d 417, 423
(1st Cir. 2007); Hernandez v. Tex. Dept. of Aging &
Disability Servs., No. A-11-CV-856 LY, 2011 WL 6300852,
at *2 (W.D. Tex. Dec. 16, 2011); Thomas, 715
F.Supp.2d at 1049).
Governor's Chief of Staff, Joey Songy has a demanding
schedule and substantial list of responsibilities. Songy
testified that he frequently works eighty hours per week, has
to travel in-state and out-of-state, supervises the
Governor's staff, oversees the Governor's
Office's fiscal management, and serves as the
Governor's chief liaison to all of the state's
executive and independent agencies. [259-1] at 1-2. He is
responsible for Executive Branch crisis management and serves
as the Governor's designee to the Mississippi Emergency
Management Agency. Id. at 2. Given his position and
responsibilities, the Court finds that Songy is a “high
ranking government official” for purposes of the
subject analysis. See In re F.D.I.C., 58 F.3d at
1060; see also Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, No. CIV
S-90-0520LKKJFMP, 2008 WL 4300437, at *4 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 15,
2008)(holding that Chief of Staff to Governor of California
is “high ranking government official” for
deposition purposes); New York v. Oneida Indian Nation of
New York, 2001 WL 1708804, at *3 (N.D. N.Y. Nov. 9,
2001)(finding similar position in New York to be high-ranking
30(b)(6) testimony demonstrates that Songy has first-hand
knowledge related to considerations in the Governor's
Office to change the governance structure of the
Jackson-Evers Airport. In fact, Governor Bryant admits in his
[i]n 2014, while serving as the Governor's economic
development policy advisor, Mr. Songy thought changing
Jackson-Evers' governing structure could help the
struggling airport. By May 2015, members of the
Governor's Office internally discussed ...