Mandarin Deposition Interpreters for On-Site Chinese Depositions in the U.S.

What is the Proper Venue for Chinese Defendants’ Deposition Testimony in the U.S.?

Mandarin deposition interpreter services and Cantonese deposition interpreter services are needed daily at on-site depositions in the U.S. Sometimes there is a need for deposition interpreters who speak rare Chinese dialects and regional languages, such as Ningbo, Shanghainese, Minan (also known as: Minnan; Minnanese; Southern Min; Southern Fukenese), Fuzhou (also known as: Foochow; Foochowese; Fuzhounese; Fuzhouhua; Fujianese; Fujian; Fuchaw), and Toishanese (also spelled: Taishanese).

The case we are discussing here- John K. Lane, Receiver for the Hall Street Co., f/k/a The Robbins Co. v. Yang Hoazhi, et al., Slip Op. 1:22-cv-1485, 2023 WL 8779401 (N.D. Ohio Dec. 18, 2023)- involves an action by the receiver of the Hall Street Company (formerly known as “The Robbins Company”) against five defendants, all Chinese nationals living in China. The five defendants were all directors and officers of “The Robbins Company.” The defendants had been elected to their positions after their employer, Northern Heavy Industries Group, purchased a majority stake in The Robbins Company. The receiver argues that while in their positions, the defendants breached their fiduciary duties to The Robbins Company causing it tens of millions of dollars in damages and forcing it into receivership.

The receiver had issued a deposition notice to each of the five defendants indicating that they should appear on March 12, 13, 14 or 15, 2024 at its counsel’s office in Cleveland, Ohio. Four out of the five Chinese defendants offered to travel to San Francisco, California and one defendant offered to travel to Hong Kong. The receiver believed that all five defendants should be required to appear in Cleveland for their depositions.

The question before the district court was whether or not the court could require the foreign defendants to appear in Cleveland for their depositions. Cleveland is where the receiver’s counsel had offices and where the court was located.

Receiver Argues Depositions Should Be Taken in Cleveland

The receiver argued that the depositions should be held in Cleveland because lead counsel for each of the parties lived in Ohio, the district court was located in Ohio, and thus located in the same time zone as the depositions allowing the district court to intervene if there was a dispute. And, finally, the defendants’ business activities would not be unduly disrupted if they had to spend some time traveling to Ohio.

The receiver relied upon the Scooter Store, Inc. case from the Southern District of Ohio in support of its position. In that case, the court required a plaintiff’s president to be deposed in Texas even though he lived and worked in Ohio. In its papers, the receiver also questioned why the insurance carrier paying for the defense was willing to pay for travel to and lodging in San Francisco and not Cleveland.

With respect to the defendant that wished to appear in Hong Kong, the receiver argued that the district should consider the following factors in making its decision: (1) the burden to the parties of holding the depositions in the U.S. relative to the burden of holding the deposition abroad, i.e., in Hong Kong, (2) the court’s ability to supervise depositions in the contested location, (3) whether or not the depositions would be impeded by any legal or procedural barriers in the other country, and (4) the potential afront to the sovereignty of a foreign nation if a deposition pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is held within its borders. The receiver argued that these factors favored Cleveland as the location for the depositions, but the receiver only addressed two out of the four factors. The receiver argued that the burden for counsel and a client representative to travel to Hong Kong, finding a place for the depositions as well as a Mandarin deposition interpreter would be greater than that this defendant traveling to Hong Kong. Additionally, the fact that Hong Kong was 13 hours ahead of Cleveland would make it difficult for the district court to supervise and resolve any disputes during discovery.

Defendants Request to Appear in San Francisco and Hong Kong

The defendants cited to Plastech Holding Corp. from the Eastern District of Michigan in support of their position. The defendants noted that the party serving a deposition notice initially selects the location and that there is a presumption that the defendant will be deposed where he or she resides or is employed. Defendants noted further that the presumption is even stronger when the deponent is foreign and is being asked to travel to the US compared to situations where a deponent merely lives in another US state or another judicial district. However, the presumption may be overcome after considering: (1) cost, (2) convenience, and (3) litigation efficiency. In Plastech Holding Corp., the court held it was too burdensome to require eleven Chinese defendants to travel to the US when the party that wanted to take depositions could send its attorney to Taiwan where the Chinese defendants offered to appear.

The Chinese defendants argued that the cost of airfare to travel from their homes to Cleveland would be $2500 whereas traveling to Hong Kong would be only $800. Defendants also maintained that the time to travel to San Francisco one way would be 14 hours while the time to travel to Hong Kong would be approximately 3 to 4 hours. Traveling to Cleveland would add 10 hours of travel each way. Defendants also claimed they would not be compensated for the time missed from work. One defendant believed that he would be fired from his job if he took as much time off from his job as would be required to travel to the US. Defendants noted that their counsel had offices in Hong Kong and San Francisco and that Mandarin deposition interpreters would be available at both locations. The Chinese defendants also noted that the times of the depositions could be adjusted to ensure they take place during the district court’s business hours.

Defendants distinguished Scooter Store, Inc. (cited by the receiver) arguing that the burden for the deponent to travel from Texas to Ohio in that case was far less than traveling from China to Cleveland, the deponent was not a stranger to business travel, and neither party had argued that it was unable to bear the costs of depositions in either Texas or Ohio. Defendants argued that the distance from China to Cleveland is far greater than the distance in Scooter Store, Inc., none of the defendants regularly travel to the US, one defendant has never been to the US, and none of the defendants were acting within the scope of their current employment with respect to the case or the depositions.

District Court Holds Chinese Depositions Should Be Held in San Francisco

In its analysis, the district court focused on the factors of cost, convenience and litigation efficiency, i.e., the Plastic Holding Corp. factors. The district court concluded that those factors required that the depositions be taken in San Francisco.

The district court noted that four out of the five defendants had agreed to travel to San Francisco, which would cost more than having the receiver’s attorney and its client representative travel there. To the district court, it did not matter what costs the insurance company would cover. What was most important was that the defendants themselves would incur the travel costs since none of them would be acting within the scope of their current employment. Also, the district court observed that defendants would lose income from their current employment.

It would be equally inconvenient for the receiver and defendants to travel to San Francisco, but defendants stated that they could obtain Mandarin deposition interpreters in San Francisco. Additionally, the parties could modify the times of the depositions so that they coincide with the district court’s business hours, arrange a time to discuss any issues that arise during the interpreted Chinese depositions or seek advance instructions from the district court if they envision any disputes.

With regard to the defendant that feared losing his job if he traveled to the US, the district court noted that he had not submitted an affidavit or declaration discussing the basis for his belief. The district court also noted that traveling to San Francisco would require less time and money than traveling to Cleveland. Finally, the district noted that this particular defendant had traveled to the US twice in his role as a director or officer and that the receiver could adjust the time of the deposition to minimize this defendant’s time off from work.

It is interesting to note, that the district court did not discuss the possibility of holding virtual Chinese depositions via Zoom in this case.

Get in touch with legal deposition translation and interpreting service All Language Alliance, Inc. to retain court-certified Mandarin interpreters to interpret deposition testimony of Chinese witnesses anywhere in the U.S.

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