See discussion in paragraph III, H above. In defamation actions, substantive and negative consequences may result from a decision by a reporter or media entity to stand on principle and refuse to disclose sources or information, even if the privilege is determined to be unavailable or, after balancing, determined to give way to a greater interest served by disclosure. In Sierra Life, the trial court entered default against the media defendants on all liability issues--including those of falsity, malice and causation on which the plaintiff had the burden of proof--leaving only the issue of the amount of damages for trial. The default was entered as a sanction for the media defendants' refusal to answer discovery seeking the identity of confidential sources consulted in the preparation of newspaper articles about the plaintiff insurance company.
On appeal, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed and remanded with instructions for the trial court to consider more carefully the arguments of the media defendants that the identity of the sources was irrelevant because the articles were truthful and because the confidential sources had not provided any information actually used in the news stories. The court held that a dispute over discovery into confidential sources should not, by itself, preclude the trial court from considering an otherwise dispositive motion that did not depend upon the discovery of the confidential sources:
Finally we consider the newspaper's contention of error on the part of the trial court in tabling the newspaper's motion for summary judgment. If it is determined that there is no triable issue of fact as to any issue upon which the newspaper as a matter of law would be entitled to prevail, and such is an issue the proof of which is essential to Sierra's case, the motion should be granted even though factual dispute on some other issue might otherwise prevent the entry of judgment.
Sierra Life, 101 Idaho at 801, 623 P.2d at 109.
Significantly, the Sierra Life court stopped short of holding that the trial court's entry of default against the media defendants was improper regardless of the pending dispositive motion based on truth. Instead, the decision generally endorsed the concept that the trial court has discretion to impose sanctions for discovery abuse, which can include the imposition of a default judgment in some settings. Sierra Life, 101 Idaho at 799-801, 623 P.2d at 107-109.