In civil litigation, the parties have the ability to request (and, if necessary, compel) one another to disclose information through the process known as "discovery." Through the discovery tool known as a Request for Production of Documents, litigants can seek disclosure of electronic and hardcopy records which, in many cases, can be extraordinarily voluminous in nature.
Requests for production are among many litigators' top discovery tools precisely for this reason - they want to collect as much information to build their case as possible, and they also want to make it as difficult (and expensive) as possible for the other party to comply with their requests. In some cases, the burdens and potential risks of document production can be so great that they can spur parties to negotiate a leveraged settlement.
But, before litigants throw in the towel at the discovery phase, it is important to assess their counterparties' document requests in light of the applicable rules of civil procedure.
Limits on Document Requests in Civil Litigation
While the discovery process is intended to give the parties the information they need to litigate effectively, it does not give them carte blanche to request everything under the sun. In fact, acknowledging that litigators were increasingly using voluminous electronic discovery (or "e-discovery") as a weapon rather than purely a tool to collect information, last year the Supreme Court approved revised rules designed to help prevent aggressive use of overly-burdensome of e-discovery.
But, there have long been other limits on the permissible scope of document requests in civil litigation as well. Some of the key limitations that parties can use to reduce the scope of their discovery obligations and protect sensitive information include:
- Proportionality - Document requests must be proportional to the scope of the litigation. To oversimplify, if the dispute is worth $10,000, the parties generally could not request a document production that costs $100,000.
- Relevance - Parties can only request documents that are relevant to the litigation. Depending on the nature of the case, the universe of relevant documents may be extremely broad, but there are still going to be limits in every case.
- Privilege - Privileged records (i.e. records of communications between attorneys and their clients) do not need to be disclosed during the discovery process.
Challenging Overly-Broad Discovery Requests
Of course, it is not for either party to unilaterally decide what is proportional or relevant. While the discovery rules encourage litigants (and their attorneys) to work together to establish a mutually-agreeable scope of discovery, discovery disputes are often resolved through motions practice in court. As a result, having an attorney who is familiar with the applicable discovery rules (state or federal) and who has experience successfully arguing against overly-broad discovery requests is key to protecting your interests during litigation.
Michael L. Feinstein, P.A. | Fort Lauderdale Trial Litigation Attorneys
Michael L. Feinstein, P.A. is a Fort Lauderdale civil litigation law firm that represents businesses and individuals in complex litigation statewide. If you are facing a dispute or have concerns about protecting your interests during the discovery process, call (954) 767-9662 or contact us online to schedule a consultation today.