Mandatory Initial Discovery Pilot Program Aims to Help Save Time and Money

July 19, 2017
Brandon S. Harter

Two of the most common complaints I hear as a litigation attorney are “why is it so expensive” and “why does it take so long.” Part of the answer to both questions are the procedural rules for discovery which often end up being both a blessing and a curse. The upside is that parties can fully investigate the factual basis for their claims. The downside is that the exploration comes at a cost of time and money.

To streamline the discovery process, many courts have adopted form interrogatories (i.e. written questions) and document requests for certain kinds of cases. For example, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has form discovery requests for use in premises liability and motor vehicle accident cases. These form requests avoid wrangling between the attorneys over whether a request is too broad. They can also be answered more quickly since attorney’s who expect the requests will tailor their intake forms and client questionnaires to get the information they know they will need for discovery.

Now the Federal Judicial Center is trying to take this one step further. Two United Stated District Courts, the District of Arizona and the Northern District of Illinois, are working through a new pilot project to mandate the parties to respond to a set of discovery requests without ever being asked by the other party! Here are examples of the requests each party must answer at the outset of a case without waiting for a status conference or a discovery request:

  1. State the names and, if known, the addresses and telephone numbers of all persons who you believe are likely to have discoverable information relevant to any party’s claims or defenses, and provide a fair description of the nature of the information each such person is believed to possess.

  1. For each of your claims or defenses, state the fact relevant to it and the legal theories upon which it is based.

I hope this pilot program succeeds and can be replicated in state and federal courts across Pennsylvania. Having these standardized requests providing basic discovery even earlier will only help the parties understand the strengths and weaknesses of their cases before spending so much time and effort they feel obligated to continue the fight.

Brandon Harter is an attorney and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Business Law, Civil Litigation & Dispute Resolution, Municipal Law, and Information Technology & Internet Law.