A recent article in Corporate Counsel and an EpsteinBeckerGreen client alert report that the federal courts’ Advisory Committee on Civil Rules has voted to recommend a slate of amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A copy of the proposed amendments does not yet appear to be available online. As reported in these articles, Rule 26(b)(1) would be amended to require the parties to limit discovery to make it “proportional to the needs of the case.” The amendments would also limit depositions to 5 per party instead of 10; reduce the length of depositions from 7 hours to 6 hours; reduce the maximum number of interrogatories from 25 to 15; and limit requests for admission to 25, excluding requests pertaining to the genuineness of documents. (All of these limits could be increased by court order or stipulation.) Other proposed changes would require written responses to discovery requests to state objections with specificity and clearly state whether responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of objections (as a practical matter, this is typically required today). Proposed changes to Rule 37 would require that, before imposing sanctions or an adverse jury instruction for failure to preserve evidence, a court would need to find “substantial prejudice” and that the failure was “willful or in bad faith,” or that the failure “irreparably deprived a party of any meaningful opportunity” to litigate the case. Other changes would reduce deadlines for activities early in a case (the time to serve process, issue a scheduling order, and allow for service of document requests before a Rule 26(f) case management conference).
In most class actions, these changes, if adopted, will probably be welcomed by defendants. Defendants devote most of their efforts in class actions to defensive discovery, with typically limited information available from the named plaintiffs and the putative (or certified) class. In class actions that survive initial motion practice, discovery typically becomes a large expense for the defendant. The real question will be how strictly courts enforce these new limitations, if they are adopted. If courts take the view that class actions are so complicated that the new rules can largely be ignored, the new rules would have little practical impact. But if courts recognize that class actions often are narrowly pled to focus on one or two limited issues, then applying these new limitations to class actions in such cases potentially could achieve swifter, less expensive resolution of these cases.