When can the court waive a party’s objections to discovery requests?

What Is A Consequence Of Using Boilerplate Objections To Discovery Requests? Waiving Objections Goodbye

Author: Maria A. Grajales
Case Citation: Halleen v. Belk, Inc., No. 4:16-CV-55 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 6, 2018)
Employee/Personnel/Employer Implicated: Counsel
eLesson Learned: To object to a discovery request, a party must specifically show “how each request is not relevant or how each question is overly broad, burdensome or oppressive” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34. Parties should avoid objecting to discovery requests using boilerplate language.
Tweet This: Waiving Objections Goodbye. Texas Judge shows no mercy on Defense lawyer who used boilerplate language to object to plaintiffs’ discovery requests.

As it is, discovery is cumbersome and time-consuming, but when you add evasive practices to the mix you can expect an exponentially more difficult process. One such evasive practice employed by “savvy” lawyers is the use of boilerplate objections to demands for discovery. Recognizing the danger in this practice, some judges have slapped parties who engage in such practices with serious punishments.  

Judge Amos L. Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas sent shock waves through the legal community with his decision in Halleen v. Belk, Inc., No. 4:16-CV-55 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 6, 2018). In Halleen, Plaintffs’ filed a Motion to Compel Production of Documents and Electronically Stored Information, and Proper, Complete Answers to Interrogatories claiming that Defendant’s objections to their discovery requests were “deficient, inapplicable, and/or without merit.” Defendants objections mainly consisted of “assertions of privilege or contain ‘subject to’ or boilerplate language.” With respect to the Defendant’s assertion of privilege, Plaintiffs further asserted that Defendant failed to supply them with a privilege log to accompany the objections.

In response, Defendant claimed that it was not relying on privilege to withhold any information. Rule 26(b)(5), which governs privilege, states that “a party withholding information on the basis of privilege or trial-preparation material must expressly make such claim and” describe in detail “without revealing information itself privileged or protected [that] will enable other parties to assess the claim.” On this issue, the Court ordered Defendant to provide a privilege log for all privilege assertions and if it is not relying on privilege to withhold documents then they must amend their responses.

However, Judge Mazzant’s most devastating blow to Defendant was in response to Defendant’s use of boilerplate language in responding to Plaintiffs’ discovery requests. Judge Mazzant waived each of Defendant’s objections when it used such boilerplate language. Waiver is generally a harsh punishment because it imposes more work on the party by requiring it to respond in greater detail to each individual discovery request and also prevents the party from making use of a strategic tool it could have otherwise used.  In a resounding rebuke towards Defendant, the court stated that this “practice is ‘manifestly confusing (at best) and misleading (at worse) and has no basis at all in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Judge Mazzant went on to explain the problems with the use of such objections: prevents the affected party from properly determining the sufficiency of the response and this party is also left wondering about the “scope of the documents or information that will be provided as responsive.”

Ordinarily, a party can object to discovery demands pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 34. There, the party “resisting discovery must show specifically . . . how each [request] is not relevant or how each question is overly broad, burdensome or oppressive.” However, parties cannot “refuse discovery simply by making a boilerplate objection that is not proportional. As Judge Mazzant stated use of this blanket statement “goes against the purposes of a just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution.”

Finally, in Halleen, the Court granted Plantiffs’ request that Defendant product Electronic Discovery Information for identified corporate custodians and 30(b)(6) witnesses. The Court rejected Defendant’s argument that Plaintiffs’ request was “overly broad and unnecessarily increase the volume of ESI” finding that that “given the ongoing discovery disputes and inability to cooperate the requested relief is necessary.”

While lawyers may feel like they are helping their clients by taking a conservative approach towards document disclosure, they may actually be hurting them. Instead of taking this approach and being uncooperative, lawyers, but mostly their clients, are best served when the lawyers comply with the letter of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Lawyers seeking to properly object to discovery demands should refrain from boilerplate language and should comply with Rule 34’s specificity requirement. Then, and only then, can a party be sure to avoid the punishment incurred by Defendant in Hallen.

Maria is a third-year law student at Seton Hall University School of Law and is expected to graduate in January 2020. She earned a B.A. in Political Science from Montclair State University in 2015. Maria is interested in the area of complex litigation.

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