Quantitative analysis of courts application of cooperation in discovery disputes

Introduction

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and most state civil procedure rules both expressly and impliedly reinforce the idea that parties in civil litigation must cooperate in civil discovery. This requirement has been lauded in legal commentary and repeatedly cited by courts dealing with difficult discovery battles. To date, however there has not been an in-depth analysis of how courts and litigants are defining the scope of the duty to cooperate. What appears to be reasonable and appropriate behavior to a party responding to a discovery request can appear to be unreasonable stubbornness in the eyes of a requesting party or, more importantly to the below analysis, a court considering a motion for sanctions. As detailed below, failures to cooperate (or be perceived as cooperating) may result in wildly different consequences depending on whether the party is a requestor or a responder.

This article is intended to explore empirically how the principle of cooperation has been applied in discovery disputes in state and federal courts. By comprehensively surveying the recent case law, we attempt to provide metrics that will allow the bench and bar to consider the practical results of the growing importance of cooperation in civil discovery. Some questions that the analysis below is intended to address include:

  • Do courts understand "cooperation" to mean merely compliance?
  • Does the obligation of cooperation fall evenly on both requesting and responding parties?
  • Where courts find that the cooperative process has failed, what are the practical consequences for the parties?
  • Do the consequences of cooperation failures generally fall more heavily on one party?

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