Earlier this month, the Federal Courts' Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure approved for publication a package of proposals that would, if enacted, impact the scope of discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The agenda for the committee's June, 2013 meeting is here. The various proposals would appear to narrow discovery and try to curb some of the abuses that have occurred in recent years.  Many of these ideas came out of the 2010 Duke Conference as methods for reducing cost and delay in civil litigation.

Some highlights: New Rule 4(m) would be revised to shorten the time to serve the summons and complaint from 120 days to 60 days. The desired effect will be to get the action moving in half the time. The amendment responds to the commonly expressed view that four months to serve the summons and complaint is too long.

Rule 16(b)(2) now provides that the judge must issue a scheduling order within the earlier of 120 days after any defendant has been served or 90 days after any defendant has appeared. The recommended revision, however, cuts the times to 90 days after any defendant is served or 60 days after any defendant appears. 

Another proposal  would add a new Rule 16(b)(3)(v), permitting a scheduling order to "direct that before moving for an order relating to discovery the movant must request a conference with the court." Many courts now have local rules similar to this proposal. Experience with these rules shows that an informal pre-motion conference with the court often resolves a discovery dispute without the need for a motion, briefing, and order. The practice has proved highly effective in reducing cost and delay.

Currently, Rules 30 and 31 establish a presumptive limit of 10 depositions by the plaintiffs, or by the defendants, or by third-party defendants, and a time limit. Rule 33(a)(1) sets a presumptive limit of "no more than 25 written interrogatories, including all discrete subparts." There are no presumptive numerical limits for Rule 36 requests to admit. The new proposals reduce the limit on interrogatories to 15. They add to Rule 36, for the first time, presumptive numerical limits of 25 RFA (other than genuineness of documents). The proposals would reduce the presumptive limit on the number of depositions from 10 to 5, and would reduce the presumptive duration to 1 day of 6 hours. Rules 30 and 31 would continue to provide that the court must grant leave to take more depositions "to the extent consistent with Rule 26(b)(1) and (2)." 

The proposed rule changes would re-emphasize the notion of proportionality in Rule 26: discovery must be proportional to the needs of the case considering the amount in controversy, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the parties’s resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. This newly added proportionality language stems from the committee’s finding that the current rule’s “reasonably calculated” approach to the proper scope of discovery is too broadly interpreted.

Also, new proposed Rule 37(e) would provide certain protections against sanctions for the failure to produce any type of evidence (whether electronic or other evidence).  A party seeking sanctions would have to show both substantial prejudice and willful or bad faith conduct; or that the conduct irreparably denied a party any meaningful opportunity to present or defend against a claim. The amendments also seek to address the issue of parties who might otherwise be inclined to engage in burdensome and expensive “over-preservation.” 

Next step is a comment period that will extend into early 2014. It will important to keep an eye on the progress of these amendments.