Late last month, the Colorado Supreme Court issued an interesting ruling that could reshape the way lower courts handle discovery, and particularly electronic discovery, in the future. The case was DCP Midstream LLP v. Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, a contracts dispute, where, earlier, defendants had objected to plaintiff’s discovery requests on grounds of relevance and privilege, but the trial court still granted plaintiff’s motion to compel. In fact:

The trial court did not address any of Anadarko’s objections, nor did it provide any analysis under C.R.C.P. 26(b) in support of its conclusions. In a later written order, the trial court reasoned that DCP was entitled to discovery on any issue that is or may become relevant and ruled that Anadarko’s title opinions were not privileged because they were based on public information.

In response, Anadarko petitioned the Supreme Court for relief.

Legal News Line sums up the dispute:

DCP asserted 11 breach of contract claims but stated in its complaint that it anticipated adding more breach of contract claims after conducting discovery.

During discovery, DCP sent Anadarko 58 requests for production seeking millions of pages of paper and electronic documents and many of Anadarko’s “title opinions” — attorney-authored opinions about the state of title to land or mineral interests.

Anadarko refused to produce many of the requested documents. DCP then filed a motion to compel.

In response, Anadarko argued that many of DCP’s requests were not relevant to the 11 breach of contract claims pleaded and were thus outside the scope of discovery permitted by the state’s Rules of Civil Procedure.

Anadarko also argued that the title opinions were privileged attorney-client communications.

Early in its ruling, the State Supreme Court restated the purpose of the state’s civil rules of civil procedure – “the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.” Looking at the plain language, as well as the advisory committee’s notes, the Court found that “if a party objects to discovery because it is not relevant to a claim or defense, then the trial court must become involved.”

More precisely:

C.R.C.P. 26(b) requires trial courts to take an active role managing discovery when a scope objection is raised. When faced with a scope objection, the trial court must determine the appropriate scope of discovery in light of the reasonable needs of the case and tailor discovery to those needs…

Hence, we hold that, to resolve a dispute regarding the proper scope of discovery in a particular case, the trial court should, at a minimum, consider the cost-benefit and proportionality factors set forth in C.R.C.P. 26(b)(2)(F).

Based on this, the Court went on to find that “the trial court has not yet taken an active role managing discovery because it has not determined the appropriate scope of discovery in light of the reasonable needs of the case and has not attempted to tailor discovery to those needs” and ended up sending the case back down to the trial court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The decision was welcomed by many, including a former Colorado Supreme Court Justice, who said that it would “put the brakes on discovery run amuk [sic]“.