Advisory Committee Notes
Disclosure requirements and timing. Rule 26(a)(1). The 2011 amendments seek to reduce discovery costs by requiring each party to produce, at an early stage in the case, and without a discovery request, all of the documents and physical evidence the party may offer in its case-in-chief and the names of witnesses the party may call in its case-in-chief, with a description of their expected testimony. In this respect, the amendments build on the initial disclosure requirements of the prior rules. In addition to the disclosures required by the prior version of Rule 26(a)(1), a party must disclose each fact witness the party may call in its case-in-chief and a summary of the witness’s expected testimony, a copy of all documents the party may offer in its case-in-chief, and all documents to which a party refers in its pleadings.
Not all information will be known at the outset of a case. If discovery is serving its proper purpose, additional witnesses, documents, and other information will be identified. The scope and the level of detail required in the initial Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures should be viewed in light of this reality. A party is not required to interview every witness it ultimately may call at trial in order to provide a summary of the witness’s expected testimony. As the information becomes known, it should be disclosed. No summaries are required for adverse parties, including management level employees of business entities, because opposing lawyers are unable to interview them and their testimony is available to their own counsel. For uncooperative or hostile witnesses any summary of expected testimony would necessarily be limited to the subject areas the witness is reasonably expected to testify about. For example, defense counsel may be unable to interview a treating physician, so the initial summary may only disclose that the witness will be questioned concerning the plaintiff’s diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. After medical records have been obtained, the summary may be expanded or refined.
Subject to the foregoing qualifications, the summary of the witness’s expected testimony should be just that – a summary. The rule does not require prefiled testimony or detailed descriptions of everything a witness might say at trial. On the other hand, it requires more than the broad, conclusory statements that often were made under the prior version of Rule 26(a)(1)(e.g., “The witness will testify about the events in question” or “The witness will testify on causation.”). The intent of this requirement is to give the other side basic information concerning the subjects about which the witness is expected to testify at trial, so that the other side may determine the witness’s relative importance in the case, whether the witness should be interviewed or deposed, and whether additional documents or information concerning the witness should be sought. This information is important because of the other discovery limits contained in the 2011 amendments, particularly the limits on depositions.
Likewise, the documents that should be provided as part of the Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures are those that a party reasonably believes it may use at trial, understanding that not all documents will be available at the outset of a case. In this regard, it is important to remember that the duty to provide documents and witness information is a continuing one, and disclosures must be promptly supplemented as new evidence and witnesses become known as the case progresses.
The amendments also require parties to provide more information about damages early in the case. Too often, the subject of damages is deferred until late in the case. Early disclosure of damages information is important. Among other things, it is a critical factor in determining proportionality. The committee recognizes that damages often require additional discovery, and typically are the subject of expert testimony. The Rule is not intended to require expert disclosures at the outset of a case. At the same time, the subject of damages should not simply be deferred until expert discovery. Parties should make a good faith attempt to compute damages to the extent it is possible to do so and must in any event provide all discoverable information on the subject, including materials related to the nature and extent of the damages.
The penalty for failing to make timely disclosures is that the evidence may not be used in the party’s case-in-chief. To make the disclosure requirement meaningful, and to discourage sandbagging, parties must know that if they fail to disclose important information that is helpful to their case, they will not be able to use that information at trial. The courts will be expected to enforce them unless the failure is harmless or the party shows good cause for the failure.
The 2011 amendments also change the time for making these required disclosures. Because the plaintiff controls when it brings the action, plaintiffs must make their disclosures within 14 days after service of the first answer. A defendant is required to make its disclosures within 28 days after the plaintiff’s first disclosure or after that defendant’s appearance, whichever is later. The purpose of early disclosure is to have all parties present the evidence they expect to use to prove their claims or defenses, thereby giving the opposing party the ability to better evaluate the case and determine what additional discovery is necessary and proportional.
The time periods for making Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures, and the presumptive deadlines for completing fact discovery, are keyed to the filing of an answer. If a defendant files a motion to dismiss or other Rule 12(b) motion in lieu of an answer, these time periods normally would be not begin to run until that motion is resolved.
Finally, the 2011 amendments eliminate two categories of actions that previously were exempt from the mandatory disclosure requirements. Specifically, the amendments eliminate the prior exemption for contract actions in which the amount claimed is $20,000 or less, and actions in which any party is proceeding pro se. In the committee’s view, these types of actions will benefit from the early disclosure requirements and the overall reduced cost of discovery.
Expert disclosures and timing. Rule 26(a)(3). Expert discovery has become an ever-increasing component of discovery cost. The prior rules sought to eliminate some of these costs by requiring the written disclosure of the expert’s opinions and other background information. However, because the expert was not required to sign these disclosures, and because experts often were allowed to deviate from the opinions disclosed, attorneys typically would take the expert’s deposition to ensure the expert would not offer “surprise” testimony at trial, thereby increasing rather than decreasing the overall cost. The amendments seek to remedy this and other costs associated with expert discovery by, among other things, allowing the opponent to choose either a deposition of the expert or a written report, but not both; in the case of written reports, requiring more comprehensive disclosures, signed by the expert, and making clear that experts will not be allowed to testify beyond what is fairly disclosed in a report, all with the goal of making reports a reliable substitute for depositions; and incorporating a rule that protects from discovery most communications between an attorney and retained expert. Discovery of expert opinions and testimony is automatic under Rule 26(a)(3) and parties are not required to serve interrogatories or use other discovery devices to obtain this information.
Disclosures of expert testimony are made in sequence, with the party who bears the burden of proof on the issue for which expert testimony will be offered going first. Within seven days after the close of fact discovery, that party must disclose: (i) the expert’s curriculum vitae identifying the expert’s qualifications, publications, and prior testimony; (ii) compensation information; (iii) a brief summary of the opinions the expert will offer; and (iv) a complete copy of the expert’s file for the case. The file should include all of the facts and data that the expert has relied upon in forming the expert’s opinions. If the expert has prepared summaries of data, spreadsheets, charts, tables, or similar materials, they should be included. If the expert has used software programs to make calculations or otherwise summarize or organize data, that information and underlying formulas should be provided in native form so it can be analyzed and understood. To the extent the expert is relying on depositions or materials produced in discovery, then a list of the specific materials relied upon is sufficient. The committee recognizes that experts frequently will prepare demonstrative exhibits or other aids to illustrate the expert’s testimony at trial, and the costs for preparing these materials can be substantial. For that reason, these types of demonstrative aids may be prepared and disclosed later, as part of the Rule 26(a)(4) pretrial disclosures when trial is imminent.
Within seven days after this disclosure, the party opposing the retained expert may elect either a deposition or a written report from the expert. A deposition is limited to four hours, which is not included in the deposition hours under Rule 26(c)(5), and the party taking it must pay the expert’s hourly fee for attending the deposition. If a party elects a written report, the expert must provide a signed report containing a complete statement of all opinions the expert will express and the basis and reasons for them. The intent is not to require a verbatim transcript of exactly what the expert will say at trial; instead the expert must fairly disclose the substance of and basis for each opinion the expert will offer. The expert may not testify in a party’s case in chief concerning any matter that is not fairly disclosed in the report. To achieve the goal of making reports a reliable substitute for depositions, courts are expected to enforce this requirement. If a party elects a deposition, rather than a report, it is up to the party to ask the necessary questions to “lock in” the expert’s testimony. But the expert is expected to be fully prepared on all aspects of his/her trial testimony at the time of the deposition and may not leave the door open for additional testimony by qualifying answers to deposition questions.
The report or deposition must be completed within 28 days after the election is made. After this, the party who does not bear the burden of proof on the issue for which expert testimony is offered must make its corresponding disclosures and the opposing party may then elect either a deposition or a written report. Under the deadlines contained in the rules, expert discovery should take less than three months to complete. However, as with the other discovery rules, these deadlines can be altered by stipulation of the parties or order of the court.
The amendments also address the issue of testimony from non-retained experts, such as treating physicians, police officers, or employees with special expertise, who are not retained or specially employed to provide expert testimony, or whose duties as an employee do not regularly involve giving expert testimony. This issue was addressed by the Supreme Court in Drew v. Lee, 2011 UT 15, wherein the court held that reports under the prior version of Rule 26(a)(3) are not required for treating physicians.
There are a number of difficulties inherent in disclosing expert testimony that may be offered from fact witnesses. First, there is often not a clear line between fact and expert testimony. Many fact witnesses have scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge, and their testimony about the events in question often will cross into the area of expert testimony. The rules are not intended to erect artificial barriers to the admissibility of such testimony. Second, many of these fact witnesses will not be within the control of the party who plans to call them at trial. These witnesses may not be cooperative, and may not be willing to discuss opinions they have with counsel. Where this is the case, disclosures will necessarily be more limited. On the other hand, consistent with the overall purpose of the 2011 amendments, a party should receive advance notice if their opponent will solicit expert opinions from a particular witness so they can plan their case accordingly. In an effort to strike an appropriate balance, the rules require that such witnesses be identified and the information about their anticipated testimony should include that which is required under Rule 26(a)(1)(A)(ii), which should include any opinion testimony that a party expects to elicit from them at trial. If a party has disclosed possible opinion testimony in its Rule 26(a)(1)(A)(ii) disclosures, that party is not required to prepare a separate Rule 26(a)(4)(E) disclosure for the witness. And if that disclosure is made in advance of the witness’s deposition, those opinions should be explored in the deposition and not in a separate expert deposition. Otherwise, the timing for disclosure of non-retained expert opinions is the same as that for retained experts under Rule 26(a)(4)(C) and depends on whether the party has the burden of proof or is responding to another expert. Rules 26(a)(4)(E) and 26(a)(1)(A)(ii) are not intended to elevate form over substance—all they require is that a party fairly inform its opponent that opinion testimony may be offered from a particular witness. And because a party who expects to offer this testimony normally cannot compel such a witness to prepare a written report, further discovery must be done by interview or by deposition.
Finally, the amendments include a new Rule 26(b)(7) that protects from discovery draft expert reports and, with limited exception, communications between an attorney and an expert. These changes are modeled after the recent changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and are intended to address the unnecessary and costly procedures that often were employed in order to protect such information from discovery, and to reduce “satellite litigation” over such issues.
Scope of discovery—Proportionality. Rule 26(b). Proportionality is the principle governing the scope of discovery. Simply stated, it means that the cost of discovery should be proportional to what is at stake in the litigation.
In the past, the scope of discovery was governed by “relevance” or the “likelihood to lead to discovery of admissible evidence.” These broad standards may have secured just results by allowing a party to discover all facts relevant to the litigation. However, they did little to advance two equally important objectives of the rules of civil procedure—the speedy and inexpensive resolution of every action. Accordingly, the former standards governing the scope of discovery have been replaced with the proportionality standards in subpart (b)(1).
The concept of proportionality is not new. The prior rule permitted the Court to limit discovery methods if it determined that “the discovery was unduly burdensome or expensive, taking into account the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, limitations on the parties’ resources, and the importance of the issues at stake in the litigation.” The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure contains a similar provision. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C). This method of limiting discovery, however, was rarely invoked either under the Utah rules or federal rules.
Under the prior rule, the party objecting to the discovery request had the burden of proving that a discovery request was not proportional. The new rule changes the burden of proof. Today, the party seeking discovery beyond the scope of “standard” discovery has the burden of showing that the request is “relevant to the claim or defense of any party” and that the request satisfies the standards of proportionality. As before, ultimate admissibility is not an appropriate objection to a discovery request so long as the proportionality standard and other requirements are met.
The 2011 amendments establish three tiers of standard discovery in Rule 26(c). Ideally, rules of procedure should be crafted to promote predictability for litigants. Rules should limit the need to resort to judicial oversight. Tiered standard discovery seeks to achieve these ends. The “one-size-fits-all” system is rejected. Tiered discovery signals to judges, attorneys, and parties the amount of discovery which by rule is deemed proportional for cases with different amounts in controversy.
Any system of rules which permits the facts and circumstances of each case to inform procedure cannot eliminate uncertainty. Ultimately, the trial court has broad discretion in deciding whether a discovery request is proportional. The proportionality standards in subpart (b)(2) and the discovery tiers in subpart (c) mitigate uncertainty by guiding that discretion. The proper application of the proportionality standards will be defined over time by trial and appellate courts.
Standard and extraordinary discovery. Rule 26(c). As a counterpart to requiring more detailed disclosures under Rule 26(a), the 2011 amendments place new limitations on additional discovery the parties may conduct. Because the committee expects the enhanced disclosure requirements will automatically permit each party to learn the witnesses and evidence the opposing side will offer in its case-in-chief, additional discovery should serve the more limited function of permitting parties to find witnesses, documents, and other evidentiary materials that are harmful, rather than helpful, to the opponent’s case.
Rule 26(c) provides for three separate “tiers” of limited, “standard” discovery that are presumed to be proportional to the amount and issues in controversy in the action, and that the parties may conduct as a matter of right. An aggregation of all damages sought by all parties in an action dictates the applicable tier of standard discovery, whether such damages are sought by way of a complaint, counterclaim, or otherwise. The tiers of standard discovery are set forth in a chart that is embedded in the body of the rule itself. “Tier 1” describes a minimal amount of standard discovery that is presumed proportional for cases involving damages of $50,000 or less. “Tier 2” sets forth larger limits on standard discovery that are applicable in cases involving damages above $50,000 but less than $300,000. Finally, “Tier 3” prescribes still greater standard discovery for actions involving damages in excess of $300,000. Deposition hours are charged to a side for the time spent asking questions of the witness. In a particular deposition, one side may use two hours while the other side uses only 30 minutes. The tiers also provide presumptive limitations on the time within which standard discovery should be completed, which limitations similarly increase with the amount of damages at issue. A statement of discovery issues will not toll the period. Parties are expected to be reasonable and accomplish as much as they can during standard discovery. A statement of discovery issues may result in additional discovery and sanctions at the expense of a party who unreasonably fails to respond or otherwise frustrates discovery. After the expiration of the applicable time limitation, a case is presumed to be ready for trial. Actions for non-monetary relief, such as injunctive relief, are subject to the standard discovery limitations of Tier 2, absent an accompanying monetary claim of $300,000 or more, in which case Tier 3 applies. The committee determined these standard discovery limitations based on the expectation that for the majority of cases filed in the Utah State Courts, the magnitude of available discovery and applicable time parameters available under the three-tiered system should be sufficient for cases involving the respective amounts of damages.
Despite the expectation that standard discovery according to the applicable tier should be adequate in the typical case, the 2011 amendments contemplate there will be some cases for which standard discovery is not sufficient or appropriate. In such cases, parties may conduct additional discovery that is shown to be consistent with the principle of proportionality. There are two ways to obtain such additional discovery. The first is by stipulation. If the parties can agree additional discovery is necessary, they may stipulate to as much additional discovery as they desire, provided they stipulate the additional discovery is proportional to what is at stake in the litigation and counsel for each party certifies that the party has reviewed and approved a budget for additional discovery. Such a stipulation should be filed before the close of the standard discovery time limit, but only after reaching the limits for that type of standard discovery available under the rule. If these conditions are met, the Court will not second-guess the parties and their counsel and must approve the stipulation.
The second method to obtain additional discovery is by a statement of discovery issues. The committee recognizes there will be some cases in which additional discovery is appropriate, but the parties cannot agree to the scope of such additional discovery. These may include, among other categories, large and factually complex cases and cases in which there is a significant disparity in the parties’ access to information, such that one party legitimately has a greater need than the other party for additional discovery in order to prepare properly for trial. To prevent a party from taking advantage of this situation, the 2011 amendments allow any party to request additional discovery. As with stipulations for extraordinary discovery, a party requesting extraordinary discovery should do so before the close of the standard discovery time limit, but only after the party has reached the limits for that type of standard discovery available to it under the rule. By taking advantage of this discovery, counsel should be better equipped to articulate for the court what additional discovery is needed and why. The requesting party must demonstrate that the additional discovery is proportional and certify that the party has reviewed and approved a discovery budget. The burden to show the need for additional discovery, and to demonstrate relevance and proportionality, always falls on the party seeking additional discovery. However, cases in which such additional discovery is appropriate do exist, and it is important for courts to recognize they can and should permit additional discovery in appropriate cases, commensurate with the complexity and magnitude of the dispute.
Protective order language moved to Rule 37. The 2011 amendments delete in its entirety the prior language of Rule 26(c) governing motions for protective orders. The substance of that language is now found in Rule 37. The committee determined it was preferable to cover requests for an order to compel, for a protective order, and sanctions in a single rule, rather than two separate rules.
Consequences of failure to disclose. Rule 26(d). If a party fails to disclose or to supplement timely its discovery responses, that party cannot use the undisclosed witness, document, or material at any hearing or trial, absent proof that non-disclosure was harmless or justified by good cause. More complete disclosures increase the likelihood that the case will be resolved justly, speedily, and inexpensively. Not being able to use evidence that a party fails properly to disclose provides a powerful incentive to make complete disclosures. This is true only if trial courts hold parties to this standard. Accordingly, although a trial court retains discretion to determine how properly to address this issue in a given case, the usual and expected result should be exclusion of the evidence.