December 01, 2015

Significant changes made to federal civil procedure rules

The 2015 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure went into effect Dec. 1, making the most significant changes to discovery and case management in more than a decade.

The amendments − designed to promote the just, speedy and inexpensive resolution of civil suits −  were drafted by the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure and approved by the Judicial Conference and the Supreme Court.  They were then cleared when Congress took no action to reject, modify or defer implementation. The four-year drafting process included conferences, evaluation of empirical research, surveys of lawyers and judges, more than 2,300 written comments, and public hearings.

The changes seek to reduce litigation costs and delays by encouraging early case management by judges, increased cooperation among the parties, and the proportional use of discovery based on the needs of the case.

Specifically, the rules now place a stronger emphasis on proportionality and require that discovery should take into account the issues at stake, amount in controversy, parties’ access to information, resources of the parties, and whether the burden of producing the information outweighs its benefits. The changes also require the court to limit the scope of discovery in certain circumstances and to allow courts to specify allocation of expenses concerning discovery of information from any party or person.

Other amendments shorten deadlines in early case management and clarify the sanctions for failure to preserve electronically stored information that should have been saved in anticipation or conduct of litigation.

To explain these and other rule changes in the amendments package, the ABA Section of Litigation and the Duke Law Center for Judicial Studies are conducting a “Civil Rules Amendments Roadshow” that is stopping in 13 cities around the country.

The roadshow features a panel of judges and litigators in each city who discuss the rules and how to apply them to actual cases. The moderators for the panel discussions, which last three hours, are Judge Lee H. Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and past chair of the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, and Steven S. Gensler, professor and associate dean at the University of Oklahoma College of Law in Norman and a past member of the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules.

The goal of the 13-city tour is to further the understanding of the case-management techniques that will help courts realize the amendments’ full potential to make discovery more targeted, less expensive, and more effective in achieving justice.

The roadshow has already presented its program in the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Newark, St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Upcoming dates and locations are: Los Angeles (Jan. 27), San Francisco (Jan. 28), Phoenix (March 3), Denver (March 4). Dallas (March 31), and Miami (April 1). 

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