Rule 30(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides a mechanism through which litigants may depose corporate representatives, as designated by the corporation.
These depositions can have serious consequences because the witness’s testimony is binding on the company. Companies should closely review 30(b)(6) notices to determine whether the deposing party seeks any out-of-bounds testimony. If the notice conflicts with the rules, counsel for noticed companies can take several steps to protect their clients, including filing written objections, conferring with opposing counsel, and (if all else fails) filing a motion for a protective order.
In reviewing the 30(b)(6) notice, counsel should keep the below objections in mind.
- Number of depositions. Unlike ordinary depositions, if the deposing party has already deposed the company’s 30(b)(6) witness, counsel can object to a second 30(b)(6) notice on the ground that the deposing party failed to obtain the court’s leave.
- See Ameristar Jet Charter, Inc. v. Signal Composites, Inc., 244 F.3d 189, 192 (1st Cir. 2001); but see Quality Aero Tech., Inc. v. Telemetrie Elektronik GmbH, 212 F.R.D. 313, 319 (E.D.N.C. 2002) (permitting multiple 30(b)(6) depositions without leave).
- Reasonable place. Though the deposing party may unilaterally choose the deposition’s location, counsel for non-resident defendants should object if that location is unreasonable.
- See In re Outsidewall Tire Litig., 267 F.R.D. 466, 471 (E.D. Va. 2010).
- Reasonable particularity. If the notice broadly requests that the witness have knowledge relating to the case or the pleadings, counsel can object on the ground that such generically noticed topics fail to reasonably identify what the deposing party wants.
- Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(b)(6); see, e.g., Alvey v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 517CV00023TBRLLK, 2018 WL 826379, at *7 (W.D. Ky. Feb. 9, 2018) (granting the company’s protective order motion where the deposing party sought testimony relating to the case’s “allegations, claims, and denials”); Kalis v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 241 F.3d 1049, 1057, Fn 5 (7th Cir. 2000) (demanding “painstaking specificity”) (quoting Prokosch v. Catalina Lighting, Inc., 193 F.R.D. 633, 638 (D. Minn. 2000)).
- Relevance. Like other discovery devices, counsel can object on the ground that the noticed topics are irrelevant and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, especially if they have no bearing on the case’s existing claims or defenses.
- Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 advisory committee’s notes (“The Committee intends that the parties and the court focus on the actual claims and defenses involved in the action.”); see, e.g., Asher v. Baxter Int’l, Inc., No. 02 C 5608, 2007 WL 3223396, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 25, 2007) (explaining that parties “have no entitlement to discovery to develop new claims or defenses that are not already identified in the pleadings.”);
- Proportionality. Likewise, counsel for noticed companies should object on the ground that the noticed topics are disproportionate to the needs of the case and the burden and cost of preparing a witness outweighs any minimal benefit the deposition may have.
- Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1); see, e.g., Edwards v. Scripps Media, Inc., 331 F.R.D. 116, 123 (E.D. Mich. 2019) (listing proportionality factors).
- Overbreadth. Counsel should object that the notice is overbroad if it does not contain sufficient limiting language, or if the noticed topics do not have temporal or geographic limitations.
- See, e.g., Pyour BV v. Ingredion Inc., No. 15 CV 8690, 2018 WL 11219969, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 14, 2018) (noticed topics were “entirely too broad and burdensome”).
- Annoyance, embarrassment, or undue burden. Depositions may cause annoyance or undue burden if they could harm the witness’s mental or physical health, are repetitive and unnecessary, or are held in an unreasonable location or for an unreasonable amount of time.
- Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(1); see, e.g., Bowers v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., No. CIV.A. 10-4141-JTM, 2011 WL 6013092, at *7 (D. Kan. Dec. 2, 2011) (granting protective order where many “far-reaching topics” had “no application” to the case).
- Cumulative or duplicative. Because 30(b)(6) depositions are time-consuming and costly, counsel should object if the discovering party has already obtained sufficient discovery on the noticed topics, or if the discovery is available through less burdensome means.
- See, e.g., Dongguk Univ. v. Yale Univ., 270 F.R.D. 70, 74–80 (D. Conn. 2010) (quashing noticed topics where the discovery already taken appeared adequate); Tri–State Hosp. Supply Corp., 226 F.R.D. 118, 126 (D.D.C. 2005) (30(b)(6) depositions should “be productive and not simply an excuse to seeking information that is already known”).