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June 26, 2015

California Court Of Appeals Affirms Trial Court's Staging Of Discovery To Promote Efficiency And Economy

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Bowman and Brooke's Discovery Coordination and eDiscovery practice group reports on a recent California case recognizing the trial court's discretion to stage discovery due to the scope, burden and expense of the plaintiff's requests. 

On May 15, 2015, the California 2nd District Court of Appeals in Williams v. Superior Court (2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 1151, 187 Cal.Rptr.3d 321 recognized that the trial court is empowered to manage the discovery process, and "must consider the costs of any discovery and take reasonable steps to promote efficiency and economy."  187 Cal.Rptr.3d at 326. 

In a representative action under the Private Attorney General Act against Marshalls department store, the plaintiff sought the names and contact information of all Marshalls' California employees.  The trial court granted the motion to compel as to the store where the plaintiff worked, but denied the motion as to employees at the remaining 128 California stores at such an early juncture in the litigation (no discovery had yet been conducted, including plaintiff's deposition).  The Court of Appeals also confirmed the trial court's order that the defendant could resist future discovery by making a showing that the plaintiff's claims had no merit.

Denying the plaintiff's petition for a writ of mandate, Justice Victoria Chaney found that it was eminently reasonable for the trial court to stage discovery in an incremental fashion, consider the cost of the discovery and delay "the incursion of potentially unnecessary costs until it becomes clear they are warranted." Id. The Court of Appeals characterized the plaintiff's proposed statewide discovery based on the bare allegations of the complaint as "a classic use of discovery tools to wage litigation rather than facilitate it." 

Although the Court of Appeals did not use the term "proportionality" or cite to the pending changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court's decision in this case appears to promote the philosophy of proportionality drafted into the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, anticipated to take effect December 1, 2015.