Once a plaintiff files suit in court and the defendant answers the complaint, the parties enter into the discovery phase of litigation. In the discovery phase, parties may submit written request for answers to the other side (interrogatories), request for the production of documents, requests for admissions, and notices of depositions. The purpose of providing the opposing side with such information is to avoid surprise and the miscarriage of justice and to fully disclose the nature and scope of the controversy to narrow, simplify and frame the issues. Once the discovery phase of litigation begins, attorneys may get the information necessary to win the case at trial or to craft a reasonable argument to encourage settlement prior to trial. Essentially, the main purpose of discovery is “for the parties to obtain the fullest possible knowledge of the issues and facts before trial.” Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 501 (1947).
(a) Discovery Methods. Parties may obtain discovery by one or more of the following methods except as otherwise provided in Rule 30(a) and Rule 30A(a), (b): depositions upon oral examination or written questions; written interrogatories; production of documents or things or permission to enter upon land or other property, for inspection and other purposes; physical and mental examinations; and requests for admission. Unless the court orders otherwise, or unless otherwise provided in these rules, the frequency of use of these methods is not limited.
Failure to comply for discovery requests can have disastrous results. In a case recently decided by the Appeals Court of Massachusetts, the Plaintiff’s suit against the Defendant was ultimately dismissed because she failed to comply with discovery requests by the defense. The judge found that the Plaintiff had defied the court order and did so despite clear warnings by a previous judge that he would dismiss her case should she fail to produce requested tax documents. On appeal the Plaintiff claimed that the failure to produce the requested documents was due to the negligence and/or inaction by her attorney. The judge, in his discretion, found otherwise.
In filing a suit, complying with the rules of the court is of the utmost importance. To successfully litigate a claim, a client needs to work with her or her attorney in order to answer discovery. In many cases once discovery is exchanged between the parties, there can be a meeting of a minds to resolve the issues and settle the claims. In the event a claim or case goes to trial, the information obtained during discovery will often go on the record in the court room. Failure to have answered any questions put forth by the other side may serious hinder the ability to litigate the claim. Additionally, failure to give satisfactory answers to questions propounded by the other side may have adverse effects on a party.
Discovery must be taken seriously when a person decides to file a lawsuit in Massachusetts. Special attention must be given to deadlines for the responses to such discovery requests in order to avoid a dismissal or an adverse judgment by the judge. To read more on the case discussed above, please read Robin Canha v. Peter W. Gubellini, which was decided on May 29, 2014 You can access this case on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ website by clicking here and searching for unpublished decisions.