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New Federal Discovery Rules in Action as Eastern District Quashes Spousal Deposition

April 6, 2016

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The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were recently amended in December 2015 to increase the efficiency – and civility – with which litigation is conducted.  The amendments partially focused on streamlining discovery by implementing a “proportionality” standard that would limit the scope of permissible disclosure, thereby reducing the number of disputes that would result in unnecessary motion practice.  A recent decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania makes clear that federal judges are committed to implementing this new standard – as well as old principles – in an effort to make discovery more efficient.
In the case of <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Tong-v.-Mangar-Industries.pdf" rel="">Tong v. Mangar Industries</a></em>, the plaintiff sued her former employer, alleging that she was effectively discharged as a result of a sexually hostile environment created by one of her supervisors that eventually led to sexual assault.  During the course of discovery, the plaintiff noticed the deposition of the offending supervisor’s wife, prompting the employer to timely file a motion for a protective order quashing the deposition on the basis that any disclosures made therein would lead to the destruction of their marriage.  In fact, as part of its petition to quash, the employer went so far as to stipulate that the offending supervisor lied to his wife about his relationship with the plaintiff, and accordingly no deposition was factually necessary.
Ultimately granting the motion for a protective order, the Honorable Michael J. Baylson first noted that the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure specifically include the concept of “proportionality” in discovery.  However, although the inclusion of “proportionality” in Rule 26 arose largely out of the concern that discovery had become too costly, Judge Baylson also explained that the standard “applies as much to the concept of relevancy as to expenses.”  With this in mind, Judge Baylson stated that “proportionality” in this case compelled a finding that the likelihood of embarrassment, coupled with the potential destruction of the deponent’s marriage, vastly outweighed the discovery of any probative evidence in addition to the employer’s aforementioned stipulation.
While the Court’s discovery order in <em>Tong</em> is in many ways limited to the facts and circumstances of that case, it is loaded with insight for counsel and their clients.  Specifically, there is little doubt in light of the <em>Tong </em>decision that the new standard for discovery under Rule 26 is being actively applied by federal jurists.  With that said, however, it is equally clear that traditional evidentiary principles like prejudice and relevancy persist as discovery challenges inasmuch as the value of discovery must always be weighed against more than just its economic costs. Thanks to Adam Gomez for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:bgibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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