General Discovery Objections Do Not Pass Muster in Federal Court

In a recent opinion, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Richmond Division) reiterated that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for liberal discovery and that a party’s assertion and reliance on general objections in discovery is discouraged. See Spendlove v. RapidCourt, LLC, No. 3:18-cv-856 REP, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 220392 (E.D. Va. Dec. 23, 2019).

The dispute in Spendlove arose out of a class action under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the “FCRA”). The plaintiffs asserted that the defendant violated the FCRA by:

(1) reporting adverse non-conviction information from Virginia older than seven years;

(2) failing to provide consumers with timely notice of the fact that the defendant had furnished an employment report containing adverse information while not following strict procedures designed to ensure that it does not report incomplete or outdated public records; and (3) failing to provide full copies of consumers’ files upon request.

During discovery, a dispute arose relating to the defendant’s alleged failures to provide full and complete responses. As a result, the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel that challenged: (1) the defendant’s use of general form objections throughout its discovery responses;

(2) the defendant’s production of only the documents that it deemed as relevant and responsive; (3) the defendant’s determination of the scope of relevant jurisdictional discovery; and (4) the defendant’s objections to the plaintiffs’ class certification discovery requests.

In granting the motion to compel, the Court discussed the principle problems with general objections. The Court disfavors general objections because (1) they reach so broadly that the requesting party cannot determine what is being answered or responded to and what is not; (2) the generality obscures what the general objection is foreclosing from discovery, which precludes meaningful negotiation between the parties in the “meet and confer” process; and (3) they allow “the producing party a degree of control over the discovery process not intended by the federal discovery rules.”

Likewise, the Court found it was improper for the defendant to unilaterally withhold information or documents that are responsive to a discovery by stating that “all relevant, non-privileged” responsive information will be produced.

The Spendlove opinion, which provides a detailed analysis of the various rules governing discovery in federal court, is a must-read for any attorney who regularly practices and/or serves as local counsel in federal court.