While on the bench, Federal Judges are required to actively rule on parties' pretrial motions and objections relating to discovery. Failure to do so could result in prejudice to litigants and their cases.
Plaintiffs got into an accident while driving a car produced by defendant. Plaintiffs sued defendant under theories of products liability and fraud. Over two years, the parties engaged in lengthy discovery disputes. Among other unreasonable tactics, Plaintiffs asked for almost every document that Defendant had in its possession, and Defendant barely gave Plaintiffs anything and tried to delay discovery several times. The Court didn't rule on defendant's discovery objections, and defendant moved to dismiss the fraud claim. the Court again did not rule on the motion. Defendant then asked for a protective shield to shield confidential business documents from discovery, and the court adopted an order that almost completely ruled against the defendant. After this ruling, defendant decided to withhold numerous amounts of properly discoverable information.
Plaintiffs then filed a motion to compel defendant to respond to the production requests. After a hearing, the Court made it clear that it had no intentions of ruling on any discovery disputes, because the Court wanted the parties to work it out themselves. After more discovery disputes, the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions against Defendant for continuing to be uncooperative with discovery. The court ruled to enter a default judgment against Defendant and ordered Defendant to pay Plaintiffs’ expenses. In addition, the court ordered to vacate Defendant’s protective order. Defendant appealed.
Whether District Courts are required to rule on litigants' pretrial motions and/or objections related to discovery.
Yes, District Courts are required to rule on litigants' pretrial motions and objections related to discovery.
In holding that the lower court erred when it failed to manage the discovery issues, the appellate Court held that the lower court had an obligation to actively manage the docket, and dismiss questionable claims, thus streamlining the proceedings. Further, the lower court should have intervened in certain circumstances, otherwise discovery might never get resolved. Finally, when the court finally decides to rule on a discovery dispute, it must have an actual basis to make such a ruling, and may not do so arbitrarily.