You’ve been sued or decided to sue someone. Congratulations! You’re about to enter the wonderful world of discovery. Litigation doesn’t work as it does on television. There are no surprise witnesses. In the months before the trial, each side will have to give the other the relevant documents, answer questions, and may have to testify before a court reporter. This process of asking for and being given information the other side knows is called “discovery.” I’ll talk about how to prepare for and respond to discovery in another post. For this one, I want to discuss what happens when you don’t give the other side what they ask for.
The courts function best, and most quickly when everyone plays by the rules. Some parties choose to see how close they can skirt the edge of the rules, and others opt to ignore them together. Both choices have long-term hazards. Courts can impose sanctions on the non-obedient party to compel cooperation. If the party still refuses to play by the rules, the Court can enter judgment against them.
Let me give you an example. In 2000, Gardens R Us, a commercial nursery, had a highly placed employee, Anna. She knows 100% of Gardens’ business and clients. She decides to leave and take all of Gardens’ business with her. Ultimately, Gardens enlists a business lawyer to sue Anna. During discovery, Gardens asks for all the customer and vendor information for Anna’s new business. Rather than give Gardens information that could hurt her, Anna chooses to ignore the requests. Gardens take Anna to court and get orders forcing her to turn over the information. Anna doesn’t learn her lesson. When ordered to give them complete information she only gives partial responses. Gardens take Anna to court again. Ultimately, the Court stops giving Anna changes to comply.
On the seventh request for sanctions, the Court Ruled:
Okay, let me take the legal mumbo-jumbo out of that. Because the Defendants wouldn’t give the Plaintiff the information it needed to prove its case, the Defendants lost the case! They had judgments entered against them and when the Plaintiff submits its losses to the Court, the Defendants can’t argue that the amounts claimed are wrong.
The Defendants played a game and lost…everything.
Don’t put yourself in this position.
If you are involved in litigation, provide timely answers to discovery. Yes, your business attorney may pose objections to certain requests. It’s our job to make sure the other side isn’t going beyond the permissible bounds. But, provide everything that there isn’t a valid object to as soon as possible, and supplement these responses with anything you withheld if the Court overrules your objection.
If you’re involved in litigation and you are not sure what your discovery obligations are, the other side is refusing to provide information, or you would like assistance with any other business matter, please contact Nancy at N D Greene PC.