Three Questions and Answers about Discovery

When Does the Process Begin, What Is the Court’s Role, and How Do the Methods of Discovery Relate to One Another?

I get certain basic questions about the discovery process quite often.

  • When can you begin conducting discovery? And when can the debt collector do it?
  • How do interrogatories, requests for documents, and requests for admissions relate to one another?
  • And What is the Court’s involvement in the discovery process?

The answers aren’t always clear, but this article will answer these questions to the extent they can be answered.

When Does Discovery Begin?

The simplest answer to this question is no answer at all: Discovery begins when the Rules of Civil Procedure for your jurisdiction say it begins. I have discovered that the discovery process begins at very different times for different courts.

Federal Courts

In the federal courts, the defendant can serve discovery immediately upon being served with the summons, whereas the plaintiff must wait for some time before beginning the discovery process. I guess this is a way of allowing a defendant to focus on investigating the complaint and filing an answer.

Most State Courts

In most state courts, the parties can begin discovery at the same time, either immediately or after some period of time, usually thirty days after service. In debt law cases, though, I have rarely observed that debt collectors begin discovery as quickly as they could. My guess is that they are hoping everybody will default (and most defendants do), so it would be wasteful to start the discovery process before the time for default has passed. This gives a defendant an advantage to begin the discovery process before the debt collector does, and this advantage should not be allowed to slip away.

Some State Courts

In some state courts, most often courts of limited jurisdiction (i.e., for smaller amounts, as most debt cases are), the parties are not allowed to begin discovery without an order of the court that allows it. I think this is a terrible rule. But regardless of my opinion, you need to know if that’s the rule in your jurisdiction, and if it is you need to seek an order permitting discovery as quickly as possible. Remember that discovery is an important part of your defense. There is even one jurisdiction of which I am aware where no discovery is allowed at all. In this jurisdiction, though, you can seek a trial “de novo” if you are not happy with the result. That is, you can start the whole case over in a higher up court that does allow discovery. In Maryland, on the other hand, discovery begins immediately upon service of the suit – and ends about a month later – unless you receive permission from the court.

The important “take-away” from all this is that state laws vary, and you need to know your state’s law as soon as possible. Not finding this out is asking for trouble.

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