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Local Rules and Discovery Limits

 

What are they, How do you find them? and What impact do they have on your case?

 

The Local Rules are rules enacted by the specific court your case is in, and they often control the timing and form and number limits of discovery as well as containing extremely important information about how a trial will proceed and what you have to do to place evidence in front of the court. In other words, finding the local rules is absolutely crucial to defending yourself.

Rules of Civil Procedure

 

Let's start with rules that every legal jurisdiction has: Rules of Civil Procedure. You can easily find these by Googling the name of your state and the phrase “rules of civil procedure.” Or you can go to Rules of Civil Procedure and find your jurisdiction.

Organization of Rules of Civil Procedure

 

In most jurisdictions, the rules of civil procedure are part of a larger body of court rules enacted by the legislature (in the states) or the Supreme Court (in the case of the federal rules). These are the rules that control every aspect of the legal process, from the qualifications and ethical rules of lawyers and judges, through the appeals and other “collateral” challenges. They cover everything, and they are, as much as possible, in an order related to how they would come up in an ordinary case. That means that for the most part, the rules controlling the beginning of a case – filing it and getting it served – are at the beginning of the rules, and stuff that comes later, like discovery, comes a few rules later. That will help you figure out where things are.

Federal Rules

 

In the federal jurisdictions, courts are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Most of the jurisdictions also have what are actually called “local rules.” These rules are, in many courts, numbered exactly like the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Which is to say that the Local Rules controlling discovery have the same number as the Rules of Civil Procedure that they are modifying. An example might make it easier to understand.

Federal Rule 26 is the general rule that controls discovery in federal cases – there are several other rules that apply to specific parts of the discovery process. Rule 26 provides a general framework for the discovery process, but it does not limit how many questions you are allowed to ask in interrogatories or what the form of those questions must be. That's what the Local Rules do, fill out the general rules and apply various limits that will apply within certain “local” jurisdictions, so there is a “Local Rule 26.” The local rules might provide, for example, that a party can only ask 25 or 50 interrogatories, or that those interrogatories must take a certain form.

Other Jurisdictions

 

Other jurisdictions do not follow the federal rules. They have their own rules, starting, of course, with the state rules of civil procedure. They may have local rules that would govern your specific court or type of court, including, most likely, the discovery process. And some jurisdictions have “approved” interrogatories or requests for production. These are in a form that the courts have specifically ruled is acceptable, although that wouldn't stop you from objecting on other grounds (e.g., that they are not relevant to your case).

It is beyond the scope of this article, or my materials generally, to provide the location of every jurisdiction's rules. They all have different ones, if they have them at all (and not all courts do). Nevertheless, knowing those rules for your jurisdiction is crucial. You must find the rules.

Finding the Local Rules

 

In the federal courts – which will only apply where you have brought a claim under a federal consumer protection law – finding the local rules is simple. You can either look it up in the federal website for your jurisdiction under “local rules” or ask a court clerk to point you in the right direction.

It's tougher in the state courts. In the state courts, you start with finding the correct rules of civil procedure. As I have often pointed out, debt cases are often brought in courts of lower jurisdiction – called “Associate Circuit Courts” in Missouri, for example. These courts often operate on slightly different rules than the Circuit Courts which must follow the state rules of civil procedure. Sometimes the rules for your court will be embodied in a special rule within the rules of civil procedure, and sometimes the rules will occupy their own area of the rules of civil procedure.

First, figure out what jurisdiction you are actually in. Is it the courts of general jurisdiction? Or is it some sort of more limited court? At the top of the petition will be a header that looks like this:

In the Associate Circuit Court
          of St. Louis County
            State of Missouri

That tells you what your jurisdiction is. Google that court. So in this case, Google “Associate Circuit Court,” “St. Louis County,” and “Rules of Civil Procedure.” This will bring up references to the specific rules that control your jurisdiction. Or go to your court's website and look up “Rules of Civil Procedure” or “rules of court” or “local rules” or something like that and see if you can find the rules that will control your case.

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