This is going to be a brief article. For a fuller discussion and samples, look in the Litigation Manual and Forms. Still, you should be able to create your own after reading this. If you do not already own the Litigation Bundle, you should consider it - there's a special offer below.
As with other discovery, Requests for Documents are controlled by the rules of civil procedure for your jurisdiction. And there are two sets of rules you must consider: your state rules in general and, if you are in some sub-court of the state, the rules regarding your court; and your “Local Rules” if your court has them.
An example of what I mean by “sub-court” might be what we have in Missouri, Associate Circuit courts – courts that are designed to handle smaller amounts of money, or small claims courts (even less money). Many states have similar types of arrangements, and these sub-courts will have their own special rules, and these rules always control when and how much discovery you can conduct.
Even if you're not in that sort of sub-court, your court may have “local rules,” which are rules designed to elaborate on your state's rules of civil procedure. The rules of civil procedure will create the general structure of discovery and set the penalties for not cooperating – the local rules will establish certain limits: only a certain number, for example, or that they must be in a certain format (not “compound,” usually, meaning without sub-parts).
Whatever the situation, you must find the rules controlling your discovery, or you may do something wrong, giving the debt collector an easy out. To find your rules of civil procedure, follow this link. Any special rules may be mentioned in your rules of civil procedure or in your court's web-page. I am not aware of these rules – but you must be.
The term “document” for purposes of requests is very broad and contains things like electronic records, facsimiles, any non-identical copy of a record, etc. The term is usually defined in the rules of civil procedure, and the way you would define it is to refer to that rule: “by requesting documents, defendant intends all documents as defined by Rule ___, ____Rules of Civil Procedure.
You want everything thing the debt collector could use to support its case or attack yours. At a minimum you should ask for any document in their possession or control which you signed or which they contend applies to you in any way. You want all documents relating to the amount or terms of any alleged debt, every document showing or relating to any agreement you made with them, including any notes or comments. You want every document showing or relating to anything you said. If you have a counterclaim, you'll want to create requests that get everything they have related to that.
The standard for requests for production is that you are asking for documents in their possession or control. Possession is obvious, but control includes documents that other people have created for them or in support of their business: accountant's records, for example, or account records (of your account) if the original creditor agreed to provide them if requested. If these documents are not provided or objected to, but then they try to use them at court, you should request to have them excluded from trial.
When the other side objects – as they will, to everything you ask – you will, eventually, have to eliminate those objections so that you can be sure you have everything they have. Just because they deny having something you would expect them to have, though, does not mean you can file a motion to compel. Rather – once they have answered, you pretty much have to take them at their word for not having stuff they say they do not have. That is, unless you have evidence they are actually hiding something.
This article is part of a series of articles and videos. For the first in the series, click here. Sign up here for the series. You'll also receive other information that I think will be helpful and informative occasionally.