Litigation is costly, especially during the discovery phase. Responding to discovery is burdensome enough, but it is even more so when the opposing party issues vague, overbroad document requests that encompass information subject to the attorney-client privilege or the work-product doctrine.
The Problem with General Objections
In responding to document requests, it is common to set forth the general objections that apply to one or more requests. Unless used properly, most courts give little to no weight to these general, boilerplate objections and deem them waived.
“The legitimacy of a general objection turns on the objection and its context.” Grider v. Keystone Health Plan Cent., Inc., 580 F.3d 119, 139 (3d Cir. 2009). Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not explicitly prohibit use of general objections, objections must be stated with specificity and materials withheld on the basis of any objection must be identified. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b). Use of general objections to withhold both protected and discoverable material violates the rules and opens the door to potential sanctions. Grider, 580 F.3d at 139-40.
So, what is one to do? Answer the discovery with objections (if so, are general objections good enough?) and produce no documents? Or, do you answer the discovery to the degree you are able and produce the documents you feel are relevant, using your own subjective opinion?
The burden of proof is on the objecting party to show what part of a request is improper. Kafele v. Javitch, Block, Eisen & Rathbone, No. Civ.A. 2:03-CV-638, 2005 WL 5095186, *1 (S.D. Ohio Apr. 20, 2005). Although laborious, to satisfy the burden of proof when responding to overbroad, vague or burdensome document requests, one should follow the below tips.
Object Generally, But With Specificity
If you used general objections, restate which general objections are applicable to each request and list any additional objections.
Explain How You’re Responding
Explain what part of the request each objection relates to, why and how you’re going to treat the rest of the request. Are you not responding at all? Are you responding to part of the request based on your own definition or scope? If so, what is the definition or scope?
For example, if all or part of a request is vague or ambiguous, provide your interpretation of the term(s) and answer the request based on that definition. See Heller v. City of Dallas, 303 F.R.D. 466, 491 (N.D. Tex. 2014).
Produce the documents that are outside of the scope of each objection. Remember to identify whether documents are withheld under each objection.
Responding in this manner, even if general objections are used, will provide a specific response that is broad enough to protect your client’s interests while preventing waiver of the objection and unnecessary delay. John Skeriotis