LDF Submits Comments About Proposed Changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure That May Undermine the Ability of Civil Rights Plaintiffs

Date Filed: 10/31/2013

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Federal Rules”) set forth the rules applicable in all civil litigation in federal district courts.  The Federal Rules are a critical component of the judicial process:  they provide the procedural framework by which legal claims are considered and decided by trial-level judges.  On August 15, 2013,the Judicial Conference of the United States’ Advisory Committee on Civil Rules (the “Advisory Committee”), a national policy-making body comprised largely of federal judges, proposed a number of amendments to the Federal Rules.  Many of the proposed changes concern discovery, the process that litigants use to request and obtain relevant information from the opposing party and other entities.

While many of the changes have been offered by the Advisory Committee for the stated goal of reducing costs and delays in civil litigation, they will, if adopted, make it much more difficult for litigants, and particularly plaintiffs, from obtaining information they need to support their claims.  For example, defendants could use the proposed changes to refuse to provide relevant and necessary information to plaintiffs on the grounds that they view the requested information not “proportional” to the needs of the case.  Additionally, the changes would decrease the presumptive number of depositions and other discovery mechanisms, which plaintiffs often rely on to gain crucial information. 

LDF is deeply concerned that these amendments, if adopted, would significantly undercut the ability of civil rights plaintiffs to obtain relief through the federal courts.  We have submitted written comments to the Advisory Committee where we highlighted the particularly important role that the discovery process plays in civil rights actions because in many cases most, if not all, of the information needed to substantiate a plaintiff’s claim is in the defendant’s possession.  Consequently, changes to the Federal Rules that needlessly obstruct the discovery process, such as those currently under consideration by the Advisory Committee, hinder the ability of plaintiffs to vindicate their civil rights.  In our comments, we strongly urge the Advisory Committee to reconsider and reject the proposed amendments.