Case Law

Hold the Pepperoni: “Menacing Scourge” of Boilerplate Responses Leaves a Rancid Taste in Judge’s Mouth

Iowa

Liguria Foods, Inc. v. Griffith Labs., Inc., 2017 WL 976626 (N.D. Iowa Mar. 13, 2017) In this breach of contract case over spoiled sausage, each party accused the other of abusive discovery practices. The court, expressing its frustration over lawyers’ widespread “addiction to boilerplate discovery objections . . . that plague the litigation industry”, issued an order to show cause why both parties should not be sanctioned for “flaunting” the rules of discovery and continuing the use of boilerplate language. The court pointed to FRCP 1 that courts have an obligation to ensure “the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding”, and explained that using broad language in discovery objections only hinders, rather than expedites discovery, by “obstruct[ing] the discovery process, violat[ing] numerous rules of civil procedure and ethics, and impos[ing] costs on litigants that frustrate the timely and just resolution of cases.” The court cited to various judicial authorities that have articulated similar concerns, and are increasingly encouraging courts to impose sanctions to get the legal community’s attention and “punish this nonsense.” Counsel for both parties acknowledge their failure to respond with specificity, but that they did not do so to delay proceedings or harass the other party. Instead, the parties explained that they used boilerplate language primarily to preserve their clients’ rights. Additionally, the parties explained that such language was part of the present litigation culture that they anticipated that the other party would also use the same language, and that changing their wording to comply with the 2015 amendments would weaken their case. The court emphasized the proportionality requirements of FRCP 26, the need to respond to requests for privileged documents with “more than bald responses”, and the need to respond with specificity when making objections to FRCP 33 and FRCP 34 requests. The court also expressed policy concerns that discovery is the most costly part of litigation in large part due to delays caused by overly broad objections, causing parties to settle disputes out of concern over cost rather go forward in the pursuit of justice. In spite of the judiciary’s push to impose sanctions, the court did not do so in this case. The court found that the parties have acted cordially and professionally throughout the proceeding, and required minimal intervention by the court considering the case’s complexity. However, the court issued stern words of caution: “NO MORE WARNINGS. IN THE FUTURE, USING "BOILERPLATE" OBJECTIONS TO DISCOVERY IN ANY CASE BEFORE ME PLACES COUNSEL AND THEIR CLIENTS AT RISK FOR SUBSTANTIAL SANCTIONS.”

Keywords: Sanctions, discovery, boilerplate, objections, abusive practices