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Starting January 1, 2020, litigants in civil cases in Michigan’s state courts will face significant changes in how cases are handled. The Michigan Supreme Court recently adopted changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure that will completely overhaul the discovery process in Michigan to bring it closer to the procedures in federal court. If you’re not familiar with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure the changes could be overwhelming, but for many litigants the changes will be welcome.
The new rules will emphasize initial disclosures and document production. Instead of waiting until asked, parties will be required to disclose the factual basis of their claim or defense, the legal theories on which they rely or their case, possible witnesses or people with discoverable information, their computation of damages, and the location or types of documents in their possession that are relevant to the case. All of this information must be produced by a party without being asked. Practitioners in federal court will be familiar with this process, as it is similar to the Rule 26 disclosures required in federal cases.
Once your case begins, discovery under the new Court Rules may seem somewhat restrained to those familiar with the old discovery rules. Instead of unlimited discovery, the new court rules limit interrogatories to 20, and counts a subpart of a question towards that limit. As any practitioner who has ever received dozens of interrogatories, each with multiple subparts, can attest, this is a welcome change.
Depositions, currently unlimited in duration, will be limited to one day of seven hours. Can you imagine having to sit though an unproductive 8-hour deposition, only to have the opposing party come back and ask for another 8-hour day? This is also a welcome change.
One last major change is the imposition of a “proportionality rule” on discovery; all discovery is to be proportional to the case, and you’ll not see one side try to use discovery to bury an opponent with significantly fewer resources in an attempt to force them to settle cheap.
Overall, the changes adopted by the Michigan Supreme Court will require parties to be more prepared before they file suit, and more prepared to defend their position from the outset. On the whole, it should help minimize costs to litigants and make the playing field fairer to parties with fewer resources. The changes may be a shock initially, but they should ultimately prove beneficial to all parties in the legal system.
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