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Discovery obligations when suing a corporate defendant: does the corporation have to…

Discovery obligations when suing a corporate defendant: does the corporation have to probe its employees?

14 June 2024

If you find yourself in the position of suing a corporate entity it is likely you will be facing the difficulty of obtaining discovery, that is usually defined holistically as relevant “information,” but usually boils down to sworn statements and documents, from your corporate defendant.  In that case, you typically encounter resistance from corporate counsel, through outside counsel, to producing discovery, specifically the scope of the obligation itself.  One such topic is the how far an entity must go to complete its obligation, specifically, whether and how far it has to go outside “itself.”  Typically, the entity stops with itself and does not take any steps to obtain “information” outside itself, (and may seem like it won’t move farther than it can reach its hand out.).

The conflict is at hand, you want the information, in the form of the corporate counsel’s probe of its employees, corporate counsel says no and provides a crafted answer from its heavily advised corporate officers and say that this is all it knows.  What is the answer, well you are in favor.

In the case of Pierce v. C.R.C. Line, Inc., judge Agnes ruled on the topic “the defendant corporation . . . has the duty to make an inquiry of its employees to answer Interrogatories . . . [t]his has long been the practice in Massachusetts” and cited a case going back to 1901.  2006 Mass. Super. LEXIS 452 *2; Docket No. 05-0825, (decided Oct. 4, 2006).

The interesting item is that the similar obligation arises for each litigant, that means you, but it just isn’t confined to a group of people, but rather being that a reasonable investigation for the information (or documents) must be conducted.  So, if you want to hold your adversary the corporate defendant accountable, expect to have to meet the same standard.  Here, the law in this regard is like what Jesus said, Judge not, that ye be not judged.  Matthew 7:1-3.  This is common sense in that you will be held to your own standard, and opposing counsel will be quick to point out your discovery insufficiencies when you are trying to point out his.

Chances are that if you are encountering this difficulty, you are up to your knees, maybe your neck, in legal conflict.  If you desire a professional opinion on even one of the host of issues you are facing, feel free to contact this office to see how we would approach it.