Alabama Discovery Law


Evidence – Discovery – Alabama

Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive summary of discovery law in Alabama, but does include basic and other information.

Definitions

Discovery: A procedure designed to allow disclosure of information between Plaintiffs and Defendants.  Written questions, oral questioning, document production and admissions requests are generally allowed.Discovery was designed to to prevent trial by ambush.

Interrogatories: Written questions from Plaintiff to Defendant, or from Defendant to Plaintiff.  The questions are mailed to the Plaintiff, Defendant or the attorney for response in writing.  The answers or responses are usually due between 20-30 days.

Deposition: A procedure where verbal questions are asked a Plaintiff or Defendant for immediate response.Depositions are usually recorded by a court reporter, who swears the person to tell the truth before questioning begins.

Production of Documents: The method of obtaining documents from the other party relevant to the case such as all documents a party intends to introduce at trial.

Requests for Admissions: Written questions where you request the other party to admit or deny some relevant fact.

Objections: Objections may be made to all discovery questions if the questions are not relevant, or likely to lead to the discovery of relevant evidence.

Civil Procedure Rules: Virtually all states have adopted a version of civil procedure rules which include rules dealing with discovery.

Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure

Alabama has adopted the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure which contain rules governing discovery. The discovery rules also apply in divorce actions.

Discovery Methods: Parties may obtain discovery by one or more of the following methods: depositions upon oral examination or written questions; written interrogatories; production of documents or things or permission to enter upon land or other property, for inspection and other purposes; physical and mental examinations; and requests for admission. Rule 26(a)

Scope: Unless otherwise limited by order of the court in accordance with these rules, the scope of discovery is as follows:

(1) In General. Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action, whether it relates to the claim or defense of the party seeking discovery or to the claim or defense of any other party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition and location of any books, documents, or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter. It is not ground for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The frequency or extent of use of the discovery methods set forth in subdivision (a) shall be limited by the court if it determines: (i) that the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or is obtainable from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; (ii) that the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity by discovery in the action to obtain the information sought; or (iii) that the discovery is unduly burdensome or expensive, taking into account the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, limitations on the parties’ resources, and the importance of the issues at stake in the litigation. The court may act upon its own initiative after reasonable notice or pursuant to a motion under subdivision (c). Rule 26(b)

Experts: Discovery of facts known and opinions held by experts, otherwise discoverable under theprovisions of subdivision (b)(1) of this rule and acquired or developed in anticipation of litigation or for trial, may be obtained only as follows:

(A)(i) A party may through interrogatories require any other party to identify each person whom the other party expects to call as an expert witness at trial, to state the subject matter on which the expert is expected to testify, and to state the substance of the facts and opinions to which the expert is expected to testify and a summary of the grounds for each opinion. (ii) Upon motion, the court may order further discovery by other means, subject to such restrictions as to scope and such provisions, pursuant to subdivision (b)(4)(C) of this rule, concerning fees and expenses as the court may deem appropriate.

(B) A party may discover facts known or opinions held by an expert who has been retained, specially employed or assigned by another party in anticipation of litigation or preparation for trial and who is not expected to be called as a witness at trial, only as provided in Rule 35(b) or upon a showing of exceptional circumstances under which it is impracticable for the party seeking discovery to obtain facts or opinions on the same subject by other means.

(C) Unless manifest injustice would result, (i) the court shall require that the party seeking discovery pay the expert a reasonable fee for time spent in responding to discovery under subdivisions b)(4)(A)(ii) and (b)(4)(B) of this rule; and (ii) with respect to discovery obtained under subdivision (b)(4)(A)(ii) of this rule the court may require, and with respect to discovery obtained under subdivision (b)(4)(B) of this rule the court shall require, the party seeking discovery to pay the other party a fair portion of the fees and expenses reasonably incurred by the latter party in obtaining facts and opinions from the expert. Rule 26(b)(4)

Sequence and Timing of Discovery: Unless the court upon motion, for the convenience of parties and witnesses and in the interests of justice, orders otherwise, methods of discovery may be used in any sequence and the fact that a party is conducting discovery, whether by deposition or otherwise, shall not operate to delay any other party’s discovery. Rule 26(d)

Supplementation of Responses: A party who has responded to a request for discovery with a response that was complete when made is under no duty to supplement the response to include information thereafter acquired, except as follows:

(1) A party is under a duty seasonably to supplement the response with respect to any question directly addressed to (A) the identity and location of persons having knowledge of discoverable matters, and (B) the identity of each person expected to be called as an expert witness at trial, the subject matter on which the expert witness is expected to testify, and the substance of the witness’s testimony.

(2) A party is under a duty seasonably to amend a prior response if the party obtains information upon the basis of which the party (A) knows that the response was incorrect when made, or (B) knows that the response, though correct when made, is no longer true and the circumstances are such that a failure to amend the response is in substance a knowing concealment.

(3) A duty to supplement responses may be imposed by order of the court, agreement of the parties, or at any time prior to trial through new requests for supplementation of prior responses. Rule 26(e)

Discovery Conference: At any time after commencement of an action the court may direct the attorneys for the parties to appear before it for a conference on the subject of discovery. Following the discovery conference, the court may enter an order tentatively identifying the issues for discovery purposes, establishing a plan and schedule for discovery, setting limitations on discovery, if any; and determining such other matters, including the allocation of expenses, as are necessary for the proper management of discovery in the action. An order may be altered or amended whenever justice so requires. Rule 26(f)

Depositions

Before Whom Depositions May Be Taken: Within the United States or within a territory or insular possession subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, depositions to be used in this State shall be taken before an officer authorized to administer oaths by the laws of the United States, or of the State of Alabama, or of the place where the examination is held, or before a person appointed by the court in which the action is pending. A person so appointed has power to administer oaths and take testimony.

A person desiring to take depositions in this state to be used in proceedings pending in the courts of any other state or country may produce to a judge of the circuit where the witness resides a commission authorizing the taking of such depositions or proof of notice duly served, whereupon it shall be the duty of the judge to issue, pursuant to Rule 45, the necessary subpoenas.

Orders of the character provided for in Rules 30(d), 37(a)(1), 37(b)(1), and 45(c) may be made upon proper application therefor by the person to whom such a subpoena is directed. Failure by any person without adequate excuse to obey a subpoena served upon that person pursuant to this rule may be deemed a contempt of the court from which the subpoena issued.

Rule 28

Stipulations: Unless the court orders otherwise, the parties may by written stipulation (1) provide that depositions may be taken before any person, at any time or place, upon any notice, and in any manner and when so taken may be used like other depositions, and (2) modify the procedures provided by these rules for other methods of discovery.

Rule 29

After commencement of the action, any party may take the testimony of any person, including a party, by deposition upon oral examination. Leave of court, granted with or without notice, must be obtained only if the plaintiff seeks to take a deposition prior to the expiration of thirty (30) days after service of the summons and complaint upon any defendant or other mode of service under Rule 4, except that leave is not required (1) if a defendant has served a notice of taking deposition or otherwise sought discovery, or (2) if special notice is given as provided in subdivision (b)(2) of this rule. The attendance of witnesses may be compelled by subpoena as provided in Rule 45. The deposition of a person confined in prison may be taken only by leave of court on such terms as the court prescribes. Rule 30(a)

(1) A party desiring to take the deposition of any person upon oral examination shall give reasonable notice in writing to every other party to the action. The notice shall state the time and place for taking the deposition and the name and address of each person to be examined, if known, and, if the name is not known, a general description sufficient to identify the person or the particular class or group to which the person belongs. If a subpoena duces tecum is to be served on the person to be examined, the designation of the materials to be produced as set forth in the subpoena shall be attached to or included in the notice.

(2) Leave of court is not required for the taking of a deposition by plaintiff if the notice (A) states that the person to be examined is about to go out of the circuit where the action is pending and more than one hundred (100) miles from the place of trial, or is about to go out of the United States, or is bound on a voyage to sea, and will be unavailable for examination unless the person’s deposition is taken before expiration of the (thirty) 30-day period, and (B) sets forth facts to support the statement.

The plaintiff’s attorney shall sign the notice, and the attorney’s signature constitutes a certification by the attorney that to the best of the attorney’s knowledge, information, and belief the statement and supporting facts are true. The sanctions provided by Rule 11 are applicable to the certification.

If a party shows that when the party was served with notice under this subdivision (b)(2) the party was unable through the exercise of diligence to obtain counsel to represent the party at the taking of the deposition, the deposition may not be used against the party.

(3) The court may for cause shown enlarge or shorten the time for taking the deposition.

(4) The parties may stipulate in writing or the court may upon motion order that the testimony at a deposition be recorded by other than stenographic means. The stipulation or order shall designate the person before whom the deposition shall be taken, the manner of recording, preserving, and filing the deposition, and may include other provisions to assure that the recorded testimony will be accurate and trustworthy. A party may arrange to have a stenographic transcription made at the party’s own expense. Any objections under subdivision (c), any changes made by the witness, the witness’s signature identifying the deposition as the witness’s own or the statement of the officer that is required if the witness does not sign, as provided in subdivision (e), and the certification of the officer required by subdivision (f) shall be set forth in a writing to accompany a deposition recorded by nonstenographic means.

(5) The notice to a party deponent may be accompanied by a request that the party, at the taking of a deposition, produce and permit inspection and copying of designated books, papers, documents, or tangible things which constitute or contain matters within the scope of Rule 26(b). The party deponent may, within five (5) days after service of the notice, serve upon the party taking the deposition, written objection to inspection or copying of any or all of the designated materials. If objection is made, the party taking the deposition shall not be entitled to inspect the materials except pursuant to an order of the court. The party taking the deposition may move at any time for an order under Rule 37(a) with respect to any objection to the request or any part thereof, or any failure to produce or permit inspection as requested.

(6) A party may in the party’s notice and in a subpoena name as the deponent a public or private corporation or a partnership or association or governmental agency and describe with reasonable particularity the matters on which examination is requested. In that event, the organization so named shall designate one or more officers, directors or managing agents, or other persons who consent to testify on its behalf, and may set forth, for each person designated, the matters on which the person will testify.

A subpoena shall advise a nonparty organization of its duty to make such a designation. The persons so designated shall testify as to matters known or reasonably available to the organization. This subdivision (b)(6) does not preclude taking a deposition by any other procedure authorized in these rules.

(7) The parties may stipulate in writing or the court may upon motion order that a deposition be taken by telephone. For the purposes of this rule and Rules 28(a), 37(a)(1), 37(b)(1) and 45(a), a deposition taken by telephone is taken in the circuit and at the place where the deponent is to answer questions propounded to the deponent. Rule 30(b)

Interrogatories

Any party may serve upon any other party written interrogatories to be answered by the party served or, if the party served is a public or private corporation or a partnership or association or governmental agency, by any officer or agent, who shall furnish such information as is available to the party. Interrogatories may, without leave of court, be served upon the plaintiff after commencement of the action and upon any other party with or after service of the summons and complaint upon that party.

(1) Each interrogatory shall be answered separately and fully in writing under oath, unless it is objected to, in which event the objecting party shall state the reasons for objection and shall answer to the extent the interrogatory is not objectionable. (2) The party answering  interrogatories shall repeat each interrogatory immediately before the answer or objection. The answers are to be signed by the person making them and the objections signed by the attorney making them. (3) The party upon whom the interrogatories have been served shall serve a copy of the answers, or objections within 30 days after the service of the interrogatories, except that a defendant must serve answers or objections within 30 days after the service of the interrogatories upon him or within 45 days after the summons and complaint have been served upon him, whichever is longer. A shorter or longer time may be directed by the court or, in the absence of such an order, agreed to in writing by the parties subject to Rule 29. (4) All grounds for an objection to an interrogatory shall be stated with specificity. Any ground not stated in a timely objection is waived unless the party’s failure to object is excused by the court for good cause shown. (5) The party submitting the interrogatories may move for an order under Rule 37(a) with respect to any objection to or other failure to answer an interrogatory. Rule 33

Production

Any party may serve on any other party a request (1) to produce and permit the party making the request, or someone acting on the requestor’s behalf, to inspect and copy, any designated documents (including writings, drawings, graphs, charts, photographs, phono-records, and other data compilations from which information can be obtained, translated, if necessary, by the respondent through detection devices into reasonably usable form), or to inspect and copy, test, or sample any tangible things which constitute or contain matters within the scope of Rule 26(b) and which are in the possession, custody or control of the party upon whom the request is served; or (2) to permit entry upon designated land or other property in the possession or control of the party upon whom the request is served for the purpose of inspection and measuring, surveying, photographing, testing, or sampling the property or any designated object or operation thereon, within the scope of Rule 26(b).Rule 34(a)

The request may, without leave of court, be served upon the plaintiff after commencement of the action and upon any other party with or after service of the summons and complaint upon that party. The request shall set forth the items to be inspected either by individual item or by category, and describe each item and category with reasonable particularity. The request shall specify a reasonable time, place, and manner of making the inspection and performing the related acts.

The party upon whom the request is served shall serve a written response within thirty (30) days after the service of the request, except that a defendant may serve a response within forty-five (45) days after service of the summons and complaint upon that defendant. The court may allow a shorter or longer time. The response shall state, with respect to each item or category, that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested unless the request is objected to, in which event the reasons for objection shall be stated. If objection is made to part of an item or category, the part shall be specified. The party submitting the request may move for an order under Rule 37(a) with respect to any objection to or other failure to respond to the request or any part thereof, or any failure to permit inspection as requested.

A party who produces documents for inspection shall produce them as they are kept in the usual course of business or shall organize and label them to correspond with the categories in the request. Rule 34(b)

Physical and Mental Examinations of Persons

When the mental or physical condition (including the blood group) of a party, or of a person in the custody or under the legal control of a party, is in controversy, the court in which the action is pending may order the party to submit to a physical or mental examination by a suitably licensed or certified examiner or to produce for examination the person in the party’s custody or legal control. The order may be made only on motion for good cause shown and upon notice to the person to be examined and to all parties and shall specify the time, place, manner, conditions, and scope of the examination and the person or persons by whom it is to be made. Rule 35(a)

(1) If requested by the party against whom an order is made under Rule 35(a) or the person examined, the party causing the examination to be made shall deliver to the requesting party a copy of a detailed written report of the examiner setting out the examiner’s findings, including results of all tests made, diagnoses and conclusions, together with like reports of all earlier examinations of the same condition. After delivery the party causing the examination shall be entitled upon request to receive from the party against whom the order is made a like report of any examination, previously or thereafter made, of the same condition, unless, in the case of a report of examination of a person not a party, the party shows that the party is unable to obtain it. The court on motion may make an order against a party requiring delivery of a report on such terms as are just, and, if an examiner fails or refuses to make a report, the court may exclude the examiner’s testimony if offered at trial.

(2) By requesting and obtaining a report of the examination so ordered or by taking the deposition of the examiner, the party examined waives any privilege the party may have in that action or any other involving the same controversy, regarding the testimony of every other person who has examined or may thereafter examine the party in respect of the same mental or physical condition.

(3) This subdivision applies to examinations made by agreement of the parties, unless the agreement expressly provides otherwise. This subdivision does not preclude discovery of a report of an examiner or the taking of a deposition of the examiner in accordance with the provisions of any other rule. Rule 35(b)

Requests for Admissions

A party may serve upon any other party a written request for the admission, for purposes of the pending action, of the truth of any matters within the scope of Rule 26(b) set forth in the request that relate to statements or opinions of fact or the application of law to fact, including the genuineness of any documents described in the request. Copies of documents shall be served with the request unless they have been or are otherwise furnished or made available for inspection and copying. The request may, without leave of court, be served upon the plaintiff after commencement of the action and upon any other party with or after service of the summons and complaint upon that party.

Each matter of which an admission is requested shall be separately set forth. The matter is admitted unless, within 30 days after service of the request, the party to whom the request is directed serves upon the party requesting the admission a written answer or objection addressed to the matter, signed by the party or by his attorney. However, a defendant shall have 30 days after service of the request or 45 days after he has been served with the summons and complaint to answer, whichever time is longer. These time periods may be shortened or lengthened by the court. If objection is made, the reasons therefor shall be stated. The party answering requests for admissions shall repeat each request immediately before the answer or objection. The answer shall specifically admit or deny the matter or set forth in detail the reasons why the answering party cannot truthfully admit or deny the matter. A denial shall fairly meet the substance of the requested admission, and when good faith requires that a party qualify his answer or deny only a part of the matter of which an admission is requested, he shall specify so much of it as is true and qualify or deny the remainder. An answering party may not give lack of information or knowledge as a reason for failure to admit or deny unless he states that he has made reasonable inquiry and that the information known or readily obtainable by him is insufficient to enable him to admit or deny. A party who considers that a matter of which an admission has been requested presents a genuine issue for trial may not, on that ground alone, object to the request; he may, subject to the provisions of Rule 37(c), deny the matter or set forth reasons why he cannot admit or deny it.

The party who has requested the admissions may move to determine the sufficiency of the answers or objections. Unless the court determines that an objection is justified, it shall order that an answer be served. If the court determines that an answer does not comply with the requirements of this rule, it may order either that the matter is admitted or that an amended answer be served. The court may, in lieu of these orders, determine that final disposition of the request be made at a pre-trial conference or at a designated time prior to trial. The provisions of Rule 37(a)(4) apply to the award of expenses incurred in relation to the motion.

If an attorney for a party to whom requests for admission are addressed signs an answer, his signature shall be deemed his oath as to the correctness of the answer and his specific authority to bind the party on whose behalf he signs. Rule 36(a)

Compel Discovery

(a) Motion for Order Compelling Discovery. A party, upon reasonable notice to all parties and all persons affected thereby, may apply for an order compelling discovery as follows:

(1) Appropriate Court. An application for an order to a party may be made to the court in which the action is pending, or, on matters relating to a deposition, to the court in the place where the deposition is being taken. An application for an order to a deponent who is not a party shall be made to the court in the place where the deposition is being taken.

(2) Motion. If a deponent fails to answer a question propounded or submitted under Rules 30 or 31, or a corporation or other entity fails to make a designation under Rule 30(b)(6) or 31(a), or a party fails to answer an interrogatory submitted under Rule 33, or if a party, in response to a request for inspection submitted under Rule 34, fails to respond that inspection will be permitted as requested, or fails to permit inspection as requested, or if a party, in response to a request under Rule 35(c), fails to provide an appropriate medical authorization, the discovering party may move for an order compelling an answer, or a designation, or an order compelling inspection in accordance with the request. The motion shall include a statement that the movant has in good faith conferred or attempted to confer with the person or party failing to make the discovery in an effort to secure the information or material without court action. When taking a deposition on oral examination, the proponent of the question may complete or adjourn the examination before he applies for an order.

(3) Evasive or Incomplete Answer or Response. For purposes of this subdivision, an evasive or incomplete answer or response is to be treated as a failure to answer or respond. Rule 37

Domestic Actions Discovery Notes

If you require extra time to respond to discovery, you should ask the other side for an extension in writing.  It may also be necessary to enter an order granting the extension to protect your rights.

Discovery questions are limited in number so select the most important questions to ask the other side.  Don’t waste your requests writing questions that you already know the answer to.