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When a lawyer takes the deposition of a corporate designee, the questions are not limited to the wording of the lawyer’s original notice, a Pennsylvania federal judge has ruled. In, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo of the Middle District of Pennsylvania found that Rule 30(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure cannot be used to limit the scope of questions. According to the judge’s five-page opinion, defense attorneys served a notice on lawyers for Cabot Corp. under Rule 30(b)(6) demanding that Cabot designate one or more people to testify about an audit and investigation that was referenced in a May 1995 memo from Jeremy Littlejohn to John Cabot. The deposition notice included three points, adding that one of the deponents should also be able to testify about “the scope and details of the review” that was referenced in the memo; and information that would support characterizing the bidding process at issue as “a compromised bid process.” Cabot appointed Karen Morrissey as its Rule 30(b)(6) designee. But during the course of her deposition, Cabot’s lawyers objected to various questions, arguing that they were beyond the scope of the notice. The lawyers turned to the judge to settle the dispute. Caputo found that the threshold legal question was: “Whether the Rule 30(b)(6) notice defines the scope of the deposition.” Cabot’s lawyers argued that it does. They cited Paparelli v. Prudential Insurance Co. of America, a 1985 decision out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, which held that Rule 30(b)(6) explicitly requires the party noticing the deposition to “describe with reasonable particularity the matters on which the examination is requested,” and therefore limits the scope of the deposition to the contents of that notice. But Caputo said he was more impressed with the logic of King v. Pratt & Whitney, a 1995 decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, which held that Rule 26 is the true starting point for any questions relating the scope of discovery. “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) defines the scope of discovery ‘unless otherwise ordered by the court.’ I do not read Rule 30(b)(6) as carving out a special limitation on the scope of discovery defined in Rule 26,” Caputo wrote. “It is my view that Rule 26(b) does not permit such special limitation,” Caputo wrote. Under Rule 26, he said, the only way to change the scope of discovery is by order of the court. “It is therefore untenable to suggest that [Rule 30(b)(6)'s use of the phrase] ‘describe with reasonable particularity the matters on which the examination is requested,’ is a limitation on the scope set forth in Rule 26(b)(1). It is inconsistent with the dictates of Rule 26(b),” Caputo wrote.

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