Practitioners in New York’s Commercial Division will soon be required to narrow the number and scope of their interrogatories under a new rule adopted Thursday by the state’s chief administrative judge.
Effective June 2, the new rule is nearly identical to Local Civil Rule 33.3 found in the Southern District of New York. It limits the number of interrogatories to 25, restricting their scope to names of witnesses who have information “material and necessary” to the subject matter in the action; the computed amount of alleged damages; the location and description of any “material and necessary” documents; and other physical evidence.
The idea is to help litigants get the most out of their written questions by targeting only that information which is most relevant and constructive going forward.
“You plainly can get the information more efficiently in the deposition process once you know who the witnesses are,” said Stewart Aaron, a partner at Arnold & Porter, who sits on an advisory council that recommended the rule change to the Office of Court Administration.
“Responses to interrogatories, generally speaking, are drafted by lawyers,” Aaron added. “The utility of those responses tends to be more limited when it’s an attorney word-smithing a response.”
This rule marks the next in a series of recent reforms implemented in the Commercial Division to raise its profile and ease the costs and burdens on litigants, in part, as demonstrated with this rule, by adopting practices of the federal system and other jurisdictions.
A week ago, OCA adopted a new rule allowing the Commercial Division judges to apply accelerated adjudication procedures in actions where parties had agreed to waive at the outset a jury, punitive damages, interlocutory appeals or challenges to jurisdiction.
The numerical limit has been in place in Manhattan’s Commercial Division since 2007. This rule not only expands the 25 interrogatories limit to other counties, it applies statewide the introduction of these narrowed topic areas.
It permits parties to waive these restrictions upon consent or if ordered by the court for good cause shown. It also allows parties to seek contention interrogatories at the conclusion of other discovery or at least 30 days prior to the discovery cut-off date.
OCA released the proposed rule for public comment in Nov. 2013.
The Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association endorsed the rule, stating it is “a helpful incremental step in limiting the expense and burden of litigation in the Commercial Division.”
The section noted moreover that this version “represents an improvement over the Southern District rule” which states that parties can waive such restrictions if other sorts of interrogatories are “a more practical method of obtaining the information.”
This language “frequently gives rise to disputes between which discovery method is ‘more practical’,” the section wrote, ultimately requiring judicial intervention.