Tennessee Changes Rule about Objections to Discovery Requests, and War is Declared on “General Objections”

On January 8, 2019, the Tennessee Supreme Court amended Rule 34, which governs requests for production of documents.

Effective July 1, 2019, Rule 34.02 will require responses to such requests to

state, with respect to each item or category, that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested, unless the request is objected to, including an objection to the requested form or forms for producing electronically stored information, stating with specificity the grounds and reasons for objecting to the request. If objection is made to part of an item or category, the part shall be specified. An objection must state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection.

The new language that will go into effect on July 1 is in bold italics.

Tennessee discovery objectionsThe Advisory Commission Comment explains:

The amendment is intended to make clear that vague, generalized, or “boilerplate” objections are improper. Instead, objections should be specific as to the grounds for the objection, describing the reason(s) in a manner that will reasonably inform the adverse party as to what aspect of the request of the objection pertains, thereby facilitating the resolution of discovery disputes without the need for judicial intervention.

July 1 is just around the corner, so there’s no reason to delay compliance with the new rule.

While we’re on discovery objections, how many of you have received discovery responses that state “general objections” that apply to every request? For example,

  • Plaintiff objects to all of the discovery requests to the extent they seek information protected by the attorney-client privilege, the work-product doctrine, and other privileges and exemptions from disclosure, including but not limited to, the qualified privileges.
  • Plaintiff objects to all of the discovery requests insofar as they call for information which is neither relevant nor reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
  • Plaintiff objects to all of the discovery requests to the extent they are interposed for an improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.

You get the idea. They are inevitably followed by some version of this statement:

These General Objections apply to all of the discovery requests whether made or not made through a specific objection below.

This practice violates the Rules and is far more common than it should be. I have been on a mission to stamp out this practice over the past few years, but my efforts alone won’t get the job done.

Tennessee discovery objectionsI can’t win this battle on my own. I need an army.

I am declaring war on this practice, and I ask you to join me. Wherever “general objections” rear their ugly head, we must beat them back. I want this to be my legacy.

The next time you receive discovery responses that claim to be subject to a list of “general objections,” you should immediately move to compel. Use the information below as a template for your motion.

HUSBAND’S MOTION TO COMPEL DISCOVERY

1. In this divorce action, Husband submitted his counsel’s standard divorce discovery requests to Wife.

2. In November 2018, Wife responded to Husband’s discovery requests with a list of “general objections” that were asserted in response to each request. The “general objections” include:

  • attorney-client privilege;
  • attorney work product;
  • irrelevant; and
  • information is not in Wife’s possession.

Wife provided sworn responses to each request subject to her general objections stated above. The relevant portion of Wife’s responses is attached as Exhibit A.

3. Rule 33.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure requires that “[e]ach interrogatory shall be answered separately and fully in writing under oath, unless it is objected to, in which event the reasons for objection shall be stated in lieu of an answer.” (Emphasis added.)

4. Likewise, Rule 34.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure requires that documents or other tangible things be produced as requested “unless the request is objected to, . . . stating the reasons for objection. If objection is made to part of an item or category, the part shall be specified.” (Emphasis added.)

5. Rule 26.02(5) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure requires that, when a party withholds information by claiming that it is privileged,

[t]he party shall make the claim expressly and shall describe the nature of the documents, communications, or things not produced or disclosed in a manner that, without revealing information itself privileged or protected, will enable other parties to assess the applicability of the privilege protection.

6. The Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure require Wife to provide complete answers to each discovery request or, if she objects, to specify the reasons for her objection. Wife’s assertion of “general objections” in response to each discovery request violates the Rules.

7. As long as Wife’s responses are subject to the list of “general objections,” they are evasive and incomplete. Under Rule 37.01(3), Wife’s responses are to be treated as a failure to answer.

8. Per Rule 37, Wife should be compelled to state specific reasons for her objections to each request or submit responses not subject to a long list of boilerplate “general objections.”

GO GET ‘EM!

Source: In re Amendments to the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure (Tennessee Supreme Court, January 8, 2019).

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

2 thoughts on “Tennessee Changes Rule about Objections to Discovery Requests, and War is Declared on “General Objections”

  1. That’s a good motion. I always list general objections, followed by specific objections, where applicable. 🙂

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