Will the new proportionality rule in federal discovery help plaintiffs or defendants? O’Connor v. Uber may be the first test.

Author: Michael S. Dorsi

Effective December 1, 2015, new amendments to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 took effect. Notably, Rule 26(b)(1) now requires that discovery be “proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, . . . and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.”

Initial published responses viewed this rule as pro-defendant.[1] Some suggested that this was a rule designed to address large company versus company disputes not appropriate for other types of cases.[2] Plaintiff-side employment lawyers were particularly concerned because their cases often require defendants to disclose far more in discovery than their clients disclose.

However, it seems that the first high profile test of this new rule came out in favor of employment class action plaintiffs—at least at the magistrate judge level. In O’Connor v. Uber Technologies, Inc. (N.D. Cal. Case No.  13-cv-03826-EMC (DMR)), Uber propounded an interrogatory and five requests for production of documents concerning all communications with over 1,700 of the putative class members.[3]

Invoking the new proportionality requirement in Rule 26(b), Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu held that “ Uber’s wildly overbroad discovery requests fail Rule 26(b)’s proportionality requirements.”[4] Judge Ryu continued, “While Uber may be entitled to conduct discovery that is probative of the Borello factors, it may do so through appropriately targeted means, rather than calling for information about every class member contact with class counsel. Again, Uber fails to meet Rule 26(b)’s proportionality test.”[5]

Concerned employee-side plaintiffs lawyers should of course remain vigilant, but there is a lesson from O’Connor v. Uber concerning discovery. Deep-pocketed defendants will often try to outspend a plaintiff. The new proportionality requirement in Rule 26 can help individuals and less deep-pocketed litigants fight back.

 

 

[1] See, e.g., Henry J. Kelston, FRCP Discovery Amendments Prove Highly Controversial, Law360.com, available at www.law360.com/articles/512821/frcp-discovery-amendments-prove-highly-controversial (discussing comments by Prof’s Paul Carrington and Arthur Miller)

[2] See, e.g., id. (“To the extent that excessive discovery costs are a problem, the problem exists in a very small percentage of high-stakes and, often, highly contentious cases.”)

[3] See O’Connor v. Uber Technologies, Inc. (N.D. Cal. Case No.  13-cv-03826-EMC (DMR)) (Dkt. No. 458.),

[4] Id. at p. 6:10–11.

[5] Id. at p. 7:8–11.

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