Documents and Papers from a Court : Motion to Compel Discovery and Sanctions

What is a Motion to Compel?
If one party refuses to produce documents, answer an interrogatory question or answer questions asked at a deposition, the party who asked for it can file a motion to compel. This motion asks the court to order the other party to produce the thing that is being requested or answer the question that is being asked.

When can I file a Motion to Compel?
One party can file a Motion to Compel after the other party has failed or refused to respond to a discovery request, allow an inspection, answer an interrogatory question or answer a question at a deposition. An answer that is evasive or incomplete is the same as a failure to answer. In most cases, the party filing the motion to compel must show the court that he or she made a good faith effort to convince the other party to answer the question or produce the item that was requested.

The party asking for the document or asking the questions can file a motion with the court, with reasonable notice to all of the parties. The motion should:

  1. Identify the nature of the case (e.g., that it is a child custody case);
  2. Identify the question that is being asked – or the object or document that is being requested – and explain how it relates to the case;
  3. Attach the other party's written refusal to supply the information or object;
  4. State that the other party refuses or fails to answer;
  5. Explain why the other party's objection (if there is one) is not valid; and
  6. Ask the court to order the refusing party to produce the thing that is being requested or to answer the question that has been asked.
  7. The motion should also ask the court for sanctions on the other party if the motion is granted.

NOTE: If you ignore the other party’s motion to compel, the court will probably grant the motion and sanction (punish) you.

How can I oppose a motion to compel?
You must serve the court and the other parties your written reasons why you refused to produce the documents requested or why you failed to answer the questions that were asked. Check with your local court rules to find out how much time you have to file your written opposition with the court. Your written opposition should:

  1. Contain an accurate description of the request or question; and
  2. State the reason you believe you are justified in refusing to produce the evidence sought.

You should have a good reason or justification for opposing the motion to compel. If you oppose the motion without justification, the court may sanction you.

What is “substantial justification” for making an objection?
Usually, if a document or item is relevant to the issues in your case, or if they will lead to admissible evidence, you cannot object to producing it. An exception to this rule is if the document or item is privileged, such as your correspondence with an attorney. You can refuse to produce a letter from an attorney about your case, and you should not have to produce it. Other examples of substantial justification for not producing something are if it would be so annoying, embarrassing, oppressing or would cause an undue burden on you, that justice will not be served by producing it.  Civil Rule 37 allows the Court to sanction a party who refuses to obey a motion to compel. These sanctions can be severe.

What is a sanction?
A court can sanction or punish a party who opposes a motion to compel without having substantial justification. Under Civil Rule 37, the court is allowed to order that party to pay the other party's attorney fees that were used to file and present the motion. On the other hand, if the court denies the motion, it can order the party who filed the motion to compel to pay the attorney fees of the party who successfully opposed it.

Once a court grants a motion to compel, the party must obey the order. If a party refuses to obey the order, the court may sanction the refusing party by

  1. ruling that certain facts in the case will be viewed in favor of the requesting party and against the refusing party;
  2. preventing the refusing party from supporting or opposing certain claims or defenses in the case;
  3. entering judgment against the refusing party; and
  4. holding the refusing party in civil contempt. Through a contempt ruling, a court can order a party in jail until that party obeys the court's order.

In short, a court's discovery rules must be respected. Parties should produce relevant documents and answer questions that the other party asks, unless they are confident that they have substantial justification for refusing to do so.

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This content was created by the Ohio State Bar Foundation's 2006 Fellows Class - Keys to the Courtroom Project.

See also the Forms & Education tab in this section for more information.

The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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