US Court for the Northern District of Illinois – Dirksen Federal Building, Chicago IL

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois became one of two districts to join a pilot program regarding initial discovery called the Mandatory Initial Discovery Pilot Program.  The pilot program is intended to study “whether requiring parties in civil cases to respond to a series of standard discovery requests before undertaking other discovery will reduce the cost and delay of civil litigation.”  See Mandatory Initial Discovery Pilot Project:  Overview, Federal Judicial Center, https://www.fjc.gov/content/322853/midpp-standing-order-illinois-northern, last visited July 26, 2017.

The Pilot Program requires parties to an estimated 90% of cases filed in the Northern District to engage in mandatory discovery, including discovery of electronically stored information or ESI, shortly after an answer is filed in a case.  This is not simply the initial disclosures that are currently required under the Rule 26(a)(1), which frequently are a non-event.  Rather, this is substantive discovery about the litigation that must include all information that the producing party believes may be relevant to any party’s claims or defenses.  One way this broader requirement has been explained is that the Pilot Program requires a party to produce not just what is helpful to its side of the case, but to stand in the shoes of its opponent and produce anything and everything that might be helpful to the opposition.  Moreover, the Pilot Program requires that this information be produced to the other side within 70 days of the filing of an answer or other responsive pleading.  Importantly, because this includes both claims and defenses, the Pilot Program also requires that an answer be filed in all cases even those where a motion to dismiss is filed.

In combination these changes mean that parties will be at issue and engaged in discovery that should provide substantive information about the case to both sides much more quickly than has become the practice.  Indeed, given the 21-day deadline for responding to a complaint and the 70 days contemplated for identification and production of discovery required under the Pilot Program, this means that within approximately 90 days of service, parties in the Northern District will be expected to have answered the complaint and provided to each other all information that they believe could be relevant to any claims or defenses.  Similar procedures have been used in the Arizona state courts for years and the conventional wisdom is that attorneys and parties appreciate the way it quickly gets them to the heart of the disputes.  It will be interesting to see how these changes work in the Northern District, which is among the larger district courts in the country, and one where parties and attorneys have become accustomed to a more extended beginning to cases.

Additional information about the Pilot Program can be found on the Court’s website at http://www.ilnd.uscourts.gov/Pages.aspx?jYyawIFLXKMJrmXzxFk8lw