This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.
Pilot Project Hopes to Tame Complex Civil Cases
Last month, the District Court for the
Southern District of New York began
an initiative that judges, lawyers and
litigants hope will reduce both the cost of
and the time spent on complex civil cases.
Over the next 18 months, the court will
conduct a pilot program following a set
of rules and procedures affecting nearly
every aspect of the management of cases
designated as complex.
"In a complex civil case," Judge Shira A.
Scheindlin explains, "the more 'hands on'
management there is, the more engaged
a judge is in making prompt rulings and
resolving discovery issues, the lower
the costs and the less time the case will
consume from inception to resolution."
Scheindlin was instrumental in developing
the pilot. The impetus for the pilot
came when she was a panelist at the
2010 Civil Litigation Conference at the
Duke University School of Law, where
current litigation practice and proposals
for improving civil litigation in the federal
courts were discussed. Afterward, with
Judge John G. Koeltl (S.D. NY), who helped
plan the Conference, she began to flesh
out how the district court might develop
its own procedures.
"There has been this cry from the Bar
for more aggressive management of civil
cases," she said. "With the momentum
from the Conference, Judge Koeltl and
I wanted to see what could be done to
improve case management in our own
court." Scheindlin also chairs the district's
Judicial Improvements Committee ( JIC),
and with a go-ahead from Chief Judge
Loretta Preska, she formed an advisory
committee of 31 experienced attorneys,
who also would participate, with JIC
judges, on four subcommittees.
"My goal was to pick those attorneys
with broad constituencies. Attorneys who
not only were enthusiastic, but were drawn
from small and large firms, who were
defendants' lawyers and plaintiffs' attorneys,
corporate counsel, and attorneys from
the public sector," said Scheindlin.
Beginning in January 2011, and
over the next several months, the
subcommittees on Initial Pretrial Case
Management, Discovery, Motions,
and Final Pretrial Conference met
to consider and recommend best
practices for the management of
complex civil cases. Their reports were
submitted to the JIC, which in turn
presented the proposals to the district's
Board of Judges. By September 28,
2011, the proposals, with some
suggestions for implementing the final
version, were accepted and the pilot
plan adopted by the court.
The pilot plan's rules and procedures
took effect on November 1, 2011. In
some instances, the plan addresses
something as simple as page limits for briefs,
letters, and discovery requests.
"It's not uncommon to have massive
discovery requests, for privilege logs to
go on and on, for statements of material
fact to be hundreds of pages long," said
attorney Gregory Joseph, co-chair of the
Discovery Subcommittee. "The recommendations
we made are practical
suggestions: requests for pre-motion
conferences of no more than three singlespaced
pages, statements of material fact
no longer than 20 pages per party. What
we're asking parties to do is cut down on
needless cost and focus on the essentials."
Procedures also encourage promptness:
Initial pretrial conferences within 45
days of service on any defendant of the
complaint (slightly longer if the federal
government is a defendant); decisions
on discovery disputes within 14 days;
agreement on schedules for parties to
exchange deposition designations.
An initial pretrial conference checklist,
a "fill-in-the blanks" order to manage the
electronic discovery process in a case, and
an order to refer actions to a designated
magistrate judge when the district judge in
the case is unavailable, are included with
the pilot rules and procedures and also
are designed to move a case along.
A standing order designates a case as
complex based on nature of suit codes.
Attorneys receive a copy of the pilot plan
when the order is issued. The plan also is
posted on the district's website.
In September, Joseph spoke about the
pilot plan at a meeting of the local bar,
giving attorneys a preview of what was to
come. "The Bar was quite pleased," Joseph
relates. "Most didn't want to limit the pilot
to just complex civil cases; they wanted a
more widespread application."
In fact, some judges on the court have
indicated they will adopt a number of the
plan's recommendations for use outside
of the pilot.
"Every judge has a copy of our report
with its recommended case management
techniques," said Scheindlin. "It is best
practices. But most of all, it is aspirational.
Our judges and the Bar hope we all try for
the goals we've set. If everyone does, case
management will be better."