Amended in December alongside many other rules in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 34(b)(2)(B) now requires that objections to document requests be stated with “specificity.” The early applications of the amended rule demonstrate that boilerplate objections will not stand, but courts have yet to answer more nuanced questions regarding the level of specificity the amended rule requires.
Amended Rule 34(b)(2)(B) reads in pertinent part: “For each item or category, the response must either state that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested or state with specificity the grounds for objecting to the request, including the reasons.” (By contrast, the old rule required only that a party “state an objection to the request.”)
Although courts disapproved of boilerplate objections before the amendment, parties persisted in using them. The codification of the specificity requirement was intended to eliminate any doubt about the acceptability of their use, and recent decisions have emphasized that the amendment was the final word on the subject. For example, the Eastern District of California last month rejected objections to “overbroad, unduly burdensome and oppressive” requests that sought “information protected by third party non-litigants right to privacy.” The court explained that “[t]he recent amendments to Rule 34 make […] particularly clear” that “[g]eneral or boilerplate objections such as ‘overly burdensome and harassing’ are improper — especially when a party fails to submit any evidentiary declarations supporting such objections.” Moser v. Holland; see also Spencer v. City of Orlando; Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Ass’n v. Cal. Dep’t of Educ.. Another court wielded the new rule to scold an objecting party for using boilerplate – even where the court actually agreed with the objection: “[M]any of the Requests for Production are improper on their face as omnibus requests […] On the other hand, Plaintiffs’ boilerplate objections are no better.” Kissing Camels Surgery Ctr., LLC v. Centura Health Corp.
While boilerplate objections do not present a difficult question under the amended rule, courts have yet to evaluate the harder questions presented by the specificity requirement. To take one example: in order to sustain an “unduly burdensome” objection, what level of detail must an objecting party provide with respect to the steps that it would need to take, or the amount of money that it would need to spend, to comply with the request? It is clear that some detail is needed, but the level of detail that courts will require remains to be seen. Answers to this and other questions should develop as parties and the courts begin to explore the contours of the new rule. Stay tuned.