Scope of Discovery in a Civil Lawsuit

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Scope of Discovery in a Civil Lawsuit," in The Business Professor, updated January 6, 2015, last accessed April 2, 2020,
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Scope of Discovery in a Civil Trial
This video explains the Scope of Discovery or the type of information that is allowed to be requested in a civil trial.

Next Article: Motions


What is the “Scope of Discovery” in a civil lawsuit?

A party is permitted to seek evidence that is relevant to the dispute. Basically, the evidence requested through discovery must have a tendency to lead to evidence that may be relevant and admissible at trial. This standard is construed very broadly. If one party fails to produce requested discovery, the other party generally files a motion with the court to mandate its production. Parties are free to contest any discovery request before the court. The court will determine whether the request is valid and the extent of the required disclosure. Failure to produce discovery can lead to sanctions from the court. In severe cases, it can lead to the court deeming certain allegations to be true and not subject to dispute.

  • Note: A very hot topic in the field of discovery is E-discovery or electronic discovery. E-discovery concerns files stored electronically on computers, servers, hard drives, or in the cloud. Today, records are very easily destroyed and hidden. Individuals who are adept at scouring computer files to identify relevant information are very valuable.

Discussion: Do you think the power of the court to order discovery in a civil suit is too limited or too broad? What are the justifications for allowing each party such broad discovery power? Are you convinced by these reasons?

Discussion Input

  • Some might argue that the power of the court to order discovery in a civil suit is too broad. It is up to the court to mandate production if a party fails to produce the evidence requested by the other party. As such, they have a great deal of leeway in ordering production. This power includes holding the non-producing part in contempt. Others might argue that the power is not broad enough. Remember, the objective of the court is to ensure that relevant information that is necessary in the suit is availed to the other party of the court for the purpose of adjudicating the case. Achieving this end should not be limited.

Practice Question: Amy is suing Michael’s business for breach of contract. Amy requests all sorts of records of Michael’s business activities. She also includes a request for production of his personal bank account statements. Will Michael have to surrender his personal bank account records to Amy?

Proposed Answer

  • Whether Micheal will be forced to produce the records depends upon the relevance of the personal bank statement to the lawsuit. If the personal bank statements do not have a connection with the case (relevant or likely to lead to relevant information) then Michael will need not to produce it.

Academic Research on Scope of Discovery

O’Hara, Michael J. and Mitenko, Graham, Scope of Discovery of an Expert’s Work Product. Journal of Legal Economics, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 37-54. Available at SSRN:

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