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Michigan Supreme Court Approves Significant Changes to Michigan Court Rules Effective January 1, 2020

June 27, 2019

The Michigan Supreme Court has adopted significant changes to several Michigan Court Rules, at the recommendation of the State Bar of Michigan Civil Discovery Rule Review Special Committee. These changes will take effect January 1, 2020. For the most part, the new discovery rules more closely track the federal discovery rules. In some instances, however, the changes impose even greater obligations on parties than the federal rules. The new rules, adopted on June 19, 2019, are available to view here.

Some of the more prominent changes are discussed below:

Scope of Discovery
MCR 2.302(B) has been amended to adopt a "proportionality" standard similar to the one set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). The scope of discovery will now be limited to "any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claims or defenses and proportional to the needs of the case, taking into account all pertinent factors, including whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, the complexity of the case, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, and the parties' resources and access to relevant information." The amended rule no longer permits discovery of matters "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."

Initial Disclosures
Michigan Court Rules 2.301 and MCR 2.302(A) have been amended to require parties to serve initial disclosures, similar to the initial disclosures required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a). Under MCR 2.302(A)(1), all parties must, without awaiting a discovery request, disclose:

These disclosures must be based on the information readily available to a party, and "a party is not excused from making disclosures because the party has not fully investigated the case or because the party challenges the sufficiency of another party's disclosures or because another party has not made its disclosures." Parties must also supplement their disclosures in a timely manner

These new initial disclosure requirements impose even greater obligations than those set forth in the federal rules, since parties in state court will now be required to identify the factual basis of a claim or a defense, legal theories (including case law), and anticipated expert testimony, at the onset of the case.

Additional Disclosures for First Party No-Fault Cases
In addition to the initial disclosures required by MCR 2.302(A)(1), MCR 2.302(A)(2) requires parties to make additional disclosures in cases involving first-party claims for benefits under the Michigan No-Fault Act, MCL 500.3101, et seq.

MCR 2.302(A)(2) now requires a first-party no-fault plaintiff to disclose:

No-fault defendants must disclose: (i) a copy of the first-party claim file and a privilege log for redactions; and (ii) the payments the insurance company has made on the claim.

Additional Disclosures for Personal Injury Cases
Similarly, MCR 2.302(A)(3) requires a personal injury plaintiff to provide the other parties with executed medical record authorizations for all persons, institutions, hospitals, and other custodians in actual possession of medical information relating to the plaintiff's alleged condition. 

Attorney-Client/Attorney Work Product Protection for Attorney-Expert Communications
MCR 2.302(B)(4) has been amended to bring the court rules more in line with the federal rules and to clarify that any communications between an attorney and an expert, including draft interrogatory answers, are privileged, except if they: (i) relate to compensation for the expert's study or testimony; (ii) identify facts or data that the party's attorney provided and that the expert considered in forming the opinions to be expressed; or (iii) identify the assumptions that the party's attorney provided and that the expert relied on in forming the opinions to be expressed.

Discovery Plan and Early Scheduling Conference
MCR 2.401(B) has been amended to allow the court to consider various matters at an early scheduling conference that might aid in the disposition of the action. With approval of the court, the parties can agree to make changes to the timing, form, or requirements of discovery in a scheduling order.

MCR 2.401(C) has been amended to require the parties, upon court order or written request by another party, to prepare a proposed discovery plan, similar to the requirements of a Rule 26(f) conference and discovery plan. If a party or attorney fails to participate in good faith in developing a discovery plan, the court may order sanctions.

Final Pretrial Conference
MCR 2.401(H) has been amended to expressly state that a court may hold a final pretrial conference to facilitation preparation for trial, which can also be conducted as a settlement conference. The court rule now expressly states the court can require the parties to prepare a joint final pretrial order that addresses scheduling motions in limine, a statement of claims and defenses, undisputed facts, issues of fact and law to be litigated, evidentiary issues likely to arise at trial, a list of witnesses and exhibits, itemized statements of damages and items not in dispute, estimated length of trial, trial dates, alternative dispute resolution, possibility of settlement, rules governing trial, jury instructions, trial briefs, voir dire, and anything else the court deems appropriate.

ESI Conference
MCR 2.401(J) has been amended to state that in cases reasonably likely to include the discovery of ESI, the court can order, on motion by a party, agreement of the parties, or on the court's own accord, the parties to participate in an ESI conference. The parties are required 14 days prior to an ESI conference to submit an ESI Discovery Plan addressing the issues on which the parties cannot agree, which may include: (a) a statement of issues in the case and a factual outline; (b) a schedule of discovery including discovery of ESI; (c) a defined scope of preservation of information and appropriate conditions for terminating the duty to preserve; (d) the forms in which ESI will be produced; and (e) the sources of any ESI that are not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. The court may enter an order governing the discovery of ESI pursuant to the parties' ESI discovery plan, upon motion of a party, stipulation, or on its own. The attorneys that participate in the ESI Conference must be "sufficiently versed in matters relating to their clients' technological systems to competently address ESI issues."

Mandatory Mediation of Discovery Disputes
MCR 2.411(H) has been amended to now permit the parties to stipulate or the court to order the mediation of discovery disputes. An order referring a discovery dispute to mediation must specify the scope of the issues or motions referred. A court can require that discovery disputes be first submitted to the mediator before filing a motion unless there is a need for expedited motion by the court. Additionally, in cases involving complex issues of ESI, the court may appoint an expert under MRE 706 or appoint them as an ESI mediator.

Limitations on Depositions and Interrogatories
MCR 2.306 has been amended to limit a deposition of a party to not exceed one day of seven hours. MCR 2.306(B) corporate representative depositions must be served at least 14 days prior to the scheduled deposition. Under the new rule, the party being deposed may now serve objections or file a motion for protective order as to the topics identified in the deposition notice.

MCR 2.309 has been amended to set a presumptive limit of 20 interrogatories to each separately represented party. MCR 2.309 also clarifies that a discrete subpart of an interrogatory counts as a separate interrogatory.

No Early Discovery Permitted and Clarification of Completion of Discovery
MCR 2.301(A) has been amended to prohibit parties from serving discovery immediately at the onset of a case. Now, a party may only seek discovery after serving initial disclosures, unless modified by stipulation or court order.

MCR 2.301(B) has been modified to clarify that unless ordered otherwise, a date of completion of discovery means the serving party must initiate the discovery by a time that provides for a response or appearance before the completion date.

If you have questions about how these rule changes could affect you, please contact your Miller Canfield attorney or the authors of this alert.