Monday, June 19, 2023

Fishing Expeditions Not Allowed in Discovery

In the case of Rotella v. Community Medical Center, No. 22-CV-3943 (C.P. Lacka. Co. June 9, 2023 Nealon, J.), the court addressed the proper breadth and scope of subpoenas for a Plaintiff’s prior medical records in a medical malpractice action.

In this case, the Plaintiffs confirmed to the court that they had no objection to the Defendants seeking records regarding the injured Plaintiff’s condition at issue. It was also noted that the Defendants had already secured records on the Plaintiff dating back over twenty (20) years before the treatment which was the subject of this lawsuit.

The Plaintiff challenged additional subpoenas issued by the Defendants that sought any and all records from the time the Plaintiff’s birth for any and all conditions and illnesses.

It was the Plaintiff’s contention that the Defendants did not have good faith basis to request records of this magnitude. The Plaintiffs otherwise indicated that they did not object to any request of discovery for some reasonable prior time period, such as 3-5 years.

After reviewing the Rules of Civil Procedure and related case law on the responsibility of the trial court to oversee discovery between the parties, Judge Nealon noted that it is within the court’s broad discretion to determine the appropriate measures to ensure adequate and prompt discovery of information in a lawsuit. 

The court noted that, generally, discovery is to be liberally allowed with respect to any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the case being tried. The court also noted that the relevancy standard applicable to discovery is broader than the standard used at trial for the admission of evidence. 

However, the court also noted that discovery requests must be reasonable, which is to be judged based upon the facts and circumstances of the case. The court is granted with authority to prohibit any discovery of matters which has been stated too broadly. Judge Nealon noted that, although discovery is to be liberally allowed as a general rule, “fishing expeditions” are not authorized under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County 

In colorful language, Judge Nealon noted that, as the court has observed with increasing frequency, “[w]hile a limited degree of ‘fishing’ is to be expected with certain discovery requests, parties are not permitted ‘to fish with a net rather than a hook or a harpoon.’” [citations omitted]. Applying the above law to this case, the court ruled that the subpoena served by the Defendants, as presented, were too broad.

The court did allow the Defendants to request records and materials for the period of ten (10) years prior a relevant date up to the present.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source of top image:  Photo by Chris F on

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