Federal Judge Finds that Rule 30(b)(6) Depositions Go Beyond Listed Subjects

Jan 28, 2011   

A recent ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa casts doubt on the position that a deposition under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 30(b)(6) is limited to the matters described in its notice. While the Rule requires a party to identify the matters for which it intends to examine a deponent, there has historically been confusion regarding whether this requirement places a strict limitation on the scope of the examination itself.

The case, American General Life Insurance Co. v. Billard, involved questions concerning a life insurance policy which required a representative of American General to be deposed on behalf of the company. To this end, the defendants counsel took a deposition of a company representative after giving notice under Rule 30(b)(6). This rule is available where a corporation or other entity is to be deposed and provides in relevant part that: “[i]n its notice or subpoena, a party may name as the deponent a public or private corporation, a partnership, an association, a governmental agency, or other entity and must describe with reasonable particularity the matters for examination.”

While the Rule does not state that the subject-matter of depositions is strictly limited to the matters for examination described in the notice or subpoena, this is a position that some, including counsel for American General, took. While the defendants notice named 16 different subjects for the testimony, a disagreement arose during the deposition when the witness was asked to testify to matters not identified in the notice. Believing that testimony was limited to the matters identified in the notice, counsel for American General repeatedly instructed the witness not to answer questions that exceeded the scope of the subjects named in the notice. Subsequently, counsel for American General suspended the deposition and moved for a protective order, asking the court to limit the scope of questioning to the matters identified in the notice. In response, defendants counsel filed a motion for discovery sanctions, arguing that opposing counsel improperly instructed the witness not to respond to matters that were properly within the scope of the discovery request. Ultimately, the judge sided with the defendants counsel and found that Rule 30(b)(6) does not limit the scope of depositions to the matters identified in the notice.

The purpose of identifying the subject-matter of depositions under Rule 30(b)(6) is primarily to allow the corporation or other entity to choose a representative who has knowledge of the subjects to be deposed during the deposition. However, because there has been some controversy regarding whether the Rule limits the scope of the examination to the matters described in the notice, the fact that counsel for American General misapplied the Rule was not what the judge ultimately took issue with. Rather, the judge found it problematic that counsel for American General continued the deposition and repeatedly instructed the witness not to answer. In a situation where there is doubt as to whether matters of examination exceed the proper scope of the deposition, the appropriate action would be to end the examination promptly and seek immediate relief from the court.

Lawyers at Fuerst Ittleman have substantial experience in complex litigation matters, including the taking and defending of Rule 30(b)(6) depositions.