Maryland Federal Magistrate Orders Lawyers to Cooperate

October 22, 2008

Maryland’s top federal magistrate is warning attorneys to be more cooperative in sharing information in the early stages of litigation.

U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Paul Grimm has warned attorneys on two sides of a Harford County laundry workers’ overtime case that they need to do a better job of sharing information with each other during discovery, when two sides in a legal case make inquiries of the other side.

Grimm told attorneys for both sides to estimate best- and worst-case scenarios of what they believe the case is worth and share the information with each other. After that, they are to determine how much pretrial discovery is reasonable and how to accomplish it in a cost-effective manner.

Grimm indicated there could be sanctions if the two sides don’t cooperate better.

Grimm pointed out in a legal opinion that a 25-year-old federal rule of civil procedure requires discovery requests and responses to be made “after a reasonable inquiry.”

“The apparent ineffectiveness of Rule 26(g) in changing the way discovery is in fact practiced often is excused by arguing that the cooperation that judges expect during discovery is unrealistic because it is at odds with the demands of the adversary system, within which the discovery process operates,” Grimm wrote on Oct. 15. “But this is just not so.”

Grimm has expressed concerns that document requests from the plaintiffs, who are mostly Latino laborers at a Belcamp industrial laundry facility, were too broad and the defendants’ responses not specific enough.

Grimm eventually ordered Mayflower Textile Services Co. and its related entities to turn over requested documents related to the workers’ hours and wages. He also found that Argo Enterprises Inc., the labor provider at the facility since the end of last year, had waived its right to contest the matters raised in interrogatories.

He did not order either side to pay the other’s attorneys’ fees as sanction.

“Judge Grimm took this opportunity to put the federal bar in Maryland on notice that he’s paying attention and he doesn’t appreciate this nonsense, and the next people who come in front of him will be dealt with a little more harshly,” said Andrew T. Nichols, who represents Argo.

C. Christopher Brown, an attorney for the plaintiffs, agreed Grimm’s “scholarly article” is a “primer” for his peers. “There’s nothing new,” he said, “but many lawyers violate the principles he sets forth.”

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