3 Subpoena Snafus That Can Derail Your Case
When issuing subpoenas, accuracy is paramount: Errors can result in discovery delays, increased motion gamesmanship and worse.
A 2015 ruling in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Texas underlines the importance of dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s as you assemble subpoenas. By serving a subpoena commanding document production and depositions in Dallas, not Houston, one litigant found its request quashed.
In the case of In re HCAPS Conroe Affiliation Inc. v. Angelica Textile Servs. Inc., a party served a subpoena to an entity that was not a party to the case commanding them to produce documents and to appear at a deposition at the party’s attorney’s office in Dallas, Texas.
However, the subpoenaed party’s main place of business was in Nashville, Tennessee and did not regularly transact business within 100 miles of the attorney’s office. Its Texas office was, in fact, more than 200 miles away in Houston.
A federal magistrate judge quashed the subpoena because it did not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45(c), which states that a subpoena may command production of documents “at a place within 100 miles of where the person … regularly transacts business,” and may only compel a person’s deposition appearance if “within 100 miles of where the person . . . regularly transacts business in person.”
Had the subpoena allowed the non-party to produce documents in lieu of appearing under FRCP 45(d)(2)(A), the magistrate judge said he would have not quashed the request for document production. But because the subpoena required the non-party to appear at the attorney’s location in Dallas, it violated the geographic limits of the rule.
The case highlights three key principles for attorneys and paralegals that routinely handle subpoenas to take to heart.
1. Not Checking Your Work
The above case — and its ramifications for the litigant seeking documents and deposition testimony — hits home the significance of checking one’s work.
Time is a limited resource for attorneys and their paralegals. For attorneys and paralegals juggling heavy caseloads, demanding clients and a never-ending checklist of tasks, it can be tempting to cut corners, but taking a moment to double-check one’s work for accuracy is crucial for avoiding a raft of bad outcomes, from discovery delays and attorneys’ fees associated with defending a motion to quash to, worse, legal malpractice claims.
2. Overlooking Court Rules
Once one has double-checked their work, it’s also important to ensure the subpoena complies with the applicable court rules of the jurisdiction in which litigation is taking place. Whether you are litigating in federal or state court, there is simply no substitute for knowing the rules.
In the Texas case, a close review of their work plus knowledge of Rule 45 — and its geographical limitations, in particular — could have saved the subpoena-preparer in the above case and the litigant a lot of grief.
If you’re less familiar with a jurisdiction, review the rules closely to make sure your subpoena is in full compliance.
3. Gambling on Outside Vendors
If you outsource subpoenas to a vendor outside of your law firm, don’t forget to conduct thorough due diligence.
There are some questions worth asking of your vendors, including:
- Who will be preparing subpoenas?
- What is their experience doing so?
- Are they well-versed in the law and the applicable rules?
- Are they properly licensed to perform this service in your jurisdiction?
Whether you prepare subpoenas in-house or an outside vendor processes them, the Texas case serves as an important reminder of the value of accuracy in subpoena preparation.
Committing to double-checking your work, knowing the rules, and ensuring your vendors are producing high-quality work can help head off unnecessary headaches and expenses down the road.