Fourth DCA Overrules Work Product Objections To Contention Interrogatories
Can the work product doctrine shield discovery of the factual basis for a party’s pleadings? Until the Fourth DCA’s decision in Grinnell Corporation v. The Palms 2100 Ocean Boulevard, Ltd., 924 So.2d 887 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006), trial court decisions were hampered by conflicting case law interpreting the reach of the work product doctrine. Grinnell held that a litigant may be required in an interrogatory to specify the facts supporting a claim or defense. For example, where an interrogatory asks for “all facts supporting” a denial or affirmative defense, a litigant may not refuse to answer on the grounds that the interrogatory seeks disclosure of the attorney’s mental processes and is protected work product beyond the scope of permissible discovery.
The Grinnell decision is important, especially because it overruled, en banc, an important aspect of prior Fourth DCA precedent in Gabriel v. Northern Trust Bank of Florida, 890 So.2d 517 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005). Gabriel had allowed a work product objection where a discovery request asked for documents that “relate or otherwise support” the “essential” allegations of the complaint, unless the attorney expected or intended to use the documents at trial. Grinnell overruled this point of law, commenting that such a broad construction of the work product doctrine “interferes with the essential function of the discovery process of narrowing issues for trial.”
Grinnell explained that the “work product doctrine” is designed to guard against divulging an attorney’s strategies and legal impressions, but it does not protect facts concerning the creation of work product or facts contained within work product. Thus, a party may properly inquire into the identity and location of persons having knowledge of relevant facts. In addition, facts gathered from documents by a party’s representative are not protected as “fact work product.” Expanding that line of analysis, Grinnell clarified that the facts underlying a party’s litigation contentions are not shielded from discovery by the work product doctrine.
In sum, Grinnell makes the discovery process more simple by eliminating a recurrent source of litigation over whether the work product doctrine can shield discovery of the factual basis for a party’s pleadings.
Attorney Peter Mavrick practices in the field of business and labor/employment litigation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His law office phone number is (954) 564-2246. Information contained in this article is accurate as of September 2008. This article is for general information use only, and does not substitute for specifically tailored legal advice.