Last Update: 9/14/05 (Transmittal I-1-56)
Discovery in a civil action is the disclosure by a party of information or documents in his or her exclusive knowledge or possession that are relevant to the other parties' case. Discovery assists the parties to learn more about the facts in order to facilitate a prompt, informed resolution of the issues in the case. Discovery proceedings are generally governed in the Federal courts in accordance with Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). Discovery often occurs in class action lawsuits filed under section 205(g) of the Social Security Act. The most common methods of discovery are written interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and depositions upon oral examination.
Rule 26(b) of the FRCP permits discovery of any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action and which appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. If a party determines that information is privileged and withholds the information, or if the party's response is inadequate or incomplete, the opposing party may file a motion requesting the court to compel production of the information. Typically, SSA may assert one or more privileges in discovery. The attorney-client privilege may be asserted to protect confidential communications between OGC and SSA. The attorney work-product privilege may protect material prepared in anticipation of litigation, unless the opposing party makes a sufficient showing of need for it. In appropriate circumstances, a party from whom discovery is sought may ask the court to issue a protective order limiting discovery (or ordering that discovery not take place). The court can issue a protective order for good cause shown by the party who makes the motion. However, failure to comply with discovery requests and orders to compel discovery can result in court sanctions.
When the Department of Justice (DOJ) receives a discovery request in a class action, it sends the request to OGC, which determines which component within SSA has the expertise to respond, i.e., OHA, another component within the Office of Disability and Income Security Programs, etc. OGC then forwards a copy of the discovery request to the appropriate component. In some cases, OGC may deal directly with OHA if it determines that it is the component likely to have the expertise to respond. OPPE will coordinate OHA's response on any discovery requests involving class action lawsuits.