A motion to compel is a document filed in a court proceeding asking the judge to force the other party to do something. While typically filed with respect to discovery responses in civil litigation, they may also be filed for other reasons such as to compel compliance with a prior court order. The procedures for a motion to compel vary from state to state and may even vary from county to county.
Motion Practice in the Court System
During a court case, the parties will frequently need to ask the court for something. To do so, they need to file motions.
Motions are documents filed with the court that ask the judge to sign an order giving that party something or requiring the other party to do something. A motion to compel is a type of motion that a party will file if the other party is supposed to do something but has failed or refused to do it. The motion asks the court to compel the other side to act.
Motions to Compel Discovery Responses
Motions to compel are most common during the discovery phase of a lawsuit. Discovery is the process by which the parties request information from each other to build their cases. They demand the production of documents and send out written questions, called interrogatories, for the other party to answer and verify. They take depositions, whereby the parties are questioned orally under oath before a court reporter.
Discovery rules require the parties to comply with discovery requests, subject to objections, within a certain time period. Parties must answer interrogatories, produce documents and attend depositions. At depositions, they must answer questions. While these are all subject to privilege, relevance and confidentiality objections, failure to comply with discovery requests at all could result in a motion to compel.
Read More: Types of Legal Motions
Procedures for a Motion to Compel
Every state has its own rules of civil procedure that govern motion practice and discovery. Some states, like Pennsylvania, have their own local rules for every county in addition to the state rules. The procedures for a motion to compel will depend upon these rules of civil procedure.
Generally, however, the moving party must file a written motion with the court and mail it to the other side. The other side will have a certain amount of time to file a written response, as set forth in the rules. Once that time has expired, the court may schedule oral argument, whereby the parties appear in court to explain their positions to the judge, or the judge may decide the motion on the papers.
Some jurisdictions have special procedures for discovery disputes. The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has a special discovery court that allows a party to file a motion to compel and request a hearing in as little as 10 days. The other side may appear at the hearing without having filed a written response.
Complying with Requests While the Motion Is Pending
Most jurisdictions will allow the non-moving party to circumvent the motion to compel by providing the other side with whatever it seeks. If the motion to compel was filed because the other side did not answer interrogatories, for example, the motion may be withdrawn if the interrogatory answers are provided before the hearing date. Court rules vary on whether the withdrawal is required or simply recommended, and the other side may still recover fees and costs for having filed the motion.
If a motion to compel is filed, the party that filed it must serve a copy on the other party, who will have a certain amount of time to file a response. The court may or may not set the motion for oral argument. If the motion is granted, the judge will sign an order requiring the non-moving party to do the thing the moving party requested.
Rebecca K. McDowell is a creditors' rights attorney with a special focus on bankruptcy and insolvency. She has a B.A. in English from Albion College and a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School. She has written legal articles for Nolo and the Bankruptcy Site.