Following the filing of a complaint, litigants spend a considerable amount of time engaged in discovery, the stage of litigation during which the parties exchange information that will likely be relevant for the development and adjudication of the case. Although both state and federal discovery rules are quite broad, disputes during the discovery process are far from uncommon. Indeed, even when the information may be relevant, litigants will often cite various forms of privilege in an effort to preclude the exchange of information. When the parties reach an impasse, the trial court is often asked to resolve the dispute, and in a recent decision, City of Port St. Lucie v. Follano, the Fourth District Court of Appeal examined the responsibilities a trial court has in resolving a discovery dispute.
Follano began when the soon-to-be plaintiff stepped into an uncovered sewer access pipe. The plaintiff was caught up to her knee and had to be extracted by the fire department. On the day of the accident, photographs were taken by a representative for the City of Port St. Lucie, the defendant in this case. The city’s photographs show the uncovered sewer pipe, but the city argued that much of the area had been altered by the firefighters who were working in the area. The plaintiff did take photos of the site of the accident on the following day. However, the sewer had been covered by that time. During discovery, the plaintiff moved for an order compelling the city to produce the photographs, arguing that these photos were the only available evidence of the pipe’s appearance at the time of the accident. The city opposed the motion, contending that the photos fell within the work product doctrine. Without examining the photos and relying on the representations of the plaintiff’s counsel, the trial court granted the motion compelling production. The city appealed the court’s decision.