Subpoenas in New Jersey (part 1)

New Jersey Law and Subpoenas
Defendants’ subpoena directed at non-parties should be quashed in their entirety, as the documents sought contain nothing but confidential personal information and are not relevant to this litigation. New Jersey Courts have consistently recognized that although the scope of discovery is broad, it is not infinite. K.S. v. ABC Corp., 330 N.J. Super. 288, 291 (App. Div. 2000). Accordingly, a court may exercise its power to restrict depositions, especially those of third parties who are not involved in a litigation. In pertinent part, R. 4:10-3 of the New Jersey Rules of Civil Procedure provides that this Court may quash, or decline to enforce a subpoena.and/or issue a protective Order, if the subpoena requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matters, subjects a person to undue burden or requires disclosure of a trade secret or other confidential information.

Similarly, R. 1:9-2 states that in regard to a subpoena for the production of documents, “the court on motion … may quash or modify the subpoena … if compliance would be unreasonable or oppressive.” As discussed in detail below, this Court should quash plaintiffs’ subpoenas because they: (1) seek documents and information that are not relevant to the plaintiffs’ claims or defenses in this matter; (2) are unduly burdensome and oppressive; and (3) seek documents and information that are confidential and privileged.
The defendants are simply trying to delve into the private life of the plaintiff. They are looking to delve into the plaintiff’s personal and confidential employment records with her current employer. With respect to R. 1:9-2, the defendants must make a substantial showing that the documents requested contain evidence relevant and material to the issue. See State v. Cooper, 2 N.J. 540, 556 (1949). The defendants have failed to show that any of the materials requested in the subpoenas they served are relevant and material to the issue as to whether plaintiff was harassed or was cheated on her wages.

B. Defendants’ Subpoenas Should Be Quashed Because They Are Unreasonable, Oppressive and Are Not Narrowly Tailored.

In civil cases, a court, pursuant to R. 1:9-2, may quash or modify a subpoena duces tecum if it is unreasonable or oppressive, “or condition denial of the motion upon the advancement by the person on whose behalf the subpoena is issued of the reasonable cost of producing the objects subpoenaed.” The proposition set forth in R. 1:9-2 reflects a commitment on the part of New Jersey courts to protect non-parties from annoyance, burden or oppression in responding to subpoenaed requests to produce documents or testimony. Under those standards, defendants’ subpoenas served on Superior Chevrolet are both unreasonable and oppressive.

In assessing whether to uphold a non-party subpoena, a court must decide whether the relevance and need for the testimony and documents is sufficient to outweigh the burden on, and intrusion to, a non-party. State v. Cooper, 2 N.J. at 556. In making that determination, courts can and should apply a high degree of scrutiny to subpoenas issued to non-parties. See e.g. Anker v. G.D. Searle & Co., 126 F.R.D. 515, 521 (M.D.N.C. 1989). If the specification is as broad and indefinite as to be oppressive and in excess of the party’s necessities, the subpoena is not sustainable. See In re: Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum, 143 N.J. Super. 526, 537 (Law Div. 1976) (there must be “particularity of breadth so that a person complying with a subpoena in good faith is not harassed or oppressed to the point he experiences an unreasonable business detriment”). Furthermore, if the documents sought in the subpoena “are not relevant nor calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, then any burden whatsoever imposed upon [a non-party] would be by definition “undue”. Compaq Computer Corp. v. Packer Bell Electronics, Inc., 163 F.R.D. 329, 335-36 (N.D. Cal. 1995).