In our inaugural posting, we talked about the metrics that support the association of the “Rocket Docket” monicker with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. There is an important procedural feature of the Rocket Docket that lets it continue to move civil cases with speed—one-week non-dispositive motions.

When litigating in many other courts, one challenge in moving civil cases toward resolution is the significant amount of time that can be consumed by motions to compel or to issue protective orders against discovery. Under normal filing rules, it can take the parties nearly a month to fully brief a discovery motion. It may be a week or two thereafter by the time the parties can appear before a magistrate judge, who may take weeks after the hearing to issue a decision. That kind of motion practice can easily eat up 6 to 8 weeks of the discovery period, and a party may be delaying depositions or other discovery tasks because it wants or needs to compel disclosure of information or documents before it goes on to that next step. In the rocket docket—with a trial date looming, and a bench that is unfavorably disposed to extending discovery—that simply would not do.

For that reason, the joint discovery plan issued by judges in the Rocket Docket customarily includes a provision like the following:

The parties . . . agree that the computation of time for all pleadings and notices served will follow Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, with the exception of one-week non-dispositive motions filed with the Court, which will adhere to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s service and filing rules. The parties agree that for purposes of one-week non-dispositive motions, if the motion is filed by ECF no later than 5:00 p.m. the Friday before the hearing, any opposition will be due to the Court by ECF no later than 5:00 p.m. the Wednesday before the hearing and any reply will be due to the Court as early as possible on the Thursday before the hearing.

In practice, this procedure works exactly as written. If I file a non-dispositive motion this Friday before 5:00 p.m., that motion will be fully briefed within a week, and will be heard and decided by the magistrate judge assigned to the case on the following Friday. Credit is due to the magistrate judges of the court and their staffs, who do the hard work necessary to review these motions promptly and come to the hearings ready to resolve them. 

Having one-week turn-around on non-dispositive motions is one of the ways that the Rocket Docket keeps civil cases moving through the system

David Deitch leads the White Collar Defense and Corporate Compliance practice at Berenzweig Leonard. David is an experienced white collar trial lawyer who has tried more than 100 jury trials to verdict in federal and state courts around the nation. He can be reached at [email protected]