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What is a Motion to Compel?

By R.A. Anderson
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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In a motion to compel, a party to a lawsuit asks the court to enter an order forcing another party to the case to comply with a specific legal request. Parties often use these motions in civil lawsuits when the opposing side does not deliver discovery requests in a timely manner or when the other litigant gives incomplete answers to questions propounded in written interrogatories. A motion to compel may apply to any type of discovery request, including requests for production of documents and depositions.

Typically, in the motion to compel, the moving party must state the nature of the case and list what information the opposing party is withholding or what documents they have not produced. The moving party must list the reasons the opposing party provided insufficient discovery responses and describe the ways in which the responses are inadequate. At the end of the motion, the moving party must formally ask the court to enter an order compelling the non-compliant party to participate in the discovery process as permitted under the rules of the jurisdiction.

If the court approves the litigant's motion to compel and the subject of the motion fails to comply with the order, the offending party may face legal sanctions. These sanctions may include criminal charges for contempt of court. The court will generally not consider imposing sanctions on the non-compliant party if the litigant submitting the motion does not request sanctions in the motion.

On the federal level in the United States, motions to compel are governed by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) under Rule 37. Pursuant to Rule 37, motions to compel discovery or disclosure must state that the moving party has taken good-faith measures to obtain the documents before involving the court. Under Rule 37, parties submitting a motion to compel must also provide the other parties to the case with notice attesting that they have filed such a motion and are demanding discovery responses.

Individual states establish their own rules regarding motions to compel for cases heard in local and state trial courts and in state appellate courts. These rules often vary from the FRCP. For example, some state laws permit oral motions if they are made during a trial or at hearing.

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Discussion Comments

By anon973677 — On Oct 13, 2014

My husband is violating every single court order handed down. He let our home go into foreclosure and has removed everything. How do I get our one sided judge to hold him in contempt?

He doesn't pay me on time and has lied to get a restraining order that he continually says I'm violating. He has and I have proven it in court. He's just trying to bury me in the system.

I didn't even have a parking ticket when this began. He had two aggravated assault charges and assault with a deadly weapon charge. And they gave him my son and home. I did fail a drug test, but so did he and they gave it to him all prior to that. They are about to close my case. What do I do?

By ceilingcat — On Jul 11, 2011

@SZapper - I've never been involved in a law suit like that, but I can imagine why the person being sued might drag their feet on providing the necessary information. No one wants to lose a court case after all!

By SZapper — On Jul 10, 2011

My mom worked as a paralegal a few years ago and she dealt with motions to compel on a pretty regular basis. The lawyer she worked for specialized in personal injury lawsuits and usually there was a lot of contention involved on both sides.

A lot of times the person being sued would be the one trying to hold out information though. People seemed to think that if they just didn't provide the information or the document or whatever the case would just go away. But not so! This would usually be when a motion to compel would come into play so the case could proceed in a timely fashion.

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