Bill of Discovery is Viable, but …
June 6, 2017 § 1 Comment
In March, 2016, the COA all but pronounced the death of the Bill of Discovery, an ancient chancery proceeding that allowed a party to file an action solely to discover information when there is no other way to obtain it. I posted about the case at this link.
The MSSC granted cert, and in Kujlis v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, LLC, decided March 30, 2017, the court stated that “The bill of discovery is a viable equitable action and remedy in chancery court …” (¶4).
BUT … the majority opinion held that Kujlis was not entitled to discovery in chancery because her complaint pled as the basis for discovery that she had suffered a personal injury, which is a circuit court matter. In essence, the court held that the discovery has to relate to some matter within chancery jurisdiction.
Justice Dickinson, joined by Kitchens, King, and Coleman dissented, pointing out that there was no circuit court action filed when Kujlis filed her Bill of Discovery, so there was no way to invoke circuit civil discovery under the MRCP. The dissenters noted that the Bill of discovery, which long predates the MRCP, only requires a showing that the information sought can not be obtained any other way, not that it is required for a given purpose. They also point out that the majority’s holding limits chancery jurisdiction contrary to MRCP 82(a).
You need to read the opinions for yourself to get a grasp on both sides’ reasoning.
I guess the moral here is that, if you file a Bill of Discovery in chancery court, simply plead and prove that the information sought cannot be obtained by other methods, and stand on that. As the court stated in ¶8, citing a previous case, ” … a complaint for discovery has discovery itself as the substantive relief sought — ‘the sole object and end of the bill, no relief other than discovery being prayed.”
That leaves unanswered the issue of relevance. The defendant comes into court and asks, “Why should I have to take the time and trouble to gather up all this information simply because they asked for it?” Good question. And per Kujlis, when the court makes you answer it, you just might create a dismissal.
Way back in 1950, Judge Griffith said, ” … the principle has been strengthened in its operation under our practice, for it is now the thoroughly settled rule in this state that discovery is a sufficient equity to draw all features of a controversy into chancery for full, final and complete relief … it has been held and repeatedly re-affirmed by our courts that the equity of discovery is sufficient to give the chancery court power to proceed to full relief although all other relief is purely legal in nature.” Griffith, Mississippi Chancery Practice, 2d Ed., 1950, § 429. We’ve travelled far from that concept.