Picture your client telling you they were considering starting a litigation, but that they did not yet have all the facts needed for you to prepare a pleading. Now add the wrinkle that the action would need to be forumed in a foreign country, one with discovery rules narrower than those in the United States, and then the kicker, that some of the relevant documents are held by third parties outside of the planned litigation forum. Although your initial reaction might be that your client is out of luck, 28 U.S.C. § 1782, which allows foreign litigants (or soon-to-be litigants) to obtain discovery in the United States, under U.S. discovery rules, for use in a pending or contemplated foreign proceeding, might offer some help.
Under Section 1782, a federal courts can grant an application for discovery in aid of a foreign proceeding (or planned proceeding) if the applicant: (a) has an interest in the foreign proceeding; (b) the discovery will be used in that foreign proceeding; and (c) the target of the discovery request resides in the judicial district where the request is made. However, federal courts can deny the discovery request, even when those statutory factors are met, based on purely discretionary factors such as whether the target is a party to the litigation, whether the applicant is attempting to circumvent either U.S. or foreign proof gathering restrictions, and whether the requests are found “unduly burdensome.” Although one might think that overworked federal courts would often use those discretionary factors to deny discovery requests in support of litigation pending in a far-flung forum, federal courts routinely grant Section 1782 applications. Two recent decisions—one granting and one denying a Section 1782 application—show just how broad discovery under Section 1782 can be.