If the old maxim “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” rings true, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is quite possibly the greatest arbiter of justice in America today. Known as the “Rocket Docket,” the Eastern District of Virginia consistently ranks as one of the fastest moving and busiest federal trial courts in the country. With divisions in the Virginia cities of Alexandria, Richmond, Newport News and Norfolk, the Virginia’s Eastern District quickly resolves cases from the greater District of Columbia region through the central Virginia region of Richmond down into the bustling Hampton Roads area.
The moniker “Rocket Docket” stems from the breakneck speed at which federal trials progress through the Eastern District, with the average case being tried approximately 10 months from the filing date of the complaint. Filing a complaint triggers a dizzying pace of filing and disclosure dates, cutoffs, hearing dates, and even speedy resolution of pending motions. Active cases do not languish on the court docket, as trial dates are chosen quickly and the judges are loathe to grant continuances. The discovery component of litigation, often the most timely and expensive component of litigation, is stripped of its cumbersome and clogging nature by placing restrictive limits on the quantity of available discovery mechanisms. Pending motions must be resolved quickly – motions are deemed to be withdrawn unless set for hearing within thirty days of the filing date.
The Eastern District’s rapid and relentless pace is a result of a combination of finely tuned local rules and scheduling orders that seamlessly connect the pleading stage to discovery and propel a case to an early trial date in a manner that prevents gaps from occurring. Once a complaint is filed in the electronic case filing system, Local Rule 16 requires the Court to hold a pretrial conference “as soon as possible,” where the court establishes a discovery cut-off date 90 or 120 days later, schedules a final pretrial conference date, and, “whenever practicable,” schedules a trial date. The Rule 26 conference also follows tight deadlines, with parties required to submit a discovery plan within 14 days of the conference. The Court further limits many time consuming aspects of discovery by placing strict limits on the number of depositions permitted and interrogatories issued.
If proper steps are taken, parties can use the speed of the Eastern District of Virginia to their advantage. Sophisticated plaintiffs can capitalize on the rapid pace of the Eastern District of Virginia by seeking an expedient resolution that maximizes litigation budgets and reduces the advantages defendants often have by increasing litigation costs and slowing the pace at which a case proceeds. But pursuing a case in the Eastern District requires a plaintiff to meticulously prepare before the complaint is filed because, once the complaint is filed, there is not adequate time to investigate all facts and law, develop a theory of the case, and identify and hire experts. To the extent possible, these item
s must be completed before litigation ensues.
Defendants, too, can utilize the nature of the Eastern District to their advantage by pushing a case quickly through discovery to reach a summary judgment disposition or onward to trial in a reasonable amount of time. Unless defendants are methodically prepared, however, the relentless speed of the Eastern District of Virginia can catch them by surprise as the mounting deadlines require defendants to swiftly mount a legal team, identify experts, and formulate a strategy to use in the case. Defendants sued in the Eastern District must implement their defense strategy quickly and decisively, and such defendants may suffer irremediable prejudice if they do not act immediately.
Litigating in the Eastern District of Virginia can be a boon or a tragedy depending not just on the substantive merits of the case, but on how prepared parties are to work within the demanding procedural system. If you or your client are facing litigation in the Eastern District, be aware of the unique nature of this Court and be sure to have a member of your team who is familiar with the demanding rules and procedures of the Eastern District.
Robert E. Byrne, Jr., the author of this post, is an AV-rated Virginia Business Litigation Attorney who practices Civil and Commercial Litigation, employment law and litigation, and intellectual property litigation while serving as the managing attorney of MartinWren, P.C. in Virginia. MartinWren, P.C.’s trial attorneys have valuable experience litigating federal court cases, whether as local counsel or lead counsel, in both the Eastern District of Virginia and the Western District of Virginia. For more information about litigating a case in the federal courts of Virginia, please call Bob at (434) 817-3100 or contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.