Following the filing of all initial pleadings, there begins a period of “discovery” which enables each party to learn of evidence held by opposing or other parties to the action. Generally speaking, the scope of allowable discovery is broad: FRCP 26 provides that parties may obtain discovery on any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action. Discovery is accomplished by means of subpoenas; requests for inspection of documents, photographs, recordings, or other items of evidence; the taking of testimony of witnesses (usually by deposition); review and copying of relevant records; written interrogatories (questions that must be answered under oath); written requests for admissions (requiring admission or denial of the facts posed); requests for physical or mental examination of a party; and often, visitation to sites, premises, or geographic locations relevant to the case.
Also during the pre-trial period (and continuing through the trial process), various “motions” may be filed with the court, requesting that the court grant an order on some matter related to the progress of the case. A motion may request immediate relief for an interim dispute (such as a motion to compel the release of evidence) or it may request “dispositive” relief (such as a motion to dismiss the case for lack of evidence or failure to state a cause of action).