Answer: There are several things that may happen, including additional pleadings, opportunities to settle, and a hearing.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
What Happens After a Motion To Compel Is Filed? (Explained)
The contents of this web page are for informational purposes only, and nothing you read is intended to be legal advice. Please review our disclaimer about law/legal-related information on this website before taking action based upon anything you read or see.
Motions To Compel (In General)
Much of what happens during the pendency of a civil and criminal case occurs outside of the purview of the judge and the court.
After the parties file the pleadings, the parties are supposed to follow the rules of the court and the jurisdiction (state or federal) to get the case ready for the hearing or trial.
The laws may require that the parties exchange certain information, documents, or other items.
The laws may give each party the right to depose parties.
The laws may give each party the right to request answers to interrogatories or questions.
The court expects the parties to follow the rules without the assistance of the court.
Some judges will require that the parties appear in person or via telephone (or report in writing) about the status of discovery and preparation for trial.
Other judges will do nothing unless the parties bring a matter to the court’s attention.
If one of the parties thinks that the other party is not following the rules, and needs the court’s intervention to make the party do what he should, he can file a motion to compel.
That motion to compel must rely on specific legal authority, both in the relief he seeks as well as filing the motion to make it happen.
If there’s no legal authority for both the relief he wants and the availability of the motion to compel, it will get denied.
Motions to compel are most common in discovery disputes which are governed by rules and are not closely supervised by the court.
Leading Up To The Motion To Compel
Motions to compel often start as threats between lawyers:
Please produce x by September 1 or I will be forced to file a motion to compel.
Sometimes the threat of the motion will light a fire under the opposing party.
Motions to compel can sometimes result in awards of attorney fees against the failing party, and in extreme cases, sanctions against the opposing party or even the attorney himself.
In most jurisdictions, before a party can file a motion to compel, he must make a “good faith effort to confer.”
A good faith effort to confer differs, but often needs to be more than a letter or an email, and might need to raise to the level of a phone call discussion or an in person meeting.
If the motion to compel is granted by the court, the order to compel will state specifically what needs to be done.
If the order to compel is not followed, the requesting party could seek to have the failing party held in contempt, which could result in fines or even jail in extreme circumstances.
Needless to say, for the participants of the case, this becomes very expensive in attorney fees.
Once a Motion To Compel Is Filed, What Happens Next?
Once one of the parties files a motion to compel, there are several things that might happen.
First, the motion to compel might light a fire under the opposing party and his lawyer.
To avoid an award of attorney fees or sanctions against them, the opposing party might get his act together and do whatever it is that the motion seeks (produce documents, attend a deposition, etc).
If the parties can resolve the situation, the filing party can withdraw the motion to compel.
Second, if the motion to compel doesn’t inspire a resolution, the opposing party will file a response.
He may also file a counter motion to compel, so that the issues can be conveniently heard and resolved at the same time.
This may result in a flurry of more back and forth between the lawyers to completely respond to all of the allegations and evidence submitted in support of the motion.
Next, once the pleadings are closed, the court may do one of a few things.
- The court may have an off the record conference with the parties to try and resolve the dispute.
- The court may hear oral argument on the motion.
- The court may hold an evidentiary hearing, and allow the parties to call witnesses in support of their motion(s).
- The court may rule on the pleadings without seeing the parties at all.
If the motion is denied, then the case moves on as if the motion to compel wasn’t filed at all.
If the motion is granted, in full or in part, the order from the court will likely state something like:
Petitioner is hereby ordered to produce x by 5:00pm, September 1, 2025.
There maybe other orders, depending upon what the filing party sought.
What If The Order To Compel Is Not Complied With?
There are generally two things that happen when an order to compel is not complied with.
The first, and most common, is that the party who filed the first motion to compel will file a second motion to compel.
Then the parties may try and settle the situation, or the second motion goes back in front of the court for consideration.
The second, and less common, is a contempt proceeding.
An order to compel is not an order for contempt.
The order simply tells the party what to do and usually, when to do it by.
If the party ordered to comply does not comply per the terms of the order, the non-complying party can be held in contempt of court.
One of the parties can file a motion for the contempt, or the court can raise it on it’s own motion.
Contempt can be civil, and contempt can also be criminal.
In most civil cases, being held in contempt is more serious for the case, and less serious for the non-compliant party’s pocketbook or freedom (fines or jail).
Being held in contempt during the pendency of the proceeding can result in attorney fee awards and also prejudice the party throughout the proceeding, up until the ultimately resolution of the case.
In very limited cases, the contempt can move to fines and/or jail time.
But jail and massive punishments for contempt are not going to be the initial orders of the court in a civil case.
Sanctions (punishments) can also be ordered against the attorney in the case if the non-compliance is found to be particularly egregious.
How Long Will It Take To Resolve The Motion To Compel After It Is Filed?
It will likely take several weeks to reach a court decision.
There are rules for timelines for filing pleadings in response to the initial motion, and for when the motion can be put on the docket for evidentiary hearing or oral argument.
Needless to say, unless there is grounds for an expedited hearing, decision could take 5-8 weeks, depending on the court.
In the meantime, the case moves on towards its ultimate end, and the parties continue to prepare for it (doing discovery, interviewing witnesses, preparing exhibits, etc).
Have Motion Questions About Filing a Motion To Compel?
Experienced attorneys are very experienced with filing and responding to motions to compel.
They’ll be able to help explain the process in their court and jurisdiction, and what their help could look like in the case.
Want to learn more about the courts and our justice system?
Browse our free legal library guides for more information.