Rule 31 – Depositions by Written Questions

(a) When a Deposition May Be Taken.

(1) Without Leave. A party may, by written questions, depose any person, including a party, without leave of court except as provided in Rule 31(a)(2). The deponent’s attendance may be compelled by subpoena under Rule 45.

(2) With Leave. A party must obtain leave of court, and the court must grant leave to the extent consistent with Rule 26(b)(1) and (2):

(A) if the parties have not stipulated to the deposition and:

(i) the deposition would result in more than 10 depositions being taken under this rule or Rule 30 by the plaintiffs, or by the defendants, or by the third-party defendants;

(ii) the deponent has already been deposed in the case; or

(iii) the party seeks to take a deposition before the time specified in Rule 26(d); or

(B) if the deponent is confined in prison.

(3) Service; Required Notice. A party who wants to depose a person by written questions must serve them on every other party, with a notice stating, if known, the deponent’s name and address. If the name is unknown, the notice must provide a general description sufficient to identify the person or the particular class or group to which the person belongs. The notice must also state the name or descriptive title and the address of the officer before whom the deposition will be taken.

(4) Questions Directed to an Organization. A public or private corporation, a partnership, an association, or a governmental agency may be deposed by written questions in accordance with Rule 30(b)(6).

(5) Questions from Other Parties. Any questions to the deponent from other parties must be served on all parties as follows: cross-questions, within 14 days after being served with the notice and direct questions; redirect questions, within 7 days after being served with cross-questions; and recross-questions, within 7 days after being served with redirect questions. The court may, for good cause, extend or shorten these times.

(b) Delivery to the Officer; Officer’s Duties. The party who noticed the deposition must deliver to the officer a copy of all the questions served and of the notice. The officer must promptly proceed in the manner provided in Rule 30(c), (e), and (f) to:

(1) take the deponent’s testimony in response to the questions;

(2) prepare and certify the deposition; and

(3) send it to the party, attaching a copy of the questions and of the notice.

(c) Notice of Completion or Filing.

(1) Completion. The party who noticed the deposition must notify all other parties when it is completed.

(2) Filing. A party who files the deposition must promptly notify all other parties of the filing.

Summary and Explanation

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 31 deals with depositions by written questions, providing an alternative to oral depositions under Rule 30. Here’s a summary and explanation of its key provisions:


  1. Serving Questions and Notice: A party may take the testimony of any person, including a party, by deposition upon written questions without leave of court except in certain circumstances outlined in Rule 31(a)(2). The party seeking to take a deposition must serve on every other party a notice stating the name and address of the person to be examined and the name or descriptive title of the officer before whom the deposition will be taken. This notice must be accompanied by the set of questions to be asked.
  2. Officer to Take Responses and Prepare Record: The deposition officer must take the deponent’s responses to the questions, prepare them in a record, and certify that record. This officer can be anyone authorized to administer oaths by the laws of the United States or the place where the deposition is taken.
  3. Sending Questions to Officer: The party who proposed the deposition sends the questions to the deposition officer, who will then proceed to ask the questions to the witness and record the responses.
  4. Cross-Questions, Redirect Questions, and Recross-Questions: After the notice and primary questions are served, parties have the opportunity to serve cross-questions (questions in response to the initial set), redirect questions (follow-ups to cross-questions), and recross-questions (further follow-ups). These must be served within specified time frames.
  5. Use of Deposition: Similar to Rule 30, depositions taken under Rule 31 can be used in court proceedings under the same conditions, such as using a deposition to contradict or impeach the testimony of the deponent as a witness or under certain conditions if the deponent is unavailable for trial.


Rule 31 offers a methodical approach for parties to gather testimony when an oral deposition is impracticable or when written questions are more appropriate for the situation. This method is particularly useful when the witness is located far away, and the costs of conducting an oral deposition would be prohibitive, or when the questions are straightforward and do not require follow-up based on the deponent’s responses.

The process is structured to ensure fairness, allowing all parties to contribute questions and follow-up as needed. It emphasizes the orderly collection of evidence, reducing potential conflicts and misunderstandings that might arise in an oral deposition setting.

Overall, Rule 31 provides an efficient, cost-effective mechanism for discovery, particularly suited to situations where the flexibility of oral examination is not necessary. It underscores the commitment of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to facilitate the fair, expedient, and cost-effective resolution of legal disputes.


(As amended Mar. 30, 1970, eff. July 1, 1970; Mar. 2, 1987, eff. Aug. 1, 1987; Apr. 22, 1993, eff. Dec. 1, 1993; Apr. 30, 2007, eff. Dec. 1, 2007; Apr. 29, 2015, eff. Dec. 1, 2015.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1937

This rule is in accordance with common practice. In most of the states listed in the Note to Rule 26(a), provisions similar to this rule will be found in the statutes which in their respective statutory compilations follow those cited in the Note to Rule 26(a).

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1970 Amendment

Confusion is created by the use of the same terminology to describe both the taking of a deposition upon “written interrogatories” pursuant to this rule and the serving of “written interrogatories” upon parties pursuant to Rule 33. The distinction between these two modes of discovery will be more readily and clearly grasped through substitution of the word “questions” for “interrogatories” throughout this rule.

Subdivision (a). A new paragraph is inserted at the beginning of this subdivision to conform to the rearrangement of provisions in Rules 26(a), 30(a), and 30(b).

The revised subdivision permits designation of the deponent by general description or by class or group. This conforms to the practice for depositions on oral examination.

The new procedure provided in Rule 30(b)(6) for taking the deposition of a corporation or other organization through persons designated by the organization is incorporated by reference.

The service of all questions, including cross, redirect, and recross, is to be made on all parties. This will inform the parties and enable them to participate fully in the procedure.

The time allowed for service of cross, redirect, and recross questions has been extended. Experience with the existing time limits shows them to be unrealistically short. No special restriction is placed on the time for serving the notice of taking the deposition and the first set of questions. Since no party is required to serve cross questions less than 30 days after the notice and questions are served, the defendant has sufficient time to obtain counsel. The court may for cause shown enlarge or shorten the time.

Subdivision (d). Since new Rule 26(c) provides for protective orders with respect to all discovery, and expressly provides that the court may order that one discovery device be used in place of another, subdivision (d) is eliminated as unnecessary.

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1987 Amendment

The amendments are technical. No substantive change is intended.

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1993 Amendment

Subdivision (a). The first paragraph of subdivision (a) is divided into two subparagraphs, with provisions comparable to those made in the revision of Rule 30. Changes are made in the former third paragraph, numbered in the revision as paragraph (4), to reduce the total time for developing cross-examination, redirect, and recross questions from 50 days to 28 days.

Committee Notes on Rules—2007 Amendment

The language of Rule 31 has been amended as part of the general restyling of the Civil Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only.

The party who noticed a deposition on written questions must notify all other parties when the deposition is completed, so that they may make use of the deposition. A deposition is completed when it is recorded and the deponent has either waived or exercised the right of review under Rule 30(e)(1).

Committee Notes on Rules—2015 Amendment

Rule 31 is amended in parallel with Rules 30 and 33 to reflect the recognition of proportionality in Rule 26(b)(1).

Scroll to Top