The title of this blog is a quote from the most basic tenant of the 2016 Discovery Act found in Code of Civil Procedure Section 2017.010 titled Matters Subject to Discovery which reads:

“Unless otherwise limited by order of the court in accordance with this title, any party may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action or to the determination of any motion made in that action, if the matter either is itself admissible in evidence or appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Discovery may relate to the claim or defense of the party seeking discovery or of any other party to the action. Discovery may be obtained of the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter, as well as of the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any document, electronically stored information, tangible thing, or land or other property.” [Emphasis added]

The courts and the treatises liberally construe this statute and a party’s right to obtain the identity and location of witnesses.

Weil and Brown’s California Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2017) at 8:82 and 8:83 reads as follows:

[8:82] “Any discoverable matter”: Section 2017.010 et seq. Includes witnesses with “knowledge of any discoverable matter” . . . i.e., fact or opinion [Gonzales v. Sup. Ct. (City of San Fernando), supra, 33 CA4th at 1546, 39 CR2d at 901 (citing text)]

[8:83] Credibility: information regarding the credibility of witnesses is also discoverable: e.g., grounds for impeachment evidence of bias, etc. The credibility of their statements or testimony is itself “relevant to the subject matter.”

California Civil Discovery Practice Fourth Edition (2017) states:

The identity and location of persons who are not experts but who may have Knowledge of any discoverable matter is relevant to the subject matter of the litigation and is discoverable.  CCP §2017.010; Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc. v. Superior Court (2007) 40 C4th 360, 374 

“Our discovery recognizes that ‘the identity and location of persons having [discoverable] knowledge’ are proper subjects of civil discovery”: contact information about identity of class members generally discoverable.

Such persons may be actual witnesses to an event in dispute, or they may have knowledge that is based on heresay See Smith v. Superior Court (1961) 189 CA2d 6, 12; City & County of San Francisco v. Superior Court (1958) 161 CA2d 653, 656

In some cases, the identity of persons who have no information on the specific facts of a case may still be relevant to a claim regarding the opposing party’s regular business practices . . . Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (1982) 31 C3d 785.

In the case of Puerto v. Superior Court (2008) 158 CA4th 1242, the Second District Court of Appeal dealt with the issue of right of privacy for third parties stating:

The fact that we generally consider residential telephone and address information private does not mean that the individuals would not want it disclosed under these circumstances.  ‘While it is unlikely that the employees anticipated broad dissemination of their contact information when they gave it . . . they may reasonably be supposed to want their information disclosed to counsel whose communications in the course of investigating the claims asserted in this lawsuit may alert them to similar claims they may be able to assert. . .

Here, just as in Pioneer, the requested information, while personal, is not particularly sensitive, as it is merely contact information, not medical or financial details, political affiliations, sexual relationships, or personnel information (See, e.g., Pioneer supra, 40 Cal.4th at 372-373; Hooser v. Superior Court (2000) 84 Cal. App. 4th 997, 1004 [101 Cal. Rptr. 2d 341].) This is basic civil discover . . . Nothing could be more ordinary in discovery than finding out the location of identified witnesses so that they may be contacted and additional investigation performed.  (Planned Parenthood, supra, 83 Cal App. t p. 359 [home addresses and telephone numbers are ‘routinely produced during discovery”].)  As the Supreme Court pointed out in Pioneer, the information sought by petitioners here–the location of witnesses –is generally discoverable, and it is neither unduly personal nor overly intrusive. (Pioneer, at p. 373.)

Indeed, it is only under unusual circumstances that the courts restrict discovery of nonparty witnesses’ residential contract information.

Discovery may be prohibited where the information violates the right to privacy and is not necessary to the prosecution of the matter.  [Emphasis added]

RULE OF THE DAY:      You have the right to discover the identity and location of witnesses barring unusual circumstances and the information not being necessary to prosecute your case.

 

 

A row of six blue mailboxes on a street in Charleston, South Carolina. Focus is on the first mailbox's rusty screw head.

When I was a research attorney for Alameda County Superior Court, my judge drilled into me to always check the proof of service to make sure that it was signed and service on all parties had properly been made.  As a Discovery Referee, I still review the proof of service first and I am always amused when the proof of service is signed saying that I was already served.  Recently I was reading Aaron Morris’ article “Don’t be that Attorney—Ten Ways to Make Yourself Look Foolish”,  a humorous article that many of us lawyers always wanted to write about the outlandish positions attorneys take.  I specifically enjoyed his third pet peeve and had to pass it along.

So here it is

  1. Screaming that the proof of service was not signed.

Having received a document with an unsigned proof, opposing counsel will sometimes write to me to say something like, “we do not accept that your service was proper because the proof of service was UNSIGNED!!” (This is why I suspect this bad litigating comes from a seminar or “how to” book, because “unsigned” is always in all caps with two exclamation points.) Even more humorous, I have had cases where opposing counsel argued in opposition to a motion that the motion should be disregarded because the proof of service is unsigned and therefore there is no verification that the motion (they are responding to) was ever served. In the case just cited, opposing counsel wrote to say the discovery obviously must have been served late, “as evidenced by the fact that the proof of service is UNSIGNED!!”

Again, allow me to walk you through this so you won’t look foolish like this attorney.

When you file a document with the court or send discovery to the opposition, you prepare a proof of service attesting to the fact that you mailed – past tense – the document to opposing counsel. How can I make that stand out more? You are attesting that you mailED, mailED, mailED the document. If you sign the proof of service before you mail the document, you are perjuring yourself. If the proof of service you send to opposing counsel is signed, then that means you signed the proof of service, attesting that you mailed the document, before you actually mailed the document.

Yes, I get how it works in the real world and why 90 percent of attorneys do it wrong. The attorney prepares the court document and gives it to the secretary. The secretary prepares and signs the proof of service, makes copies, and then puts the original in the attorney service basket, mails a copy to opposing counsel, and keeps one copy for the file. But that is not proper service. We properly serve all documents with UNSIGNED!! proofs of service, so it can be done. Every court document you send to opposing counsel should have an UNSIGNED!! proof of service.

If you still cannot accept what I am saying because it so challenges your cherished beliefs, here is an official website from a Superior Court backing me up (item 3). Better yet, here is the official proof of service by the Judicial Council, with instructions on how to serve someone, specifically stating in item 3b that the proof of service sent to the other side must be unsigned.

Or, I don’t know, how about if we just check the Code of Civil Procedure that sets forth the rules for service. CCP § 1013(b) states:

The copy of the notice or other paper served by mail pursuant to this chapter shall bear a notation of the date and place of mailing or be accompanied by an UNSIGNED!! copy of the affidavit or certificate of mailing.

There is identical language for service by fax and email.

You can read Aaron Morris’ nine other pet peeves in his article “Don’t be that Attorney—Ten Ways to Make Yourself Look Foolish

Hand of referee with red card and whistle in the soccer stadium.

Recently I saw the following document response and without even looking at the document request I knew that the response was bad and a motion to compel further responses was going to need to be filed:

Objection, as some or all of these documents are equally or more available to Plaintiffs. Without waiving, responding party states that all responsive, unprivileged, known, and reasonably available documents will be produced by Defendant, if they have not already been produced to Plaintiffs.

First, unless the request is asking the responding part to obtain a public document or a statement from a third party, the objection on the grounds of “Equal Access” is improper. See Weil and Brown California Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2016) 8:1062-64 citing Bunnel v. Superior Court (1967) 254 CA2d 720, 723-724 and Holguin v. Superior Court (1972) 22 CA3d 812, 821.

Second, by definition, a document request seeks only documents that are in the responding party’s possession, custody or control. (See C.C.P. §2031.010(b), (party may demand any document “in the possession, custody, or control of the party on whom the demand is made”).)  Even if the propounding party has copies of the documents, the propounding party is entitled to inspect documents that are in responding party’s possession, custody or control.

Third, the response that “unprivileged” documents will be produced implies that privileged documents will not be produced and the court would deem the response to be an objection. Thus, the responding party must amend its responses by identifying each privileged document that is not being produced, as detailed in Code of Civil Procedure §2031.240(b).  Alternatively, if no privileged documents exist, then the responding party will need to amend its response to omit the word “unprivileged.”

Fourth, the response that documents will be produced “if they have not already been produced” is evasive. The response should simply state whether they would be produced or not.

A Word of Advice: It is important that you follow up on the deficiencies of a document response as you don’t want to have a document introduced as evidence at trial by your opponent that you never seen before. Make sure that the response is in compliance with C.C.P. 2031.210, 2031.220, 2031.230 and 2031.240 and that you are satisfied that the responding party has conducted a diligent search and reasonable inquiry when collecting the documents for production.

Decorative Scales of Justice in the CourtroomIn most practices areas, facts are king. The attorney who can discover and present the best “facts” will be the most persuasive when presenting their case to the judge or jury. However, some cases can be won in the law and motion department with a Motion for Summary Judgment and/or Summary Adjudication.  In these cases, the facts are less important than the law. If your case is one that you can win as a matter of law based on inconvertible facts (or the opponents admitted facts) and you believe that a Motion for Summary Judgment or a Motion for Summary Adjudication is appropriate, you need to develop a discovery plan specifically tailored to these motions.

As you know, a Motion for Summary Judgment and/or Summary Adjudication must be supported by admissible evidence. See C.C.P. §437c(b)(1). The moving party must present admissible evidence in support of each undisputed material fact necessary to entity them to judgment (or adjudication of the issue) in their favor. Therefore, if there is no admissible evidence with regard to a material fact, the motion will be denied. The discovery devices listed in order of most the useful to least useful for these motions are:

(1)       Requests for Admissions

(2)       Depositions

(3)       Interrogatories

(4)       Requests for Production of Documents.

Requests for Admissions are the most useful. The main purpose of Requests for Admissions is to set issues to rest by compelling admissions of things that cannot reasonably be controverted.  Weil and Brown, Cal. Prac. Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2015), ¶8:1256, citing Shepard & Morgan v. Lee & Daniel, Inc. (1982) 31 C3d 256, 261. If a party admits key facts, including legal conclusions, and/or authenticates documents you are in a better position to win a motion for summary judgment or summary adjudication.  Because a party can deny a request for admission, you should also be serving Form Interrogatory #17.1 as well as a Document Request asking for all documents listed in Form Interrogatory #17.1(d) to make sure that any questionable or frivolous denials are exposed.  See my blog “How to Write Requests for Admissions.”

Depositions are the “next best” discovery method after Request for Admissions. If there are facts, documents, etc. that require an explanation the witness with knowledge is the best means of obtaining this evidence, especially when your opposing counsel provides evasive or non-responsive answers to written discovery. However, the lawyer must be careful to ask precise questions so that there is a clear question and answer for purposes of supporting one or more facts in the separate statement.

Interrogatories are the third most useful discovery device. Interrogatories are good for establishing the basic nature of claims being presented, witnesses that might be available or other such broad based questions. They are usually not precise enough to support Motions for Summary Judgment, except when they are incredibly narrow. However, where the Motion for Summary Judgment is based on an absence of evidence that the opposing side has to support their case, an interrogatory may be useful to show that they were given ample opportunity to present that evidence.

Requests for Production of Documents, while essential, are only preliminary. One mistake young lawyers make (and some older ones) is that they believe if a party produces a document it is admissible in evidence. In fact, the Production of Documents even with a verification neither authenticates any document nor establishes the statements made therein.  Thus, it is important to follow up by using the Judicial Council Form Request for Admission and ask for authentication of documents, in addition to obtaining an admission that the document was, for example, sent by mail in the ordinary course of business to establish that the document was not heresy.

One common pitfall lawyers often make in filing a Motion for Summary judgment/summary adjudication is the timing. These motions require an exorbitant amount of time for notice–75 days (plus five for mailing). The last day these motions can be heard is 30 days before trial. Thus the last day to file a Motion for Summary Judgment and/or Summary Adjudication is 105 Days before Trial–that is before expert disclosure (50 days before trial) and the  discovery cutoff (30 days before trial).

Moral of the Story:  The decision to file a Motion for Summary Judgment and/or Summary Adjudication must be considered early in a case so you have adequate time to develop a discovery plan and obtain the discovery you need to file a successful motion.

 

A close-up of a Baseball or Softball Home Plate Umpire

Recently I received an e-mail from an attorney who followed my advice regarding General Objections.  It went like this:

“I read your article ‘Why you Need to Bring a Motion to Strike General Objections,’ and filed a ‘Motion to Strike Defendants’ Preliminary Statement and Unmeritorious Objections.’  The Preliminary Statement contained many of the issues you pointed out in your article, and each of defendants’ responses to interrogatories and document requests contained the same 28 lines of objections.  The court then separated the motions to compel from the motions to strike and refused to rule on the motion to strike stating “There is no such motion.” Is the court correct?”

The court is correct that a Motion to Strike pursuant to C.C.P. §435 and C.C.P. §437 is about the pleadings even though the request  “Move to Strike” is often used in discovery (i.e, portions of a declaration, objections in a deposition) even though it is not codified.  However, I have never seen a court refuse to deal with a discovery issue based on semantics of the notice.  In fact, according to Weil and Brown,  Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2015) 9:2.3 citing Sole Energy Co. v. Petrominerals Corp. (2005) 128 CA4th, 187, 192-193 the label of the motion is not determinative.

Propounding parties are in a Catch-22 situation.  There is no provision allowing the General Objections or a Preliminary Statement in a discovery response so there is no remedy for it.  The following is my rationale for recommending the filing of such a motion with your motion to compel further responses.

  • The Code does not allow for general objections or preliminary statements.  A party must respond to the individual interrogatory or request and that includes any objection.  See my blog article “What is a General Objection?
  • Each written discovery device allows a party to bring a motion to compel further responses if an objection is “too general.” See C.C.P. §2030.300 and C.C.P. §2031.310.
  • C.C.P. §2023.010(e) says it is a misuse of the discovery process if a party makes an unmeritorious objection to discovery.
  • C.C.P. §2023.010(f) says it is a misuse of the discovery process for making an evasive response to discovery.
  • C.C.P. §2023.030 gives the court power to issue monetary, issue and evidence sanctions on a party for misuse of the discovery process.

Procedurally speaking the proper motion to bring is a Motion to Compel Further Responses pursuant to C.C.P. §2030.300 and C.C.P. §2031.310 with a Request for Sanctions for violation of C.C.P. §2023.010(e) and  C.C.P. §2023.010(f).In that motion, a party should:

  • Point out to the court that the General Objections and Preliminary Statements are not proper and ask the court to overrule the objections or strike them from the response as improper.
  • Request the court require a further response with a ruling that responding party is forbidden to use General Objections or Preliminary Statements in any of their responses.
  • Finally, stress to the court that you are entitled to sanctions.

To answer the attorney’s question “Is the Court correct?”  In my opinion, No!  The court has the “inherent authority to manage and control its docket” and should have ruled on the merits regarding defendant’s improper General Objections and Preliminary Statement.

legal gavel and law books, on white

 

Can a trial court order a party to disclose potentially privileged information because the party’s privilege log did not provide sufficient information for the court to evaluate whether the privilege applies?  According to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Three in Catalina Island Yacht Club v. The Superior Court of Orange County filed December 4, 2015 the answer is NO!

Continue Reading No Waiver of Privileges for Inadequate Privilege Log

iStock_000008477093SmallI have always been a strong advocate that you should be awarded sanctions if you had to bring a motion to get the relief you were entitled to even if the other side complied prior to the hearing on the motion.  However in the case of Evilsizor v. Sweeney (2014) 230 CA4th 1304, the First District Court of Appeal had an interesting take on the issue.

Continue Reading Should you withdraw your motion if the other side has complied?

iStock_000008998317Small

Recently I was contacted to help on a party’s Motion to Compel Further Responses to Form Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents, and Requests for Admissions. In viewing opposing counsel’s responses to the discovery, I gazed upon the General Response and Objections preamble in absolute astonishment.  It read as follows:

Continue Reading Why You Need to Bring a Motion to Strike General Objections

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ANSWER:     A fictional document. A non-existent objection neither based in statutory authority nor found in case law. A statement by a party during the discovery phase that they will neither be held to the Code of Civil Procedure nor the rules of evidence.

In my years as a discovery referee, I have found that lawyers have gotten into the bad habit of inserting a preamble in their responses to interrogatories, requests for production and requests for admissions. These preambles often state the obvious as to what their rights are as responding parties. However, many times these preambles state general objections to the entirety of the propounded discovery and insert rights that are contrary to the obligations of the Discovery Act, the evidence code and current case law. Even though several interrogatories, requests for documents and request for admissions may be objectionable on the same ground they may not be objected to as a group. See Hogan and Weber, California Civil Discovery (2d. ed 2009) §51 Continue Reading What is a General Objection?

Overwhelmed Office Worker

Somewhere in the back of your mind you are aware that discovery and Motions for Summary Judgment deadlines are looming. Yet, you really don’t pay attention to them until they are upon us usually around day 45 when you start trying to schedule experts. That is when you realize there are not enough hours in the day and days in the week. Unless you have a case that is a simple slip and fall or a fender bender, the last 100 days before trial can be daunting. Throw in a Motion for Summary Judgment or Summary Adjudication into the mix and you’re swamped. Then there is the ultimate question you ask yourself, “When am I going to find time to prepare for trial.”

The Code of Civil Procedure timeline regarding deadlines for expert disclosure, close of discovery and the last day discovery motions can be heard is demonstrated below.  Seeing it scheduled in black and white is kind of scary. Continue Reading Discovery Plan Part 4 — The Year Before Trial