Request for Production of documents

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.

iStock_000012781059_SmallUnlike Federal Rule Civil Procedure 26(e)(1) – (2), California law does not impose a continuing duty on a party to supplement their interrogatory or document responses.  Biles v. Exxon Mobil Corp. (2004) 124 CA 4th 1315.  Instead, the California Discovery Act has two statutes, C.C.P. §2030.070 and C.C.P. § 2031.050, that allow the propounding party to ask for updated information “bearing on answers already made” and “later acquired or discovered documents, tangible things, land or other property.”

Continue Reading Are You Following Up on Your Opponent’s Discovery Responses?

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

Young handsome businessman sitting in chair with his legs on pile of books

Several times per month I receive questions from attorneys regarding a discovery dilemma.  Mostly the questions offer a novel twist on basic discovery.  However, this latest query was quirkier than most and raised some interesting issues and misconceptions, so I thought I would share it with you.   It went like this:

I served written discovery on a cross-defendant in a case, we are one of the defendants.  Cross-defendant (represented by, the plaintiff’s counsel) has appeared in this case by way of demurrer.  Cross-Defendant has refused to answer for the following reasons, (1) my clients are not parties to the cross-complaint so therefore we cannot propound discovery; (2) the court sustained the demurrer with leave to amend and the amended cross-complaint will be filed shortly by the cross-complainant; and (3) the cross-defendant lives in Europe and I need to go through the Hague Convention.  I don’t think any of these are legitimate reasons for not responding to discovery.

Continue Reading DISCOVERY GAMES AND MISCONCEPTIONS – Are These Objections Legitimate?

businessman is carefully reading contract

Here is another great article from Miles B. Cooper.

Subtitle: Inadvertent disclosure of privileged documents during discovery

The lawyer read in disbelief. The memo, on defendant’s letterhead, crucified the defense. It was part of defendant’s production responses (and for reasons that will be talked about later, the fact that it was not electronically stored information is significant). The document had also been floating around for years. The defendant gave it to the police during the initial investigation. The police gave it back to the defense team when the defense asked for a copy of the police file. The defense produced it to the plaintiff. And, because it was responsive to a discovery category, the plaintiff produced it back to the defense. Continue Reading Read it and weep–Inadvertent Disclosure of Privileged Documents

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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

Referee Time Out.jpgLast November I received the following e-mail:

Since courts are so overwhelmed and setting dates for hearing is now running 6 months or longer, how does one do motions to compel further responses to interrogatories in a meaningful way? I booked the first available date with the court, but it is not until next June and I need the responses in order to know what documents to request. Any ideas? 

It is unfortunate that the California budget crisis has so imploded civil litigation in our courts. Despite the fact that discovery is the heart and soul or your case and you are entitled to compliance with your discovery requests; law and motion departments typically give discovery motions the lowest priority on their calendar. So, what do you do? Continue Reading Is It Time to Appoint a Discovery Referee?