Imagine this:  At the beginning of the case you serve  interrogatories asking basic information about your case.  Thirty-five (35) days later you receive responses  that state for every  interrogatory:

“Vague, ambiguous, overbroad, burdensome, oppressive, not likely to lead to admissible evidence and the information is equally accessible to the defendant.  Plaintiff further objects on the grounds of attorney client privilege and the work product doctrine.  See Nacht & Lewis Architect, Inc. v. Superior Court (1996) 47 CA4th 214 (pdf)

train station photo.jpg

Does this sound all too familiar?  The frustration level is high with attorneys as it will take at a minimum 121 days to get basic information if you have to file a motion to compel further responses.  Meanwhile the court is scheduling a trial date and your discovery train hasn’t even left the station. 

The purpose of discovery is to take the “game” element out of trial preparation by enabling the parties to obtain evidence necessary to evaluate and resolve their dispute before a trial is necessary.  Weil and Brown, Cal Prac. Guide:  Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2009) ¶ 8:1, citing Greyhound Corp. v. Superior Court (1961).  Unfortunately, now it appears the call of the wild is “Let the games begin” as the dreaded process unfolds. 

It is time to rethink how you respond to interrogatories and what you can do if you do get the above response.   Code of Civil Procedure §2030.220 requires that

(a) Each answer in a response to interrogatories shall be as complete and straightforward as the information reasonably available to the responding party permits.

(b) If an interrogatory cannot be answered completely, it shall be answered to the extent possible.

(c) If the responding party does not have personal knowledge sufficient to respond fully to an interrogatory, that party shall so state, but shall make a reasonable and good faith effort to obtain the information by inquiry to other natural persons or organizations, except where the information is equally available to the propounding party.

The code requires that a party must make a reasonable and good faith effort to obtain the information. Regency Health Services, Inc. v. Superior Court (1998) 64 CA4th1496 (pdf)“A party cannot plead ignorance to information which can be obtained from sources under his control.” Deyo v. Kilbourne (1978) 84 CA3d 771,782. This includes a party’s lawyer Smith v. Sup. Ct (Alfred) (1961) 189 CA 2d 6, agents or employees Gordon v. Sup. Ct. (U.Z.MFG.Co) (1984) 161 CA 3d 15,167-168, family members Jones v. Superior Court (Benny) (1981) 119 CA 3d 534, 552 and experts who have been retained by a party and designated as a trial witness.  Sigerseth v. Superior Court(1972) 23 CA 3d 427,433.   See Weil and Brown, Cal Prac. Guide:  Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2009) ¶ 8:1051-1060  This means that you can’t just pawn off the responses to your client or spend an hour and dictate off the top of your head and then answer “inability to respond.”  See Sinaiko Healthcare Consulting, Inc. v. Pacific Healthcare Consultants (2007) 148 CA4th 390   The statute and the case law make it very clear that a party and the attorney must be proactive in obtaining the information to respond to the interrogatories.  

Discovery motions are by no means the Courts’ favorite motions to hear and, unfortunately, they have seen the above interrogatory response too many times.  So don’t be surprised if you get sanctioned for providing false or evasive answers.  See CCP §2030.300 

 Next:  Are Your Responses Garbage?

  • Bill Lathan

    I have an active case, as a plaintiff, invloving Intellectual Property and have found your comments on responses to discovery completely true. The garbage I have received to my request for admissions is insulting.

    The intent to win at any cost, by bullying, intimation, piles of meaninless paper is not something impressive.

    Imagine these same attorneys responding in like mannor in a University Setting. Professor all the questions propounded to me are vague and incomprehensable therefore I am justified in not answering them.

    Thank you for you web site

    Bill Lathan

  • I have never seen a discovery request where the names of both plaintiffs are identified in the discovery requests as “responding party.” Is there any California case law regarding how many people may be named as “responding party” in a single discovery request?

  • MikeR-

    In my experience, the majority of garbage responses are a direct result of garbage requests. When attorneys take the time to write specific requests, to really think about the evidence that they hope to find and when they remember their obligations as officers of the court to fair and efficient justice (not merely a scorched-earth advocate for one client), the responses are usually equally professional and cooperative.

    A vague question may indicate that the requestor doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know (a legitimate though frustrating request) but more often, it seems to be either an indicator of a lazy requestor who hasn’t bothered to think about which relevant facts are in dispute or worse, an a deliberate attempt to drive up the costs of preservation by the opposing side.

  • I have been asked that question numerous times and to date I have found no cases that say you can’t serve more than one person with the discovery request. It is my belief that it is ok if they are represented by the same attorney since the attorney is the one that is responsible for gathering information to answer interrogatories and requests for admissions. However, you do need separate verifications from each party served.

  • Found a case on the issue. Tobin v. Oris (1992) 3 CA4th 814, 829. (disapproved on other grounds.) This case involved one response and two verifications. The court said
    “The final objection to these responses raised by Tobin, that there was an improper joint response is utterly without merit. While Tobin submitted two separate sets of requests, one for Richard Oris and one for Milly Oris, they were apparently identical (see fn. 4, ante). That the Orises chose to respond with a single document containing identical responses, but which was verified under penalty of perjury by both of them, does not invalidate their responses; nor would it violate the statutory mandate of a “separate” response. Tobin received all that he was entitled to receive. Each of the Orises responded, each verified their responses and each could be held separately accountable therefore. To require them to have done so on separate pieces of paper would have added nothing but another triumph of form over substance.”

  • ALLAN BESBRIS

    Lawyer on the other side of a case (the defendant) persists in answering discovery in the third person, I.e. “defendant does not recall…” rather than apparently having his client answer the questions, ie. “I do not recall…”. Can’t find any case that mandates first person answers. Have you run across this issues before?

  • Another good source on this issue is Julie Brook’s blog “6 Things to Know about Interrogatory Responses” which you can find at http://blog.ceb.com/2015/04/20/6-things-to-know-about-interrogatory-responses/

    Katherine Gallo