Archives: Objections

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For years I have been blogging about bad discovery habits from Garbage Objections to unauthorized General Objections, and preached that attorneys must play by the rules. As you know if you have read my blogs, I am quite the supporter of the 1986 Discovery Act, and often express my opinions  on a party’s responsibility during the discovery process.  More importantly, I attempt to educate lawyers about the Discovery Act so they can be well prepared with their arguments when the court makes a wrong turn (yes, it does happen).

The case of Biles v. Exxon Mobil Corp. (2004) 124 CA4th 1315 is an example of the court’s misunderstanding of the Discovery Act and reacting erroneously to a garbage discovery response.  The facts are as follows:

Defendant Exxon served a special interrogatory asking plaintiff to identify “each person who has knowledge specifically of the work at [the Humble refinery] that you contend created your exposure to asbestos fibers.

Plaintiff responded:  “ After a reasonable and good faith inquiry, plaintiff currently has no further information responsive to this Interrogatory.  Plaintiff expressly reserves the right to amend or supplement this Response based on the outcome of such investigation.  Plaintiff’s investigation and discovery are continuing.”

Five months later, Exxon filed a motion for summary judgment.  Plaintiff’s opposition to the summary judgment included a declaration from a witness, which should have arguably defeated Exxon’s motion.  Exxon objected to the declaration of the witness on the ground that the witness had not been identified in plaintiff’s interrogatories responses.  The court sustained the objection and granted motion for summary judgement to Exxon.  The court rationalized its decision to strike the declaration stating:

Look, when you answer an interrogatory and you don’t give any names at all but say you are going to supplement it, the obligation is on you to supplement it as soon as you find out.”

The First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court on three grounds: (1) there was no evidence that plaintiff’s initial response was willfully false at the time it was served, (2) there is no obligation to supplement without a court order [or having been served with a supplemental interrogatory] and (3) the appropriate sanction if there was any discovery abuse, absent unusual circumstances or a violation of court order, was monetary sanctions, not evidence sanctions.

It took a year for the Court of Appeal to right this wrong and probably thousands of dollars in attorney time that the attorney probably wrote off.  All because of the unnecessary language,  “Plaintiff expressly reserves the right to amend or supplement this Response based on the outcome of such investigation,” included in the discovery response, and due to plaintiff’s encounter with a judge who didn’t know the finer points of the Discovery Act (or ignored them).

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.

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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?

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During my seminar on “Sanctions Denied,” I was asked how do you handle discovery abuse when it is part of a deep pocket defendant’s litigation strategy.  His story went like this:

Plaintiff’s counsel had been to court several times on motions to compel documents and motions to compel further documents from an international Corporation.  The court’s most recent order was that the documents were to be served two weeks before the corporation’s person most knowledgeable depositions were to take place in London.   Instead defendant produced 30,000 documents on a CD less than 24 hours before the London depositions were to begin.   Plaintiff counsel went forward with the depositions as trial was in a month and his client could not afford for the lawyer to go to London another time.  Plaintiff counsel expressed his frustrations that even though the court gave him $6000 in sanctions he was severely handicapped in his preparation for the depositions and it impacted on what evidence he could obtain before trial.

Even though this is an extreme example, it is not unusual.  The real question is what could he have done and what should you do if you find yourself in this situation.

Continue Reading When Discovery Abuse is a Trial Strategy

Wallet with MoneyA fellow Bay Area attorney contacted me about being sanctioned in excess of $5,000. He was mortified, as it was the first time he had ever been sanctioned and couldn’t believe the amount he was sanctioned under the circumstances. After I had spoken to him about his remedies, one being, a Writ (pdf), he wrote me the following e-mail.

Just wondering, but what does the phrase “acted with substantial justification” mean in the sanctions statute for motion to compel depo testimony, CCP 2025.480 (pdf)? Continue Reading Acted with Substantial Justification

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In responding to Requests for Production of documents you have three response choices  (1) agree to produce (C.C.P. §2031.220 (pdf)); (2) state that after a diligent search and a reasonable inquiry you have no documents (C.C.P. §2031.230 (pdf)) or (3) object C.C.P. §2031.240 (pdf)Continue Reading The Document from Hell–aka The “Privilege Log”

iStock_000014100087Large.jpgLast spring I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the Royal Globe Theatre in London, England.  On display there was a plaque titled “Quoting Shakespeare.” It began by stating:

If you can’t understand my argument and declare, “it’s Greek to me, you are quoting Shakespeare.  If you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare.  If you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if you lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare.  If you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied-a tower of strength—hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows—made a virtue necessitated, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink—stood on ceremony—danced attendance on your lord and mater—laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift—cold comfort, too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days, or lived in a fools paradise, why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are as good luck would have it, quoting Shakespeare…

Continue Reading Quoting Shakespeare

Objecting male attorney.jpgIn the spirit of my most recent blog, “OBJECTION!! There’s this case that says . . . “, here is a list of proper and improper objections to deposition questions that you should also keep in the back of your legal pad.  

OBJECTIONS TO DEPOSITION QUESTIONS

Objections to the form of questions are waived if not raised at the deposition. Weil and Brown, Cal Prac. Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2010) ¶8:721 (citing C.C.P. §2025.460 (pdf)(b)). 

Instructing witness not to answer is improper unless objecting on grounds of privilege. CCP §2025.460 (pdf)Stewart v. Colonial Western Agency, Inc.(2001) 87 CA4th 1006 (pdf), 10015.

Speaking objections which counsel explains his rationale for the objection is improper as it is usually used as a tactic to give the deponent a heads up that the area of questioning is dangerous and how he should answer.  This is a form of “coaching” the witness and a protective order may need to be sought.  See CEB, California Civil Discovery Practice (4th ed. 2010) §6:100. 

Continue Reading DEPOSITONS–What are the Real Objections?

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Have you ever been in a middle of a deposition and found yourself saying “OBJECTION!! There’s this case that says . . . “ but you can’t quite remember what the name was, where you saw it or even where you might find it?  And, yet, it is right on point. Well, the following is a list of cases and statutes for depositions that you should keep in the back of your legal pad as they may come in handy.

 

SCOPE OF DEPOSITION

Discovery is permissible if the information sought is relevant to the subject matter involved and it is admissible or reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence. C.C.P. §2017.010 (pdf) 

Admissibility is not the test.  Weil and Brown, California Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2010) ¶8:68 (citing C.C.P. §2017.010 citing Davies v. Superior Court (1984) 36 C3d 291 (pdf), 301).

Fishing expeditions are permissible.  Weil and Brown, California Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2010) ¶8:728 (citing C.C.P. §2017.010 citing Greyhound Corp. v. Superior Court(1961) 56 C2d 355 (pdf), 384).

Identity and location of witnesses are discoverable. C.C.P. §2017.010

Existence, description, nature, custody, condition and location of any document, tangible thing, or land or other property is discoverable. C.C.P. §2017.010

“Show me” questions (requesting a deponent to demonstrate an action) at a videotaped deposition are allowed. Emerson Electric Co. v. Superior Court (1997) 16 C4th 1101 (pdf), 1111. 

Improper to ask a party to state their legal contentions. Rifkind v. Superior Court(1994) 22 CA 4th 1255 (pdf), 1259.  This is because legal contentions are developed by the lawyer.  The proper discovery device to find out about legal contentions are interrogatories.

Documents reviewed to prepare for deposition are discoverable. International Insurance Co. v. Montrose Chemical Corp. of California (1991) 231 CA3d 1367 (pdf), 1372-73. However, privileged documents do not lose their privileged status (Sullivan v. Superior Court (1972) 29 CA3d 64 (pdf), 68), unless the witness claims no present memory of the events recorded in the statement given to his or her attorney and uses that statement to testify. Kerns Const. Co. v Superior Court (1968) 266 CA2d 405 (pdf), 410.

CONDUCT DURING DEPOSITION

Team questioning not per se abusiveRockwell International Inc. v. Pos-A traction Industries (9th Circuit 1983) 712 F2d 1324, 1325–applying California Law.  See Weil and Brown, California Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2010) ¶8:718.1

Coaching the witness during deposition not prohibited.  Weil and Brown, California Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2010) ¶8:721. However, Hall v. Clifton Precision (ED PA 1993) 150 FRD 525, 528 (decided under Federal Rules) states that “[o]nce a deposition begins, the deponent must be left “on his or her own.”

Deposition officer may not suspend taking testimony unless there is a stipulation of all counsel or the deposition is suspended for a party to seek a protective order.  C.C.P. §2025.470 (pdf)

NEXT:  DEPOSITONS–What are the Real Objections?


Continue Reading “OBJECTION” — There’s this case that says…