Exasperated JudgeThere are very few discovery cases that come out each year.  Usually they are are significant and involve privileges such as Coito v. Superior Court and Catalina Island Yacht Club v. Superior Court.  The newly reported case  Mitchell v. Superior Court (2015) 243 CA4th 269 is not one of those cases.  However, it does demonstrate a trial court’s error in excluding witnesses at trial, because it did not understand the definition of “INCIDENT” in the Judicial Council Form Interrogatories and what the standard is in issuing evidence sanctions regarding discovery abuse .

The case involved an auto accident in which plaintiff was injured.  Defendant served Judicial Council Form Interrogatories which included Interrogatory No. 12.1.   Interrogatory No. 12.1, which is  under the 12.0 Investigation—General Series, reads as follows:

12.1 State the name, ADDRESS, and telephone number of each individual

(a)  who witnessed the INCIDENT or the events occurring immediately before or after the INCIDENT;

(b) who made any statement at the scene of the INCIDENT;

(c) who heard any statements made about the INCIDENT by any individual at the scene; and

(d) who YOU OR ANYONE ACTING ON YOUR BEHALF claim has knowledge of the INCIDENT (except for expert witnesses covered by Code of Civil Procedure section 2034).

In her answers to this interrogatory, plaintiff only identified one witness.  Subsequently plaintiff identified three other witnesses whom she intended to call at trial to describe her how the accident affected her physically and how it impacted on her ability to do her job.  The trial court granted defendant’s motion in limine to exclude the testimony of the three witnesses for plaintiff’s failure to divulge their identity in the responses and supplemental responses to interrogatory 12.1.

The Second District Court of Appeals found that the trial court abused it’s discretion stating:

We read interrogatory No. 12.1 to seek the identities of percipient witnesses, witnesses who were at the scene immediately before or after the accident, those privy to statements by percipient witnesses to an accident and those who might have personal knowledge of the accident itself. The interrogatory does not seek the identity of witnesses—such as those whose testimony was excluded by the trial court—who may testify to the physical injuries or physical disabilities suffered by a plaintiff as a result of the accident. Our view that interrogatory No. 12.1 should be narrowly construed to refer to witnesses of the incident itself is bolstered by other form interrogatories, in particular Nos. 12.4 and 16.1, which distinguish between an “incident” and a plaintiff’s “injuries.”

Moreover, exclusion of a party’s witness for that party’s failure to identify the witness in discovery is appropriate only if the omission was willful or a violation of a court order compelling a response. (See Code Civ. Proc., §§ 2023.030, CCP 2030.290, subd. (c), 2030.300, subd. (e); see also Saxena v. Goffney (2008) 159 Cal. App. 4th 316, 333-335 [71 Cal. Rptr. 3d 469]; Thoren v. Johnston & Washer (1972) 29 Cal.App.3d 270, 273–275 [105 Cal. Rptr. 276].) Even if interrogatory No. 12.1 could be construed as a request for the identity of witnesses who would testify to post-accident physical disabilities and difficulties, there was no evidence that plaintiff’s failure to identify the witnesses was willful or that plaintiff contravened a court order to provide discovery.

Accordingly, it was error to impose an evidence sanction based on plaintiff’s failure to divulge the names of the three witnesses in response to interrogatory No. 12.1 or to defendant’s general request for supplemental responses to interrogatories.

HELPFUL HINT: Trial Departments are frequently removed from discovery battles and may not be familiar with the subtleties of the Discovery Act.  Nonetheless, this case and the Biles v. Exxon Mobil Corp (2004) 124 CA4th 1315 that I wrote about in “The Pitfalls of Bad Discovery Habits” are examples of trial courts’ misunderstanding of what a court needs to find before they can impose evidence sanctions. Keep both cases handy as they are important if you are ever opposing a motion in limine to exclude evidence that you didn’t produce during discovery.

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?

Judge and Hammer

W. George Wailes, a Business Trial Attorney and Director at Carr McClellan, in Burlingame, CA brings us this warning from the California Court of Appeal about what could happen to a third party that refuses to comply with a subpoena for electronically stored information.

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The California Court of Appeal recently provided rare guidance regarding a third party’s obligations to produce electronically stored information (ESI) in response to a subpoena.  In Vasquez v. California School of Culinary Arts, Inc. (Sallie Mae) (2014) 230 CA4th 35, the court defined subpoenaed parties’ obligations to extract existing data from computer systems and upheld an award of attorneys’ fees against the recalcitrant third party.  The court concluded that it is unreasonable for a third party to withhold ESI that exists in its computer systems on the basis that outputting the ESI entails creating a “new” spreadsheet.

Continue Reading A Third-Party Can Expect Sanctions for Ignoring a Subpoena for Electronically Stored Information

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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

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

Security Guard

 

Over lunch last week, a local attorney was complaining to me about his case that is going to trial in July.  On the last day to serve written discovery, Plaintiff counsel had served each of his five clients, on behalf of each of her three plaintiffs, a separate set of 50 specially prepared interrogatories, 35 requests for documents, 70 requests for admissions and 17.1 of the Form Interrogatories for a total 750 specially prepared interrogatories and 525 requests for documents, 1050 requests for admissions and 4200 responses to Form Interrogatory 17.1 equaling 6525 discovery requests to be responded to 30 days before trial.     Continue Reading YOU NEED TO FILE A MOTION FOR A PROTECTIVE ORDER!!

iStock_000000215562XSmall.jpgLast week I received the following e-mail from one of my readers:

I have read your articles with interest and respect for some time now; I find them excellent plus.I have a friend who is acting pro per in a civil case. Suffice it to say she can’t afford or get an attorney.

Opposing counsel has made a mockery of discovery by making (putrid) garbage objections to 99% of discovery sent him. He uses every boilerplate objection and has even objected saying some discovery was “unintelligible” when my friend didn’t define a name that was the name of the defendants product…  Opposing counsel is clearly abusing the intent of discovery dragging my friend into “Meet and Confer Hell” while knowing that as a pro per, my friend can not get anything more at this point than her costs of filing a Motion to Compel (which she has won) and photocopy costs. On the other hand, and I speak with authority, opposing counsel has created enough work for himself to literally turn a reasonably moderately sized case into a major matter and I would estimate he has made more than $250,000 in fees from his client (no insurance company involved) in 2011.

My point being: There is clearly a wrong here (major discovery abuse and a lack of any good faith) and no remedy.Am I being naive in thinking something should be done or a remedy created? Continue Reading Am I Naïve to Think Something Should Be Done?

Bully Lawyer

Today I read a great article by Minnesota attorney Randall Ryder titled “New Attorney? Don’t Get Intimidated by Opposing Counsel.”  The article struck a cord with me as it is a proponent of the same philosophy that I am advocating in my own blog—don’t be intimidated by a bully, do not react with words in kind and use the “Rules” to win. Though the article is directed towards new attorneys, this is good advice for every attorney.   Continue Reading Don’t Get Intimidated and Play by the Rules