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 2018) ¶8:1 citing Greyhound Corp. v. Superior Court (1961) 55 C.2d. 335, 376.

Serving “[a]ppropriate written interrogatories are one of the means to accomplish the general goals of the discovery process designed to facilitate a fair trial.” (Juarez v. Boy Scouts of America, Inc. (2000) 81 CA4th 377, 389)

“Interrogatories expedite the resolution of lawsuits … [by detecting] sham claims and defenses … [and] may be employed to support a motion for summary judgment or a motion to specify those issues which are without substantial controversy.”  Deyo v. Kilbourne (1978) 84 CA3d 771, 779

When responding to interrogatories, the Discovery Act requires a party to make a reasonable and good faith effort to obtain the information before responding to the interrogatories. Regency Health Services, Inc. v. Superior Court (1998) 64 CA4th 1496.  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. Superior Court (Alfred) (1961) 189 CA2d 6, agents or employees Gordon v. Sup. Ct.  (1984) 161 CA 3d 151, 167-168, family members Jones v. Superior Court  (1981) 119 CA 3d 534, 552. See Weil and Brown, Cal. Prac. Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2018) ¶8:1051-1060.  This means that an attorney can’t just pawn off the responses to the client or spend an hour and dictate the responses off the top of his head.  See Sinaiko Healthcare Consulting, Inc. v. Pacific Healthcare Consultants (2007) 148 CA4th 390.

Unfortunately, the propounding party often receives responses to their interrogatories that include a “General Objection” or a “Preliminary Statement”, which is improper, and garbage objections with no substantive responses. Responding parties even use garbage objections to Form Interrogatories which were drafted by the California Judicial Council (The Administrative Office of the Courts) and considered objection proof as to form.   See Weil and Brown, Cal. Prac. Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2018) ¶8:933.

It is patently obvious ungrounded refusal to answer, prolonged delay and incorrect answers to interrogatories seriously inhibit “the principal aim of discovery procedures in general [which] is to assist counsel to prepare for trial….”  Smith v. Circle P. Ranch Company, et al. (1978) 87 Cal.App.3d 267, 273.

Bring your motion to compel further responses to interrogatories as you are entitled to proper responses and, hopefully, the court will make it clear to the responding party that such abuse of the discovery process will not be tolerated.

 

In the case of Victalic Company v American Home Assurance Company the First District Court of Appeal made it very clear that denials to Requests for Admissions are inadmissible.   Here is the court’s reasoning starting at page 23 of the published opinion:

Gonsalves v. Li (2015) 232 Cal.App.4th 1406 (Gonsalves) involved an automobile accident. Plaintiff called defendant as an adverse witness and asked about his qualified denials of plaintiff’s RFAs that he was responsible for the accident. And in closing argument, plaintiff emphasized that the denials were evidence defendant refused to take responsibility for plaintiff’s injuries. (Id. at p. 1413.) The jury returned a verdict for plaintiff for $1,208,642.86. (Id. at p. 1411.) Our colleagues in Division Five reversed, holding it was error for the trial court to allow questions about RFAs.

The court first discussed analogous cases, including Rifkind v. Superior Court (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 1255, holding

that it was improper to ask at deposition “ ‘legal contention questions,’ ” which questions were condemned as requiring the party “ ‘to make a “law-to-fact” application that is beyond the competence of most lay persons.’ ”

(Gonsalves, supra, 232 Cal.App.4th at p. 1415.) These concerns, the court concluded,

“apply to the use of qualified denials to RFA’s in the examinations here. Li was asked to explain ‘by memory and on the spot’ and without the ability to consult with his attorney why he took the legal position that he could not admit or deny certain RFA’s without further inquiry. And he was asked to do this not in a deposition, as in Rifkind, but in front of the jury.” (Id. at pp. 1415–1416.)

And the court went on to hold: “The weight of authority in other jurisdictions also favors Li’s position. Massachusetts’s highest court interpreted a statutory scheme similar to California’s and concluded that denials to RFA’s are not admissible evidence at trial: ‘The purpose of [RFA’s] is to narrow the issues for trial by “identifying those issues and facts as to which proof will be necessary.” [Citation.] A denial . . . is not a statement of fact; it simply indicates that the responding party is not willing to concede the issue and, as a result, the requesting party must prove the fact at trial. [Citations]. The sanction for improperly responding to [RFA’s] is the shifting of the award of incurred expenses[—see rule 36(a) of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure]. [¶] Further, [Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, rule 36(b)], which governs [RFA’s], does not specifically provide for the admission of denials in evidence. Although the rule states that admissions are conclusively binding on the responding party, it makes no parallel provision for the use of a denial. By contrast, [Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, rule 33(b)], governing interrogatories, states that the answers to interrogatories “may be used [at trial] to the extent permitted by the rules of evidence.” The omission of a similar provision in rule 36(b) indicates that, although admissions have binding effect, denials do not have such an effect and cannot be introduced in evidence.’ [Citation.] Therefore, the trial court ‘incorrectly concluded that a denial of a request for admission is admissible as a prior inconsistent statement’ to impeach a witness at trial. [Citation.]” (Gonsalves, supra, 232 Cal.App.4th at p. 1416, fns. omitted.)

Finally, Gonsalves noted that appellate courts in at least three states have similarly held that denials of RFA’s are inadmissible at trial, citing to Winn Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Gerringer (Fla.Dist.Ct.App. 1990) 563 So.2d 814, 817; Mahan v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. (Mo.Ct.App. 1988) 760 S.W.2d 510, 515; and American Communications v. Commerce North Bank (Tex.App. 1985) 691 S.W.2d 44, 48.) (Gonsalves, supra, 232 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1416–1417.)

 

Have you ever wondered how the work product doctrine works when you hire a consultant who may or may not become your expert. Trial Attorney Lee Previant, from Los Angeles, wrote this great article titled “Attorney Work Product Doctrine And Experts for Advocate Magazine that explains how it all works.  Enjoy.

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As any litigator is undoubtedly aware, expert witnesses are necessary whether to offer evidence required to meet your burden of proof or to offer evidence to combat attacks on causation.  Likewise, communications with your expert witnesses are necessary.  This includes communications to 1) retain the expert witness, 2) communications providing them with case specific materials so they may formulate their opinions, and 3) communications providing scientific, technical, professional texts, treatises, journals, or similar publications to assist the expert in forming their opinion.  In addition, an attorney may communicate with an expert for the sole purpose of obtaining advisory opinions.

An expert witness is defined as someone who has “special knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education sufficient to qualify him[/her] as an expert on the subject to which his[/her] testimony relates.”  (Evid. Code § 720.)

Continue Reading An Attorney’s Relationship with their Expert and the Work Product Doctrine

I received a comment about one of my blogs saying:

Many young(er) attorneys abuse discovery as a matter of course – as if they have been taught how to be obstructionists at law school. I also think newer attorneys do the scorched earth route to create more billing.  One dope sent me objections that were over 100 pages.

I have written many blogs regarding how to handle discovery abuse by opposing counsel.  These include filing motions to compel further responses, filing motions for protective orders and how to recover sanctions.

Continue Reading DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR OBLIGATIONS ARE IN RESPONDING TO WRITTEN DISCOVERY?

Most cases rise and fall on whether there is documentary evidence supporting a claim or defense. Thus, the most important discovery device in a litigator’s  toolbox  is the ability to request documents pursuant to CCP 2031.210 et seq. Unfortunately, most lawyers fail to properly respond and produce documents which leads to the ever so popular Motion to Compel Further Responses and Production of Documents

Patrick Nolan’s article “How the crafty defense lawyer hides things by avoiding the details in requests for production of documents — Using the teeth of the statute to get the most out of RFPs”  gives an eye opening tutorial on how to deal with a response that is not as straightforward as it appears.  Below is his article.

Continue Reading How a Crafty Lawyer Hides Things by Avoiding the Details when Responding to Requests for Production of Documents

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.

Continue Reading Discovery May Be Obtained of the Identity and Location of Persons Having Knowledge of Any Discoverable Matter

Have you ever had a situation where the opposing side has responded to each of your document production requests with the response?

All responsive documents within the custody and control of responding party will be produced.

and then they dump thousands of documents on you with no rhyme or reason as to how they are organized.

You then diligently send your meet and confer letter stating that the  documents are so disorganized that you “can’t make heads or tails as to which documents are responsive to which request.”  Opposing counsel responds saying that the document production was in compliance with the code as the documents were produced “as they are kept in the usual course of business” and they will neither modify their response nor the production.  So what do you do?

Continue Reading A Needle in a Haystack – When Opposing Party Dumps Documents

 

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

Continue Reading To Sign or Not to Sign Your Proof of Service

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.

 

Continue Reading DISCOVERY GAMES AND MISCONCEPTIONS—What is Wrong with this Document Response?