Compel Further 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!


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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:


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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
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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.
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When I hear of a Judge or Discovery Referee making a ruling which essentially tries to not make anybody angry and essentially splits the baby, I cringe. This goes against the philosophy of the Discovery Act and current case law. There are rules in discovery and attorneys are expected to play by those rules. When one side plays by the rules and asks the court to enforce those rules, it becomes disheartening to that party when the Judge or Discovery Referee splits the baby instead of making the tough call.
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To determine whether or not a responding party has made a reasonable inquiry, you must determine where the responding party searched (what efforts were made), who did they talk to (did they make an inquiry to their legal department, human resources, customer relations, the employees in the chain of command, etc.), and what were the questions they asked.

More often then not I see responses to document requests being done (1) by the one with the highest bar number on the pleading (a.k.a. the newbie associate) and/or (2) by the attorney dictating at their desk instead of taking the time to sit down with the client, determining whom they should be talking to and knowing what questions to ask.

It is my opinion that the person who should be talking to the client and collecting the documents is the experienced senior attorney who has a relationship with the client and knows what questions to ask. If the senior attorney still chooses to delegate, then they need to be “hands on” and take responsibility whether or not a “diligent search” and “reasonable inquiry” were in fact made prior to the response and production being served.
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Have you ever received a response to requests for production of documents that says:

After a diligent search and a reasonable inquiry has been made in an effort to comply with this Request, there are no documents within RESPONDING PARTY’s possession, custody, or control

Yet you question the veracity of the verified response, because they have got to have documents. So what can you do? This is a two-prong inquiry. The first being
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There are three motions that you can bring–(1) Motion to Compel, (2) Motion to Compel Further Responses, and (3) Motion to have matters Deemed Admitted. All of them have their place in your discovery plan but two of them –Motion to Compel Further Responses and Motions to Have Matters Deemed Admitted must be in your arsenal. Though they appear to be the same motions you would use for interrogatories, inspection demands, and depositions there are a few noteworthy twists and turns.
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Attorneys easily spew out the objection “the information you are seeking is not relevant to the subject matter of the litigation” as easily as they say “Good morning.” If you are the propounding party your reaction is probably to be to yell out “It is too relevant!” because it doesn’t even appear that the responding party actually thought it through before spewing out the objection. But what exactly is relevancy? It seems to be a nebulous term that invokes images of catching clouds with your hands or like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography “I know it when I see it”?
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