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.

 

iStock_000012781059_SmallUnlike Federal Rule Civil Procedure 26(e)(1) – (2), California law does not impose a continuing duty on a party to supplement their interrogatory or document responses.  Biles v. Exxon Mobil Corp. (2004) 124 CA 4th 1315.  Instead, the California Discovery Act has two statutes, C.C.P. §2030.070 and C.C.P. § 2031.050, that allow the propounding party to ask for updated information “bearing on answers already made” and “later acquired or discovered documents, tangible things, land or other property.”

Continue Reading Are You Following Up on Your Opponent’s Discovery Responses?

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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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John Podesta, an insurance coverage attorney in San Francisco, brings us his perspective on why the Form Interrogatories for Construction Defect should be used. John has handled hundreds of coverage cases  involving Construction litigation and other complex matters for over twenty years.  He is a nationally known speaker on Insurance Coverage issues in Construction and has written several articles on the subject.  He is also the author of the insurance Interrogatory 304.1 of Construction Litigation Form Interrogatories.

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It is generally recognized that construction defect cases are some of the most expensive, and complicated, cases being litigated in California.  I have personally been involved in cases with more than 75 payors contributing to a settlement, including contractors, insurers, and sureties.  I have witnessed them from the beginning of the modern Special Master programs in the 1980’s through the single assignment Special Masters (both mediator and case management/discovery referee) and the dual reference (where the case manager/discovery referee and the mediator are separated) and cases with no outside supervision and the case is handled per the CCP.  In all these cases, the same question is asked by the carriers:  “How can we get these cases evaluated and resolved quicker and less expensively?”  And the related question: “If this is a case that needs to be tried how can we get to that decision point as soon as possible?Continue Reading Why Every Insurance Carrier Should Insist That The New Construction Form Interrogatories Be Used

handshake 2.jpgIn many cases mediation is the most cost-efficient and effective method of resolving a case. Often, litigants can save a lot of money and time when mediation is held after first tier discovery has been completed, once the core facts are determined that circumscribe the dispute. In order to facilitate early resolution many courts have implemented mediation programs and asked mediators to volunteer their time. Unfortunately, many mediators are becoming discouraged with these programs because many times the parties are not prepared.

Speaking to a number of Bay Area mediators who participate in the court ordered mediation panels, they have uniformly identified that the majority of the court ordered mediation cases are breach of contract and personal injury cases.

It was a consensus that, whether the information is obtained through investigation, informal exchange of information or formal discovery, parties need to know the absolute basics of their case so that they can intelligently mediate.  Mediation is not the time to expect an opponent to “educate” you of the basic understanding of your case.   This may seem to be obvious, but in hearing the stories from the mediators it was surprising on how unprepared many parties are.  Continue Reading DISCOVERY PLAN PART 3–Are You Ready for Mediation?

iStock_000016672124XSmall-1.jpgI recently received an e-mail from a pro-per who asked me

“ Is there any chance you can send me a link to an example “meet & confer” declaration form”

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Judicial Council form where you could check the boxes on such a form and be done with it? The judge should just assume that you did what needed to be done and grant your motion. Isn’t that the way it should be? I mean, really, aren’t we all professionals and if you say that you met and conferred in good faith your word should be enough. Right? Not quite…

Continue Reading Save Time, Money and Angst — MEET AND CONFER

Southern Belle.jpgAs every lawyer is aware, a party may propound more than 35 specially prepared interrogatories or requests for admissions simply by attaching a Declaration of Necessity (pdf) pursuant to C.C.P. §2030.040 (pdf) and  C.C.P. §2033.040 (pdf) stating the reasons why they need more.  See C.C.P. §2030.050 (pdf) and C.C.P. §2033.050 (pdf).   However, when you receive more than 35 specially prepared interrogatories or requests for admissions, you should ask yourself the question “IS IT REALLY NECESSARY?” Continue Reading “I DECLARE, IT IS NECESSARY”