What to Do If a Party Fails to Provide Proper (or Any) Answers to Interrogatories
Interrogatories Are Critical to the Preparation of a CaseInterrogatories are the cornerstone for the preparation of a case as they enable a party to acscertain all of the facts, witnesses, and documents that the other side posseses.
As with all discovery, interrogatories help prevent a party from being ambushed at trial with information, witnesses, or documents that were not disclosed.
Special Interrogatories vs. Form InterrogatoriesA party can propound either special interrogatories of form interrogatories.
Special interrogatories are customized and created by counsel for the propounding party.
Form interrogatories are standardized, and created by the California legislature.
Each type of interrogatory has advantages and disadvantages.
In an abundance of caution, both types of interrogatories can be served concurrently to make sure all needed information is obtained.
Many Parties Fail to Provide Proper Interrogatory Responses.While a party is supposed to provide full and complete answers to interrogatories, many fail to do so.
Thus, instead providing the information requested in the interrogatories, counsel will often serve responses that have a number of objections with little or no information.
Or the answers might be so evasive or limited as to be of little use.
Send a Meet and Confer LetterUpon receipt of a deficient response to an interrogatory, the propounding attorney should send a meet and confer letter to the responding attorney.
A meet and confer letter identifies all of the deficiencies in the response,and asks for a second, or supplemental, response that cures these deficencies, and provides the requested information.
The meet and confer letter satsisfies the requirement under Califonia law of trying to informally resolve a discovery dispute, prior to making a motion to compel.
Make a Motion to CompelIf opposing counsel fails to cure deficiencies in the interrogatories after receiving the meet and confer letter, a motion to compel should be brought.
In a motion to compel, the propounding party asks the court to order the responding party to provide proper answers.
Such motions must be filed within 45 days after the response to the interrogatories is served.
"If a motion to compel answers to interrogatories is filed, the burden will then be on the objecting party to establish whatever facts are necessary to justify the objection". Weil & Brown, California Practice Guide, Civil Procedure Before Trial, at ?8:1074.
Where the responding party fails to satisfy this burden, the court will not only order further answers, but sanction the responding party if the objections are deemed to be without substantial justification. California Code of Civ. Proc. ? ?2023.030(a) and 2030.300(d).
Monetary Sanctions Against the Responding PartyCalifornia Code of Civ. Proc. ?2030.300(d) provides that the court "shall" impose sanctions against a party, who, without substantial justification, makes or opposes a motion to compel a further response to interrogatories.
Code of Civ. Proc. ?2023.010(d)-(f) provides for sanctions where there has been any misuse of the discovery process. "[E]vasive responses, and objections lacking substantial justification, are 'misuses of the discovery process' for which monetary sanctions are properly imposed. Weil & Brown, at ?8:1185.
Thus, the propounding party has a "hammer" to obtain proper responses to interrogatories without the need for a motion to compel.
ConclusionA propounding party should make every effort to informally resolve a dispute with respect to deficient responses to interrogatories.
However, if the other side still refuses to provide proper responses, a motion to compel can and should be brought.
If such a motion is necessary, the propounding party should not only ask that the responding party be ordered to provide proper answers, but for monetary sanctions equal to the attorney's fees and costs incurred in bringing the motion.