Generally, written discovery is a party’s first opportunity to seek information regarding the opposing side’s claims or defenses. Written discovery is a powerful tool as it forces the other side to provide information regarding their case under oath. The different types of written discovery are interrogatoriesi, requests for admissionsii, and inspection demands.iii Although written discovery is permissible under the Civil Discovery Act, there are reasons to object and not provide the information requested. To avoid providing a substantive response to improper discovery requests, the responding party must timely serve objections. This article explores a few valid objections a party may assert in response to unacceptable discovery requests.
1. Objection: The Definition of “You” is Impermissibly Overbroad
Code of Civil Procedure section 2020.010 provides the methods a party may use to obtain information from a person who is not a party to the lawsuit. The methods include an oral deposition, a written deposition, or a deposition for production of business records. Many times, a party will use the term, “you” in their discovery request and define “you” to include individuals other than the party responding to the discovery.
For example, the party propounding the discovery may define the term “you” to mean the responding party and all agents, servants, employees, and representatives of responding party which were, or are, in responding party’s employ. When the propounding party uses the term, “you” in discovery requests, the party is then attempting to obtain information regarding not only the responding party who is a party to the lawsuit, but also all agents, servants, employees, and representatives of responding party which were, or are, in responding party’s employ. This is unacceptable. The appropriate objection in this situation would be as follows: Propounding Party’s definition of “you” is impermissibly overbroad and violates the Code of Civil Procedure §2020.010 and §2030.010 (§2033.010 for requests for admissions and §2031.010 for inspection demands).
2. Objection: Interrogatory Contains Subparts, or is Compound, Conjunctive, or Disjunctive
An objection is often missed when the interrogatory in question contains subparts or is compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive. Code of Civil Procedure §§2030.060(f) states, “No specially prepared interrogatory shall contain subparts, or a compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive question.” These types of interrogatories are easy to spot. Interrogatories vulnerable to this objection are those which include multiple inquiries in a single interrogatory. For example, an interrogatory such as: “Please state the time and location of the accident” includes multiple inquiries. Specially prepared interrogatories may not make more than one inquiry (as in the above example which asks for the time and location.) The propounding party must ask for the time and location in separate interrogatories. A disjunctive interrogatory is one which expresses a choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities. An example of this type of interrogatory is: “Please state whether you were stopped or driving through the intersection at the time of the motor vehicle accident.”
If discovery includes one of the interrogatories discussed above, the appropriate objection should be asserted.
- 3. Objection: Interrogatory is Not Full and Complete in and of Itself
Code of Civil Procedure §2030.060(d) provides, “Each interrogatory shall be full and complete in and of itself.” If a specially prepared interrogatory requires the responding party to review another document to respond, this is an appropriate opportunity to assert this objection because the subject interrogatory is not full and complete in and of itself.
4. Objection: Interrogatory Seeks a Summary of Documents and the Burden is Substantially the Same for Propounding Party
Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.230 provides the following:
If the answer to an interrogatory would necessitate the preparation or the making of a compilation, abstract, audit, or summary of or from the documents of the party to whom the interrogatory is directed, and if the burden or expense of preparing or making it would be substantially the same for the party propounding the interrogatory as for the responding party, it is a sufficient answer to that interrogatory to refer to this section and to specify the writings from which the answer may be derived or ascertained. This specification shall be in sufficient detail to permit the propounding party to locate and to identify, as readily as the responding party can, the documents from which the answer may be ascertained. The responding party shall then afford to the propounding party a reasonable opportunity to examine, audit, or inspect these documents and to make copies, compilations, abstracts, or summaries of them.
An interrogatory vulnerable to this objection typically asks the responding party to provide information which is included in documents within the propounding party’s possession or which the responding party can provide to propounding party. This objection should be asserted, and the response should identify the documents the propounding party can obtain to gather the information.
If a discovery request is improper for any of the reasons discussed above, the appropriate objections should be asserted. The decision to not provide any substantive information should be discussed with an attorney. There may be a strategical purpose in providing the requested information despite asserting valid objections.
i C.C.P. § 2030.010
ii C.C.P. § 2033.010
iii C.C.P. § 2031.010