When drafting special interrogatories, you apply the same basic principles as all legal documents: strive for clarity and brevity, choose language carefully, and avoid vague descriptions. But there are also some special statutory requirements and drafting considerations to keep in mind.
Special interrogatories should be appropriate to the case and will depend on your objective, i.e., draft particular questions based on how you plan to use the answers. Here are a couple of rules of thumb:
- When you plan to use the answer at trial, narrowly draw the questions to call for short answers, because short answers are more difficult to disclaim than longer ones, and broadly drafted interrogatories may either be objected to or produce answers that are too qualified to be of much value.
- When the purpose of the question is more for gathering information than for use at trial, it may be a useful to draft it broadly to make it as comprehensive as possible.
In addition to considering the questions’ objective, make sure that all interrogatories comply with the following:
- Don’t include unapproved prefaces or instructions. To ensure that the limitation on the number of interrogatories isn’t circumvented by a lengthy preface or instructions that might amount to prohibited subparts (see below), each interrogatory must be full and complete; no preface or instructions are allowed unless they have been approved by the Judicial Council under CCP §§2033.710-2033.740. CCP §2030.060(d).
- Use tailored definitions. You can use definitions in a set of interrogatories, capitalizing defined words whenever they reappear in the interrogatories. CCP §2030.060(e). Definitions can help you avoid repetition, but make sure to tailor them to the particular action; it’s important to avoid confusion caused by terms not used in or applicable to the interrogatories propounded (i.e., be careful when drafting from interrogatories you’ve used in another case!).
- Watch the number and format of interrogatories. Number each set of interrogatories consecutively. The identity of the propounding party, the set number, and the identity of the responding party must appear in the first paragraph immediately below the title of the case. CCP §2030.060(a)-(b). Each interrogatory must be separately set out and identified by number or letter. CCP §2030.060(c). There’s no requirement that interrogatories provide space for answers.
- Don’t use subparts. Subparts are prohibited in specially prepared interrogatories. CCP §2030.060(f). The responding party should object under CCP §2030.240(b) to any specially prepared interrogatory containing subparts.
- Ask one question only per interrogatory. Interrogatories that are compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive are prohibited. CCP §2030.060(f). An interrogatory can’t be phrased to seem to ask only one question while actually requiring a response to multiple questions. For example, an interrogatory asking to identify which portions of a witness’s deposition testimony were untrue was held to violate the limit of 35 interrogatories absent a supporting declaration because it required the responding party to consider each question and answer that the witness gave in her deposition. Catanese v Superior Court (1996) 46 CA4th 1159, 1164, 54 CR2d 280.
- Each interrogatory must be full and complete. Interrogatories must be “self-contained,” meaning that each interrogatory must be “full and complete in and of itself.” CCP §2030.060(d). An interrogatory that requires the responding party to refer to other documents to understand the question violates this rule. Catanese v Superior Court (1996) 46 CA4th 1159, 1164, 54 CR2d 280.
- Don’t combine interrogatories with requests for admission. Interrogatories can’t be combined in a single document with requests for admission. CCP §2033.060(h). But you can serve requests for admission in conjunction with other methods of discovery, particularly with Judicial Council Form DISC-001, Interrogatory 17.1.
For everything you need to know about drafting special interrogatories, including a sample form showing the required format, turn to CEB’s California Civil Discovery Practice, chapter 7.
Related CEB blog posts:
- Discovery by the Numbers
- To Depose or Not to Depose: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking an Oral Deposition
- Organizing Discovery
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