Interrogatories can be a very powerful discovery tool. With interrogatories, you get to ask questions of adverse parties and then use their answers against them at trial. Don’t miss out on this opportunity by bungling the timing of your interrogatories.
Here are the key interrogatory timing limits to keep in mind:
- Service timing:
- Plaintiff must wait to serve until 10 days after defendant’s service or appearance. Plaintiff’s first chance to serve interrogatories generally comes 10 days after service of summons on or appearance by the party to be served. CCP §2030.020(b)–(c). The appearance may be general or special, but if it’s special, the scope of interrogatories must be limited. 1880 Corp. v Superior Court (1962) 57 C2d 840. Plaintiff can serve sooner, but only with a court order; this may be a good idea when expedited discovery is necessitated by, e.g., possible destruction of evidence or a party’s terminal illness.
- Defendants can start serving whatever they want. Defendant may serve interrogatories on a party without leave of court at any time. CCP §2030.020(a).
- Last set should be served by 90 days of trial. All parties should plan to serve the last set of interrogatories by mail no later than 90 days before the trial date. This isn’t the absolute deadline, but allows leeway for each stage of the procedure to compel responses or further responses. This leeway may be necessary when key time periods end on a Sunday or holiday or when a court can’t schedule a hearing (e.g., on a motion to compel) on the date you want.
- Response timing: A party generally has 30 days from the date of service to respond to interrogatories, and motions about discovery generally must be heard at least 15 days before the initial trial date. CCP §2024.020(a).
- Supplementing timing: There’s no duty to supplement your own interrogatory responses based on additional or new information, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask the other side to do it! You can propound a supplemental or “cleanup” interrogatory to require that the other side update its responses based on any later-acquired information. CCP §2030.070(a). Supplemental interrogatories are in addition to the unlimited number of form interrogatories and the 35 special interrogatories permitted under CCP §§2030.030–2030.040. There are, however, limits to the number of times you can request supplemental interrogatories: You can propound them (CCP §2030.070(b))
- twice before the initial setting of the trial date, and
- once after setting of the trial date, subject to the time limits of CCP §§2024.010–2024.060.
Note that the time limits for serving and responding to interrogatories are much shorter in unlawful detainer actions.
For everything you need to know about interrogatories, including drafting and responding to them, turn to CEB’s California Civil Discovery Practice, chapter 7.
Other CEBblog™ posts you’ll find useful:
- 7 Rules for Drafting Interrogatories
- Coordinate Your Discovery Methods
- Motion to Compel = Motion of Last Resort
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