A party served with interrogatories under CCP §§2030.010–2030.410 has to respond by answering, producing writings, or objecting. And each answer has to be as “complete and straightforward as the information reasonably available to the responding party permits.” CCP §2030.220(a). Most often, this process is fairly straightforward. But there are at least three situations when responding to interrogatories may present a problem. Here’s how to skillfully handle them.
1. Answering ambiguous interrogatories. Although you may object to ambiguous interrogatories, the purpose of discovery law is better served when attorneys for the responding party reword the question and give the information to which the propounding party is entitled. This is especially true when the intent of the question is clear despite the ambiguity, e.g., when the ambiguity is created by a mistaken word or other obvious error.
When you’re faced with an ambiguous interrogatory, consider responding to it like this:
Assuming this interrogatory was intended to refer to (e.g., Code of Civil Procedure §339, instead of Code of Civil Procedure §337), and assuming that this interrogatory refers only to (state limiting construction), the answer is (continue with answer to interrogatory as construed).
It’s clearly improper to deliberately misconstrue a question for the purpose of supplying an evasive answer. Deyo v Kilbourne (1978) 84 CA3d 771, 783.
2. Answering by reference to other answers or other sources. Interrogatories are sometimes drafted in a repetitious way, i.e., several interrogatories may request identical or similar information. When you get these types of interrogatories, you have to draft separate responses to each one—don’t simply choose to answer one of them with a complete statement of all facts requested by that interrogatory and then answer the related ones by stating “See answer to interrogatory number ___.” See CCP §2030.210(a).
If separately answering each interrogatory is truly unduly repetitious and oppressive, you can move for a protective order. But if the responses are identical, you can easily copy and paste your answer for each interrogatory. See CCP §2030.220. You don’t need a make a big deal of this problem.
A related problem is the extent to which an interrogatory may be sufficiently answered by reference to information from other sources, e.g., “See my deposition,” “See paragraph III of the complaint on file in this action.” Because of the differences in the rules under which interrogatories and depositions are conducted, reference to an answer given in a deposition isn’t proper. But when it’s appropriate in response to an interrogatory, referring to a pleading or other document may be proper if you identify it by title and date of filing and summarize or quote from it.
3. Reservation about subsequently discovered facts. An interrogatory “may not be made a continuing one so as to impose on the party responding to it a duty to supplement an answer to it that was initially correct and complete with later acquired information.” CCP §2030.060(g). But because you may want to supplement your answer later (CCP §2030.310(a)), it may be helpful to have your responses provide for the possibility of subsequently discovered facts, for example by prefacing your reply with a statement like this:
Respondent has not completed investigation of the facts relating to this case, has not completed discovery in this action, and has not completed preparation for trial; the following answer is given without prejudice to its right to produce evidence of any subsequently discovered facts. At this time, as far as is known _ _ _[complete answer]_ _ _.
And remember you’re not held to anything by doing this—reserving the right to amend or supplement the response isn’t a commitment to do so. Biles v Exxon Mobil Corp. (2004) 124 CA4th 1315, 1328.
For everything you need to know about responding to interrogatories, turn to CEB’s California Civil Discovery Practice §§7.55-7.106.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- 6 Things to Know About Interrogatory Responses
- Timing Your Interrogatories
- 7 Rules for Drafting Interrogatories
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