Civil Litigation Discovery Legal Topics New Lawyers

How to Write Special Interrogatories

woman drafting interrogatories on her computerDrafting special interrogatories is yet another mainstay of litigation practice that’s generally not covered well in law school. Consider this a summary overview to get you started.

  • Format of special interrogatories. Unlike form interrogatories, there’s no judicial council form for special interrogatories. Special interrogatories contain a caption similar to pleadings, which lists the attorney’s contact information, the county where the action has been filed, the parties, the name of the document, and the set number. Immediately below the caption, all special interrogatories must set out (CCP §2030.060(b)):
    • The propounding party;
    • The set number; and
    • The responding party.

A good practice is to state the time limit to respond to the interrogatories (i.e., 30 days from the date of service under CCP §§22030.010-030.410) under the caption.

  • Consecutively numbered interrogatories. In addition to this boilerplate information, make sure that each set of interrogatories is numbered consecutively and separately. CCP §2030.060(a), 2030.060(c).
  • Content of special interrogatories. Each interrogatory should be geared towards ascertaining an opponent’s contentions, as well as the facts, witnesses, and writings on which these contentions are based. Special interrogatories may also be used to determine the existence and description of documents that may be the subject of a request to produce for inspection under CCP §2031.010. It’s helpful to create an outline to organize the information needed before drafting the interrogatories. When you plan to use the answers 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. But if the question’s purpose is more for gathering information, it may be better to draft it broadly to make it as comprehensive as possible.
  • Additional statutory requirements for special interrogatories. Keep in mind these additional rules when drafting interrogatories:
    • Don’t include a preface or instructions within the question (unless approved under CCP §§2033.710-2033.740) (CCP §2033.060(d)).
    • If a term needs to be specially defined, capitalize the defined words wherever they appear throughout the interrogatories. CCP §2030.060(e). Additionally, be sure to define the term within the question itself when the term first appears in the interrogatories. (e.g., “State the date upon which you acquired the REAL PROPERTY. (‘REAL PROPERTY’ as used in these interrogatories refers to 123 Main Street, Anytown, California)”).
    • Make each question complete and self-contained (CCP §2030.060(d)). In other words, interrogatories can’t refer to a preceding question or make the responding party refer to other documents to understand the question.
    • Don’t use subparts or compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive questions. CCP §2030.060(f).

Now that you’ve got the overview and a heads up on some key procedural rules, go to CEB’s Obtaining Discovery: Initiating and Responding to Discovery Procedures (Action Guide) for step-by-step guidance on using interrogatories and other discovery tools. And get in-depth analysis of all aspects of interrogatory use, including an interrogatory procedure checklist and a sample special interrogatory boilerplate, in CEB’s California Civil Discovery Practice, chap 7 . To learn the strategies and techniques for optimizing your written discovery plan, check out CEB’s program Written Discovery Planning, available On Demand.

Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

7 replies on “How to Write Special Interrogatories”

Hi Julie –

I love your blogs, and they are always helpful. I have a couple of concerns here:

Can you direct me to where in the Code the requirement exists that the propounding party can/must set out below the caption “The time limit to respond to the interrogatories (i.e., 30 days from the date of service pursuant to CCP §2030.010 – CCP §2030.410).”

Also, regarding the use of specially-defined terms, I’ve drawn objections to lists of specially-defined terms that are set out before the interrogatories as constituting a ‘preface or instructions,’ so I generally always put the definition in the special interrogatory in which the specially-defined term first appears (I’ve never drawn an objection to doing that, but I’ve always thought that a list before the interrogatories is more practical.

What are your thoughts? Thanks!

Thank you very much for your kind words and thoughtful comment, Chris. You are correct and we have edited the blog post to reflect this. We really appreciate your reading and contributing to CEBblog!

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