Interrogatories play a key role in litigation: They’re used to gather potential evidence to support a party’s contentions, including facts, witnesses, and writings, or to determine what contentions an opposing party is planning to make. CCP §2030.010(b). But just because they ask doesn’t mean you have to answer. You can object to interrogatories on many grounds. Here’s a list of objections to keep handy when the next batch of interrogatories arrives.
- Irrelevant. Interrogatories must be relevant to the subject matter of the action or appear reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Courts don’t favor this objection though, because the standard of relevancy in discovery proceedings is quite broad. Deaile v General Tel. Co. (1974) 40 CA3d 841, 850.
- Overbroad or “shotgun interrogatories.” There’s no statutory provision for objecting on the ground that interrogatories are “too broad,” but courts use this objection to refer to interrogatories that request, e.g., the identity of “all” persons or “every” person having knowledge of relevant facts. Romero v Hern (1969) 276 CA2d 787, 794.
- Annoyance, embarrassment, oppression. A party may object to interrogatories when being required to answer would result in “unwarranted annoyance, embarrassment, or oppression, or undue burden and expense.” CCP §2023.010(c). This can result from requiring disclosure of information that’s constitutionally protected. See, e.g., Britt v Superior Court (1978) 20 C3d 844, 860.
- Unreasonably cumulative or undue burden and expense. The discovery statutes specifically recognize “burden” as a valid basis to object or seek a protective order. See CCP §§2017.020(a), 2019.030(a)(1)–(2), 2023.010(c), 2030.090(b). The court may also limit discovery on a showing that “[t]he discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative.” CCP §2019.030(a)(1).
- Information equally available to both parties. A protective order may be proper if “[t]he discovery sought is … obtainable from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive.” CCP §2019.030(a)(1). Thus, a party may object on the ground that the information sought is unduly burdensome because it’s equally available to the propounding party.
- Oppression. Interrogatories that are standard form questions that aren’t related to the case are objectionable on grounds of oppression. The objection must be limited to the portion of the interrogatory that’s burdensome or oppressive; the court may require the interrogatory to be rephrased rather than refuse to compel an answer entirely. West Pico Furniture Co. v Superior Court (1961) 56 C2d 407.
- Work product protection. Interrogatories are objectionable if they call for matter that falls within the attorney’s work product. CCP §§2018.010–2018.080. For example, when they call for an opponent’s legal reasoning or theories. CCP §2018.030(a). The identity of potential witnesses interviewed by opposing counsel may also be protected by the work product doctrine. Coito v Superior Court (2012) 54 C4th 480.
- Privilege. Claims of privilege ordinarily may be raised by objection or by motion for protective order under CCP §2030.090. Generally it’s a valid objection that questions related to the contents of either federal or state tax returns, as well as W-2 forms, are privileged, but there are exceptions, such as in marital dissolution proceedings or when a party has waived the privilege. Schnabel v Superior Court (1993) 5 C4th 704, 720.
- Uncertain, ambiguous, or confusing. Objections to interrogatories on the grounds that they are uncertain, ambiguous, or confusing are permissible, but the responding party must answer in good faith as well as she or he can. Deyo v Kilbourne (1978) 84 CA3d 771, 783.
- Invasion of privacy of third-party nonlitigant. The right of privacy of third-party nonlitigants may provide a valid basis for objection to interrogatories. However, this right is at most a “conditional privilege,” and a court reviewing such an objection will balance the third party’s privacy right against the requestor’s need for the information. The court may even place limits on how such information may be used. See, e.g., Gonzalez v Superior Court (1995) 33 CA4th 1539, 1546.
- Prejudice to party. For an example of this objection, consider that an insured may obtain a stay of the requirement to respond to interrogatories when these demands are prejudicial to its position in the underlying liability action. Haskel Inc. v Superior Court (1995) 33 CA4th 963.
- Information too remote from subject matter of action. It’s a valid objection to interrogatories that they stray too far from the issues and seek information that can’t reasonably serve the acknowledged purpose of pretrial discovery. Columbia Board. Sys. v Superior Court 91968) 263 CA2d 12, 18.
Get practice tips and details on each of these objections in California Civil Discovery Practice, chap 7. And check out CEB’s program Objections: Objecting to Written Discovery Requests, available On Demand.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- Shoot Back with 10 Discovery Objections
- I Object! Know What Objections to Make at a Deposition
- Duty to Investigate Before Answering Interrogatories
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