Special interrogatories in California litigation are the topic of this blog post. This post will mainly discuss the use of special interrogatories in California civil litigation. However, special interrogatories can also be used in other types of California litigation such as divorce or probate litigation.
Special interrogatories are a vital tool for obtaining the facts, witnesses and documents on which a contention is based so they can be reviewed.
The rules governing special interrogatories are found in Code of Civil Procedure § 2030.010, et seq.
Code of Civil Procedure § 2030.010 states that, “(a) Any party may obtain discovery within the scope delimited by Chapters 2 (commencing with Section 2017.010) and 3 (commencing with Section 2017.710), and subject to the restrictions set forth in Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 2019.010), by propounding to any other party to the action written interrogatories to be answered under oath. (b) An interrogatory may relate to whether another party is making a certain contention, or to the facts, witnesses, and writings on which a contention is based. An interrogatory is not objectionable because an answer to it involves an opinion or contention that relates to fact or the application of law to fact, or would be based on information obtained or legal theories developed in anticipation of litigation or in preparation for trial.”
A defendant may propound special interrogatories at any time, however a plaintiff may not do so until at least ten (10) days have passed since service of the summons on the defendant, or the general appearance by the defendant, whichever occurs first. See Code of Civil Procedure § 2030.020.
There is a numerical limit of thirty five (35) on the number of special interrogatories. However if a supporting declaration stating that any additional interrogatories are warranted due to the complexity of the case and other certain factors is attached, then any party may propound more additional special interrogatories. See Code of Civil Procedure §§ 2030.030 and 2030.050. These rules only apply in an unlimited civil case, in which the amount being demanded in the lawsuit is more than $25,000.
There are certain format restrictions on special interrogatories. No special interrogatory may contain subparts, or a compound, conjunctive or disjunctive question. See Code of Civil Procedure § 2030.060. This means that a special interrogatory cannot contain parts a, b, c, etc., nor can it contain a question with more than one part, and it cannot contain the word “and” which is conjunctive, it also cannot contain the word “or” which is disjunctive. Although many special interrogatories do violate these format rules any party using such a format runs the risk of the opposing party objecting on those grounds.
While depositions are also a vital tool they have limitations, particularly the fact that deposition questions may not ask party deponent to state all facts, list all witnesses and identify all documents that support or pertain to particular contention in that party’s pleadings, although that information is discoverable when sought by written interrogatory. Rifkind v. Superior Court (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 1255, 1257. (Emphasis added.)
The California courts have ruled that the scope of discovery in California civil litigation is very broad. Any doubts are applied liberally in favor of discovery.
For discovery purposes, information is relevant if it might reasonably assist a party in evaluating case, preparing for trial, or facilitating settlement. Gonzalez v. Superior Court (City of San Fernando (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 1539, 1546.
Admissibility is not the test and information, unless privileged, is discoverable if it might reasonably lead to admissible evidence. Davies v. Superior Court (1984) 36 Cal.3d 291, 301
Special interrogatories are very useful in that they allow a party to obtain the facts, witnesses and documents that support the opposing party’s claims or defenses.
Attorneys or parties to civil litigation in California who wish to view a portion of sample special interrogatories for use in an unlimited civil case for sale by the author can see below.
The author of this article, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995. If you are in need of assistance with any California or Federal litigation matters, Mr. Burman is available on a freelance basis. Mr. Burman may be contacted by e-mail at DivParalgl@yahoo.com for more information. He accepts payments through PayPal which means that you can pay using most credit or debit cards.
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