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Discovery procedures in California probate proceedings

Discovery procedures in California probate proceedings is the topic of this blog post.  Note that the term probate proceedings encompasses any proceeding commenced under the Probate Code in California and includes not only the probate of estates and trust proceedings, but also conservatorship and guardianships as well.

Parties in California probate proceedings can utilize the same discovery procedures as are used in California civil litigation unless the Probate Code states otherwise.  And all issues of fact in a probate proceeding are tried using the same rules of practice that are used in civil litigation.

Probate Code § 1000 states that, “Except to the extent that this code provides applicable rules, the rules of practice applicable to civil actions, including discovery proceedings and proceedings under Title 3a (commencing with Section 391) of Part 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure, apply to, and constitute the rules of practice in, proceedings under this code. All issues of fact joined in probate proceedings shall be tried in conformity with the rules of practice in civil actions”.

Thus parties to probate proceedings can utilize form and special interrogatories, requests for admission, truth of facts and genuineness of documents, and requests for production of documents in addition to depositions and the other discovery procedures commonly used in civil litigation in the State of California.

The importance of discovery in probate litigation cannot be emphasized enough. Utilizing discovery correctly can mean the difference between winning and losing for many probate proceedings.  Failure to properly use the discovery procedures will result in many cases which could have been won at trial, or a reasonable settlement reached before trial, being lost instead.

The following discovery procedures can be very cost effective when used properly in probate proceedings.

Form and special interrogatories are very useful as a party can request the other party to state all facts, identify all persons having knowledge of the facts, and all documents in support of the facts which, support the other party’s requests made in that party’s petition, objection or other response.

Additionally, requests for production of documents are also useful in obtaining copies of correspondence, bank and financial records, and other documents that are pertinent to that particular probate proceeding.

And last but not least, requests for admission can be used to request the other party admit or deny certain pertinent facts, and/or admit that certain attached documents are genuine.

Other discovery procedures can also be used but the ones mentioned above are particularly cost effective.

The right use of discovery procedures in California probate proceedings is a vital tool in (1) evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case; (2) preparing for trial, and (3) facilitating settlement negotiations.

To view over 300 sample legal documents for California and Federal litigation sold by the author click here: View over 300 sample legal documents for sale

The author of this blog post, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995.

Visit his website at Sample litigation document packages for sale

If you would like to subscribe to his newsletter click on the following link: http://www.legaldocspro.net/newsletter.htm

 

Responding to requests for production of documents in California litigation

Responding to requests for production of documents in California litigation is the topic of this blog post.

The rules governing requests for production of documents are found in Code of Civil Procedure § 2031.010, et seq.

Code of Civil Procedure § 2031.210 states in part that, “(a) The party to whom a demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling has been directed shall respond separately to each item or category of item by any of the following: (1) A statement that the party will comply with the particular demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling by the date set for the inspection, copying, testing, or sampling pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (c) of Section 2031.030 and any related activities. (2) A representation that the party lacks the ability to comply with the demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling of a particular item or category of item. (3) An objection to the particular demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling.”

Code of Civil Procedure § 2033.220 states that, “A statement that the party to whom a demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling has been directed will comply with the particular demand shall state that the production, inspection, copying, testing, or sampling, and related activity demanded, will be allowed either in whole or in part, and that all documents or things in the demanded category that are in the possession, custody, or control of that party and to which no objection is being made will be included in the production.”

Code of Civil Procedure § 2031.230 states that, “A representation of inability to comply with the particular demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling shall affirm that a diligent search and a reasonable inquiry has been made in an effort to comply with that demand. This statement shall also specify whether the inability to comply is because the particular item or category has never existed, has been destroyed, has been lost, misplaced, or stolen, or has never been, or is no longer, in the possession, custody, or control of the responding party. The statement shall set forth the name and address of any natural person or organization known or believed by that party to have possession, custody, or control of that item or category of item.”

In responding to a request for production,  the responding party should take care in framing their response and should ensure that any response complies with Code of Civil Procedure §§ 2031.210 through 2031.300.  This is particularly true when the documents requested cannot be located. A vague response such as “unable to locate” or something similar will not suffice.

There is no numerical limit to the number of requests but a party served with excessive requests may seek leave of court to limit the number of requests. And unlike special interrogatories and requests for admission there are no format restrictions.

Any objections to a request for production should clearly set forth the specific ground for the objection, and if only part of the request is objectionable, the remainder of the request must be responded to. See Code of Civil Procedure § 2031.240.

The responses must be verified, and must be served on the requesting party within thirty (30) days after service of the requests for production of documents if they were personally served, or within thirty five (35) days if the requests were served by mail. Note that these time limits do NOT apply to unlawful detainer actions which are five (5) days if the requests were personally served or ten (10) days if the requests were served by mail.

Attorneys or parties to civil litigation in California who wish to purchase sample responses to requests for production of documents sold by the author for use in an unlimited civil case can see below.

Attorneys or parties in California that would like more information on a California discovery litigation document package containing over 35 sample documents including sample responses to requests for production of documents can use the link shown below.

California discovery litigation document package

The author of this blog post, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995.

Subscribe to his weekly newsletter with legal tips and tricks for California. http://www.legaldocspro.net/newsletter.htm

Motion to compel responses to request for production of documents in California

A motion to compel responses to requests for production of documents in California is the topic of this blog post. Motions to compel can be a very useful tool in forcing the other party to provide full and complete responses to requests for production of documents.

Code of Civil Procedure § 2031.300(b) states that, if a party fails to respond to a demand for inspection of documents, the propounding party may move the court for an order compelling responses. As with interrogatories, there is no time limit for bringing the motion to compel. This only applies if NO responses are received, or if unverified responses are received.

In California, unsworn responses to discovery are tantamount to no responses at all. See Appleton v. Superior Court (1988) 206 Cal.App.3d 632, 636; Zorro Investment Company v. Great Pacific Securities Corporation (1977) 69 Cal.App.3d 907, 914.  So if the responses received are not verified then a motion to compel responses would be the proper motion.

The party to whom the inspection demand is directed also waives any objection to the demand unless the party’s failure to serve a response was due to “mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect.” See Code of Civil Procedure § 2031.300(a). In addition, the court “shall” impose monetary sanctions against a party who unsuccessfully opposes a motion to compel unless it finds that the party acted “with substantial justification” or other circumstances render sanctions “unjust.” See Code of Civil Procedure § 2031.300[c].

Every court has the power to compel obedience to its judgments, orders, and process in an action or proceeding pending before and to use all necessary means to carry its jurisdiction into effect.Fairfield v. Superior Court, 246 Cal.App.2d 113, 120 (1966); Stewart v. Colonial Western Agency, Inc., 87 Cal.App.4th 1006, 1016 (2001) (judges have broad powers and responsibility to determine what measure and procedures are appropriate in varying circumstance involving discovery disputes).

Moreover, one of the principal purposes of civil discovery is to do away with the sporting theory of litigation, namely, surprise at trial and such purpose is accomplished by giving greater assistance to parties in ascertaining the truth. See Thoren v. Johnston and Washer, 29 Cal.App.3d 270, 274 (1972).

Judges have broad discretion in controlling course of discovery and making various decisions necessitated by discovery proceedings. Obregon v. Superior Court, 67 Cal.App.4th 424, 431-432 (1998).

Monetary discovery sanctions are mandatory. Argaman v. Ratan, 73 Cal.App.4th 1173, 1179 (1999); Frates v. Treder, 249 Cal.App.2d 199, 206 (1967) (refusal to answer interrogatories without substantial justification renders the refusal willful, thus giving rise to sanctions).

All costs associated with the motion to compel, including court costs and attorney fees are recoverable in filing a motion to compel.

Attorneys or parties to civil litigation in California who wish to purchase a motion to compel responses to requests for production of documents for use in a civil case can see below.

 

Attorneys or parties in California that would like more information on a California discovery litigation document package containing over 35 sample documents including a sample motion to compel responses to requests for production of documents can use the link shown below.

California discovery litigation document package

The author of this blog post, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995.

Subscribe to his weekly newsletter with legal tips and tricks for California. http://www.legaldocspro.net/newsletter.htm

Motion to compel further responses to request for production of documents in California

Filing a motion to compel further responses to requests for production of documents in California litigation is the topic of this blog post.  Motions to compel can be a very useful tool in forcing the other party to provide full and complete responses to requests for production of documents.

Code of Civil Procedure 2031.310 states: (a) On receipt of a response to an inspection demand, the party demanding an inspection may move for an order compelling a further response to the demand if the demanding party deems that any of the following apply:  (1) A statement of compliance with the demand is incomplete. (2) A representation of inability to comply is inadequate, incomplete, or evasive. (3) An objection in the response is without merit or too general.

The motion to compel MUST be filed and served no later than 45 days from the date that the inadequate responses are received or the motion is untimely. California Rule of Court 3.1020 requires that a separate statement be filed and served listing the discovery requests, the response to the request, and the basis for compelling a further response.

Before filing a motion to compel the party seeking to compel the further responses must make a reasonable effort to meet and confer with the other party to avoid the need for judicial intervention.

This means more than just sending one letter, or making one phone call. It is good practice to send the first meet and confer letter requesting further responses within 10 days, if no responses are received, then another meet and confer letter should be sent mentioning the first letter and demanding further responses within 7 days. If no responses are received then a phone call should be made in a last attempt to work something out.

Code of Civil Procedure § 2031.240(b) states, in pertinent part: (b) If the responding party objects to the demand for inspection of an item or category of item or category of item, the response shall do both of the following: (1) Identify with particularity any document, tangible thing, or land falling within any category of item in the demand to which an objection is made. (2) Set forth clearly the extent of, and the specific ground for, the objection. If an objection is based on a claim of privilege, the particular privilege invoked shall be stated. If an objection is based on a claim that the information is protected under Chapter 4, that claim shall be expressly asserted.

Many times responses will contain “boilerplate” objections such as vague and ambiguous. General objections such as those are particularly vulnerable to a motion to compel.

False or evasive answers or the posting of objections without a proper basis is grounds for discovery sanctions.  Code of Civil Procedure § 2023.010(f). Moreover, objections must be specific; a motion to compel lies where objections are too general. Korea Data Systems Ltd. Co. v. Superior Court, 51 Cal.App.4th 1513, 1516, (1997) (holding that objecting party was subject to sanctions for boilerplate objections).

And the objections that the discovery sought is burdensome and harassing is also considered a weak objection.

Courts are loathe to sustain an objection on the ground that the discovery is burdensome and harassing because it is considered a weak objection. It is not enough that the question or questions are burdensome; the objecting party must also demonstrate that the questions are so unjust that they amount to oppression.  West Pico Furniture Co. v. Superior Court, 56 Cal.2d 407, 419, (1961).

All costs associated with the motion to compel, including court costs and attorney fees are recoverable in filing a motion to compel. A party seeking a motion to compel should be sure to document all of their attempts to meet and confer, and also document all of their costs associated with filing the motion.

Attorneys or parties to litigation in California who wish to purchase a sample motion to compel further responses to requests for production of documents for use in an unlimited civil case can see below.

 

Attorneys or parties in California that would like more information on a California law and motion litigation document package containing over 55 sample documents including a motion to compel further responses to requests for production of documents can use the link shown below.

California law and motion litigation document package

The author of this article, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995.

Subscribe to his weekly newsletter with legal tips and tricks for California.  http://www.legaldocspro.net/newsletter.htm

Requests for production of documents in California

Requests for production of documents in California civil litigation are the topic of this blog post. Requests for production of documents are a vital tool for obtaining the documents that support the opposing party’s claims or defenses so they can be reviewed. Demanding production and inspection of documents and tangible things, as well as entering onto land for inspection and other purposes is permitted under the Code of Civil Procedure in California.

The rules governing requests for production of documents are found in Code of Civil Procedure § 2031.010, et seq.

A defendant may propound a request for production of documents 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 § 2031.020.

There is no numerical limit to the number of requests but a party served with excessive requests may seek leave of court to limit the number of requests.

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

Requests for production and inspection of documents and tangible things are very useful in that they allow a party to review in detail all relevant documents and tangible things that support the opposing party’s claims or defenses.

Attorneys or parties to civil litigation in California who wish to view a portion of a sample request for production of documents for use by a defendant in an unlimited civil case that is sold by the author can see below.

To view a portion of sample responses to a request for production of documents in California for an unlimited civil case sold by the author can see below.

 

Attorneys or parties in California that would like more information on a California discovery litigation document package containing over 35 sample documents including both sample requests for production of documents and responses to requests for production of documents can use the link shown below.

California discovery litigation document package

The author of this article, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995.

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