In civil litigation, Parties have the ability to serve (the fancy word is “to propound”) formal discovery questions on the other sides. One purpose of formal discovery is to focus the case to the issues which need litigation and to possibly sector-off issues which Parties may agree or admit.
Field v. U.S. Bank National Association, filed 6/9/22, addresses an issue head-on: be forthcoming in your responses to formal discovery.
What happened in Field?
It’s a mortgage foreclosure case. The Bank propounded on Plaintiff this Special Interrogatory:
“Do YOU contend that the [Notice of Trustee Sale] that YOU reference in paragraph 15 of the [Second Amended Complaint] was not mailed to YOU in compliance with California Civil Code section 2924b? If so, then please provide all facts RELATED TO this contention.”
Plaintiff’s answer: “Unsure.”
The Bank filed an MSJ (Motion for Summary Judgement)…then Plaintiff tried to amend her “Unsure” to something substantive to argue her position for the MSJ. California “Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.310 provides a mechanism for parties to amend responses to interrogatories under certain circumstances, yet Field did not attempt to amend.”
The Trial Court said nope, that doesn’t work. The Court of Appeal here (Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 8, California) agrees.
The general statements: ie. the Courts do not like playing games in formal discovery
“California’s civil discovery process aims to unearth the truth of the case, thus facilitating settlement on the basis of the mutually expected value of the suit. Evasive discovery responses frustrate this goal by concealing the truth.”
Plaintiff claimed granting this MSJ against her would be unjust. The Court: “[w]hat is unjust is discovery abuse.”
Ultimately the Court holds against Plaintiff: “[Y]ou cannot change your story to avoid summary judgment.” Cohen v. Kabbalah Centre Internat., Inc. (2019) 35 Cal.App.5th 13, 17 – 19.
Other general statements of law:
The Court cites to other cases to give other general law about responding to discovery:
Parties must “be diligent and straightforward in responding to discovery.” Fields citing California Code Civil Procedure § 2030.220(a)–(c).
“[D]o not deliberately misconstrue the question in order to supply an evasive answer.” Fields citing Deyo v. Kilbourne (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 771, 783.
California’s “Legislature intended our discovery statutes would take the game element out of trial preparation.” Fields citing Emerson Electric Co. v. Superior Court (1997) 16 Cal.4th 1101, 1107.
“Trial courts encountering such an abuse are free to disregard a later declaration that hopes to supplant tactical or slothful ambiguity with tardy specificity.” Fields quoting Cal. Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (The Rutter Group 2022) at ¶ 8:1050.10.