Boilerplate Discovery Objections

It is common practice, at least in California, for parties to serve written objections to nearly every interrogatory and document demand to which they respond. Notwithstanding those objections, parties frequently provide answers to the objected-to interrogatories, and produce some documents in response to objected-to document requests. The problem then is that the requesting party is never certain whether he has received complete answers or all responsive documents, without either litigating over the objections, or making follow-up inquiries.

Sadly, there are actually sound reasons for this convoluted practice. By making blanket objections, even ridiculous objections, parties may avoid possible sanctions for failing to provide full answers or responsive documents. Parties also gain some control over their responses by essentially telling the other side that they are only getting what the producing party deigns to produce out of the goodness of its heart. Responding parties also may believe there is a benefit to the confusion they create by objecting and answering at the same time. This tactic forces the demanding party to follow up with additional requests or motions to chase ever-diminishing returns, and could even avoid the disclosure of information that could be damaging to the producing party.

Where the courts seem to draw the line, however, is when the objecting party actually withholds or substantially delays producing obviously relevant information that the demanding party is making reasonable efforts to obtain, or where the objecting party appears to be playing games with the meet and confer process. I came across one such case thanks to the blog California Appellate Report which has a note describingClement v. Alegre. In that case, the Court of Appeal upheld sanctions against a party that not only asserted the usual boilerplate interrogatory objections, but also appeared to be playing unacceptable discovery games. In particular, this party had objected to the term “economic damages,” and only provided information relative to a very narrow definition of the term, instead of the customary, and statutorily-defined meaning. The court found the contention that this term was ambiguous to be “preposterous,” and upheld an award of sanctions of more than $6000. A nice citation to throw at someone who appears to be obstructing the discovery process.

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