Objections to Interrogatories: A Guide for New Lawyers

Among the more obnoxious errors that I encounter on a daily basis are objections to interrogatories.   I discussed this twice before,[1] but realize it is an ongoing problem. There is no law school course covering the topic. I’ve never seen a CLE dedicated to it. I’ve also never heard of new lawyers receiving any specific training about how and when to object. Instead, they just copy what those around them are doing because new lawyers may not know any better. This produces interrogatory responses prefaced by pages of “general objections,” and then “responses” prefaced by even more boilerplate garbage. It all culminates with judges characterizing the client’s written discovery responses like this: “The general objections, reservations, and boilerplate objections look like a form provided to the firm’s most junior attorney thirty years ago to teach new lawyers how to obstruct discovery.”[2]

Below are some of the considerations I evaluate whenever my client receives interrogatories. There are many others depending upon the context, but these are a general start.

  • Is the interrogatory appropriately timed?

Has discovery opened? I routinely serve interrogatories before discovery formally opens because rarely do I receive responses without an extension being requested. The earlier I can serve them, the more time the opposing party has to respond. The 30 day window to respond cannot start until the discovery period opens.

Second, did the party serve contention interrogatories? If so, evaluate whether they are appropriately timed, like was discussed here. Another example of an inappropriately timed interrogatory is one that asks the party to identify its experts before the deadline to disclose. A party can disclose its initial experts at any point before the deadline, but cannot be forced to do so until then. One strategy for answering is to object. Another could be to simply state your client has not yet disclosed any experts. If option two is selected, remember to supplement the answer to this interrogatory when experts are disclosed. The same analysis applies if a party requests that your client identify its trial witnesses before the Rule 26(a)(3) deadline.

  • Does the interrogatory ask for “all facts?”

I also frequently see interrogatories that request “all facts supporting” some position. This is a bad interrogatory. “[T]o require specifically ‘each and every’ fact and application of law to fact … would too often require a laborious, time-consuming analysis, search, and description of incidental, secondary, and perhaps irrelevant and trivial details.”[3] If the interrogatory instead requests the “material facts” upon which the responding party will rely at trial on some issue, the interrogatory is much narrower and may be appropriate, if correctly timed.

  • Is the interrogatory otherwise overbroad?

Nevada’s “discovery rules provide no basis for such an invasion into a litigant’s private affairs merely because redress is sought for personal injury. Respondent court therefore exceeded its jurisdiction by ordering disclosure of information neither relevant to the tendered issues nor leading to discovery of admissible evidence.”[4] This ruling protects all litigants in that it should theoretically limit discovery to the matters at issue. For instance, if the case involves a motor vehicle accident, sometimes the defendant driver’s medical records will be requested. Lacking evidence that the driver’s medical condition was at issue, however, the request should be denied just as was discussed here.

  • Does the interrogatory contain subparts?

This is one of my personal favorite objections. In my practice, I tend to follow the Kendall analysis previously described here. This analysis and objection are useful when I routinely receive interrogatories that look like this:

Is your response to each Request for Admission served in this matter an unqualified admission? If not, for each response that is not an unqualified admission:

  1. state the number of the request;
  2. state all facts upon which you base your response;
  3. state the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all persons who have knowledge of those facts; and
  4. identify all documents and other tangible things that support your response and state the name, address, and telephone number of the person who has each document or thing.

I love interrogatories like this. They generally gather absolutely no valuable information for the requesting party and burn through interrogatories. After asserting the Kendall objection on subparts, I then explain it.   “Allowing service of an interrogatory which requests disclosure of all of the information on which the denials of each of 50 requests for admissions were based, however, essentially transforms each request for admission into an interrogatory.”[5] If the local default limit is 25 interrogatories, then the serving party just burned through his allotment. The responding party does need to answer up to the numerical limit of interrogatories, but still gets an advantage because it is not required to respond to all and the serving party has no more interrogatories.

The better interrogatory is to pick the affirmative defenses that are most relevant to you and then ask about them. This avoids the problem of pursuing discovery about affirmative defenses that are not factually driven.

  • Does the interrogatory contain a temporal limitation?

Frequently form interrogatories do not contain a time limitation. There should be some type of reasonable limitation to the interrogatory restricting it to a period of time. The appropriate time frame varies depending upon the facts of each case. In Nevada, I often rely upon Schlatter v. Dist. Ct.[6] for the proposition that a time restriction is required.

  • Is the answer in a document?

When responding to an interrogatory, the less that is said, generally the better, so long as the response is actually responsive. If an interrogatory may be appropriately answered by referring to a specific document or portion of document, this is generally the way to go.[7]

  • Is your objection properly tailored and supported?

Please, please, please do not list boilerplate objections that are worthless and will enrage a judge. Instead make the objection sufficiently specific to identify the perceived problem. If your objection is supported by authority, cite it. I do this primarily for transparency in hopes that the citation more fully explains why the objection is appropriate. If opposing counsel disagrees and wants to file a motion, this citation also helps theoretically promote a better pre-motion conference because the responding party’s position has already been stated. Finally, if the motion is filed and granted, including the legal authority supporting the objection hopefully demonstrates to the court that your client took this seriously and responded in good faith to avoid sanctions (if all else fails).

[1] November 10, 2014 and November 13, 2014
[2] Queensridge Towers, LLC v. Allianz Global Risks US Ins. Co., 2:13-cv-00197, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14167, 2014 WL 496952 (D. Nev. Feb. 4, 2014).
[3] IBP, Inc. v. Mercantile Bank of Topeka, 179 F.R.D. 316, 321 (D.Kan.1998).
[4] Schlatter v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Ct., 93 Nev. 189, 192, 561 P.2d 1342, 1344 (1977).
[5] Safeco Ins. Co. of Am. v. Rawstron, 181 F.R.D. 441, 445 (C.D. Cal. 1998).
[6] 93 Nev. 189, 561 P.2d 1342 (1977).
[7] See Bayview Loan Servicing, LLC v. Boland, 259 F.R.D. 516, 519 (D. Colo. 2009).