More Improper Objections to Interrogatories

Monday’s post discussed improper objections to interrogatories and requests for production. This post discusses two federal cases on improper objections to interrogatories.

Rubbermaid Commer. Prods., LLC v. Trust Commer. Prods., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21128 (D. Nev. Feb. 19, 2014)

Plaintiff’s Interrogatory No. 1 asked:

Describe in detail the design and development of the Accused Products and Defendants’ promotional materials, including a description of previous versions of the Accused Products and Defendants’ promotional materials, and identify by name and title the person(s) at Defendants having the most knowledge about the response given to this Interrogatory.

Defendant’s initial response stated:

Defendants hereby incorporate their General Objections, as if fully set forth herein. Defendants object to this interrogatory to the extent it is overly broad, unduly burdensome, and seeks information neither relevant nor reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Defendants further object to this interrogatory to the extent that it calls for the creation or compilation of information and data that are not ordinarily kept in Defendants’ normal course of business. Defendants also object to this interrogatory to the extent it seeks information containing Defendants’ confidential, proprietary, trade secret, or business sensitive information. Defendants also object that the interrogatory is compound.

Subject to and without waiving the foregoing general and specific objections, Defendants state the person most knowledgeable about the creation of Defendants’ promotional materials is Mr. Hu Ailong and the person most knowledgeable about Defendants research and development is Mr. Wu Airong.

Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(d), Defendant also identifies the following documents: TRUST 0000333-TRUST 0000444, TRUST0000426-TRUST0000454. Defendants’ search continues, and Defendants will produce additional non-privileged documents discovered.

That was not such a great response, but a supplemental response followed.

Subject to and without waiving the foregoing general and specific objections, Defendants further state that no previous versions of the Accused Products exist—the current versions are the only versions ever produced. Trust designed molds for the products, and the products are constructed in their China manufacturing facility as shown in the design specifications previously produced and referenced by bates-number in the first Response of December 27, 2013. Trust applied for patents for the Accused Products in China in 2012 as well. Trust has manufactured the Accused Products since 2011. The 2012 Trust catalog also is referenced by bates number in the first Response of December 27, 2013, and it features the Accused Products as well.

Even then the court concluded this “response” was not entirely responsive. It concluded interrogatory 1 actually contained subparts but even then the interrogatory was appropriate.

This inquiry goes to the gist of Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendants simply copied Plaintiff’s patented designs and also copied Plaintiff’s catalog descriptions of the products with slight variations. The interrogatory is not fairly answered by simply setting forth the specifications for the Accused Products, or as Defendants have apparently done, by referring to the specifications contained in produced documents. Defendants have not answered the principal question posed by the interrogatory and therefore their responses are insufficient. Defendants have also not answered the interrogatory by stating whether there are previous versions of the promotional materials relating to the Accused Products.

Collins v. Landry’s Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83003, 2014 WL 2770702 (D. Nev. June 17, 2014).

Collins concerned employment discrimination claims. Plaintiff was not satisfied with Defendant’s responses to twelve discovery requests.

Three of Landry’s answers can be charitably characterized as responsive. For instance, interrogatory number six asks: “Describe any and all time that you received complaints or concerns concerning Supervisory Jimmy, including but not limited to (1) when the complaint was made; (2) who made the complaint; (3) the basis for the complaint; and (4) what actions were taken as a result.”

Landry’s responded to interrogatory six with a paragraph of boilerplate objections, which included somewhere in the middle a substantive response, reading: “none.” Similar responses were given to Collins’ sixteenth and eighteenth interrogatories. These interrogatories ask about conversations between Jimmy Theobald and Collins and actions Landry’s took in response to Hensley’s racial remarks. Tucked into the middle of a paragraph of boilerplate objections, Landry’s answered two other requests, stating: “Defendant was not a party of these conversations and has no independent knowledge of the information requested” and “Hensley was talked to about Plaintiff’s allegations.”

Not a good start for the employer. As you might guess, it got worse.

However, the remaining responses to Collins’ requests are entirely boilerplate. For instance, Landry’s responded to several requests, stating:

Defendant objects to this Request to the extent that it seeks information not relevant, not reasonably calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence, and not in the possession, custody, or control of Defendant. This Request seeks information that invades the privacy rights of non-party employees. Defendant also objects that the Request is vague, and unduly burdensome.

Collins’ motion to compel is granted for two reasons. First, Landry’s responses to Collins’ discovery requests are boilerplate. Objections to discovery requests cannot be conclusory. Proper objections “show” or “specifically detail” why the disputed discovery request is improper. Blankenship, 519 F.2d at 429; Walker, 186 F.R.D. at 587; Teller,2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52215, 2013 WL 1501445. Here, Landry’s objections show nothing and detail nothing. Because boilerplate objections are “tantamount to making no objection at all,” see Walker, 186 F.R.D. at 587 (citing Cipollone, 785 F.2d at 1121)), and the time to object as now expired, Landry’s must provide Collins with meaningful responses.

To make sure you get the point that improper objections are a bad idea, the court awarded fees and costs against Landry’s.

Landry’s must pay Collins’ reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses for two reasons. First, as discussed above, Landry’s responses to Collins’ discovery requests are boilerplate and devoid of any meaningful response. This is impermissible. The discovery rules are designed to be self-executing to avoid unnecessary court involvement and the needless accrual of costs and expenses. See Goodman v. Staples, 644 F.3d 817, 827 (9th Cir. 2011) (stating that Rule 37 “gives teeth” to the rules’ discovery requirements). Here, Landry’s disregarded the rule’s clear mandate that prohibits boilerplate responses and enlisted the court to decide whether Collins’ motion is meritorious. This was unnecessary.