Interrogatories are one of the more common types of discovery requests. They are basically questions asked of the other party. The goal of interrogatories is to try to limit the scope of the issues that have to be tried.
Types of Interrogatories
There are two types of interrogatories, i.e., contention interrogatories and identification interrogatories.
Contention interrogatories generally say something like this: “Please state all legal theories and factual bases for your contention that….” They can ask about any factual or legal contention that the other party asserted, a defense, etc. These usually focus on the elements or factors that have to be established for the cause of action or defense.
We often work with attorneys who use up all of their allowed interrogatories at the start of litigation. This is usually a waste. The rules allow (and require) attorneys to supplement contention interrogatories. The fact that the interrogatory was supplemented cannot be used against the other party. So if you use up your interrogatories at the start of the litigation, the other side is just going to supplement later. This is why this type of interrogatory is usually not all that helpful at the start of the litigation. A request for admission is usually a better way to narrow the scope of the case. A request for admission is final and there is no limit on the number of requests for admissions that you can make.
Here is my personal opinion on contention interrogatories. Contention interrogatories are better reserved for after depositions and used as a way to clean up any things you missed in your deposition or to get additional information that you missed just before trial. For example, if you uncovered a great fact in a deposition but failed to really develop it, you can issue contention interrogatories to develop that fact for use in court.
Identification interrogatories usually say something like this: “identify each person that…” or “Identify all evidence that….”
Identification interrogatories can be helpful at the start of the litigation as attorneys often fail to supplement their answers. This can lead to evidence not being admissible at trial.
Number of Interrogatories
Since most probate disputes are Class 2, limit to 30
The numbering used for interrogatories does not dictate how many questions are being asked. One has to review compound requests to see if more than one request is being asked in that one numbered item. The general rule is that if the subset of the request could stand alone as a separate question, then it counts as a second question. There is an art to writing compound interrogatories that count as one question.
If you are responding to interrogatories and the other side has asked too many, you can either request a protective order or simply not answer the excessive interrogatories. With the second option, you just answer the first 30 and then list an objection to the remaining answers. Out of caution, some attorneys will object and then still answer the question. We have to weigh the risk in deciding whether to object and not answer versus object and answer.
Each interrogatory should be separately stated and numbered. You will want to be mindful of the common objections (listed below) when writing interrogatories.
It can also be helpful to pull the elements or factors of the claims and defenses in the case and model your questions off of those.
Responding to Interrogatories
Interrogatories have to be responded to within 30 days. They also have to be verified, which generally means that the client has to sign them under oath.
There are usually only three responses to interrogatories:
- Answer the question.
- Object to the question.
- A combination of # 1 and # 2.
There are a number of valid objections that can be made to interrogatories. This includes:
Note that even if you object, you should state what information you can. For example, if you object based on the request being overbroad, you might object and then define the narrow answer you can provide and then answer that question.
In most cases, the objection includes the language “to the extent that….” This is intended to fend off claims that you made a blanket objection without providing any information that could have been provided notwithstanding your objection.