In order to clarify evidence and to determine what facts will be presented by the opposite party at trial, litigants can ask each other a set of written questions. These formal set of written questions are called interrogatories or requests for further information.
The Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP)contains standards for interrogatories applicable to all federal courts in the country. FRCP 33(a) limits the number of questions (taking into account discrete subparts of questions) that can be posed to another party to 25, unless otherwise stipulated to by the parties or ordered by the court. Many state’s have adopted the standards of this rule in their state rules of civil procedure. California state courts operates under the Civil Discovery Act in the California Code of Civil Procedure which permits up to 35 interrogatories per party. An extension beyond that number is also easily possible in California upon filing of a declaration of necessity.
Answers to interrogatories are given under oath and the sworn answers can be used as evidence in trial. The court may also choose to submit the questions and answers to the jury at trial.
Some significant points with regards to interrogatories are given below:
- Interrogatories must be answered by the person to whom it is directed or by any officer/agent who is responsible to furnish information on behalf of a private corporation, government agency, an association or a partnership.
- The answers should be given within 30 days of service if the interrogatories are served personally, unless shortened/extended by the court or by an agreement between the parties. The parties cannot agree to extend/shorten deadlines where an extension would interfere with any time set for completion of discovery, hearing of a motion, or trial, the agreement for extension may be made only with approval of the court.
- If the interrogatories are not objected to, each of the questions must be separately answered under oath. If the are objections, the reasons should be stated in a timely objection. If not stated in time, court can waive the objection or excuse the delay if there is good cause.
Some of the valid grounds for objecting to interrogatories are:
- Irrelevant questions or questions outside the scope of permissible discovery.
- The information sought for is privileged (protected under the attorney client privilege doctrine or the like)
- The information sought for is protected by a individual’s right to privacy.
- Unduly burdensome and oppressive interrogatories.
Additionally, if the answer to a question has to be determined by examining a party’s business records and if it will take either party the same time to ascertain the answer, the responding party can:
(1) specify in detail the records that must be reviewed so that the interrogating party can locate and identify them; and
(2) permit the interrogating party to examine the records and to make copies, compilations, abstracts, or summaries.