How My Cousin Vinny Would Object to Discovery

Posted Oct 20 2016 by Cindy McClelen

Remember laughing at the antics of Vinny Gambini – a loud inexperienced personal injury lawyer?  It is hard not to remember some of Vinny’s inaccurate legal arguments and outrageous remarks to the judge.  However, at one point in the movie, cousin Vinny actually demonstrates competent knowledge of the law, only to be shut down by the judge.  “I object to this witness being called at this time.  We’ve been given no prior notice he’d testify.  No discovery of any tests he’s conducted or reports he’s prepared.” After a pause, the judge states, “That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection.”  Vinny responds “Thank you, Your Honor,” to which the judge in a firm tone states “Overruled.”  Luckily, in real life, a well thought-out discovery objection is often sustained.

Initially when responding to discovery, you should consider whether the objection is needed.  Is the objection necessary to limit the scope of discovery?  Is it required to protect the privileged information?  Consider the following when evaluating whether to object to a discovery request or respond:

Relevancy

When considering whether to assert a relevancy objection, do so with the understanding that the scope of the Discovery Act is broad and favors the requesting party.  Object if the request seeks either privileged information or information not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.  These standards are applied liberally and any doubt would generally be resolved in favor of the requesting party.  Code of Civil Procedure §2017.010; Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co. v. Super. Ct. (1982) 31 Cal.3d 785.

Vague and Ambiguous

This objection is valid if the question is wholly unintelligible.  It is not advisable for a responding party to deliberately misconstrue a question for the purpose of supplying an evasive answer. Even if the request is ambiguous, if the nature of the information requested is obvious or easily understood, the best solution is to refrain from objecting and provide an appropriate response or object but provide a response to the extent that you are able to do so.  Deyo v. Kilbourne (1978) 84 Cal. App. 3d 771.

Overbroad and Burdensome 

A responding party owes a duty to respond in good faith, and asserting this objection without clear grounds may be indicative of bad faith.  This objection is best utilized if the intent of the requesting party was to impose an unreasonable burden, or that the burden to respond outweighs the relevancy of the information.  Code of Civil Procedure §2017.010; West Pico Furn. Co. v. Superior Court (1961) 56 Cal.2d 407, 419.  Evaluating whether the burden of answering is so unjust that it amounts to oppression, consider whether the request is duplicative, or the information is equally available to the other party, or would be unreasonably expensive to provide.  Remember that you will have to provide admissible evidence of the unreasonableness of the burden you are claiming. 

Information Equally Available

This objection is typically applicable to requests for information that is part of the public record, or would require interviewing independent witnesses in order to respond.  Alpine Mutual Water Co. v. Superior Court (1968) 259 Cal.App.2d 45; Holguin v. Superior Court (1972) 22 Cal.App.3d 812.  Be selective in your use of this objection.

Whether you are a new or a long time legal practitioner, follow cousin Vinny’s example and use well thought-out objections when responding to discovery.  Cousin Vinny was right that there are many things you need to know to practice law effectively that are not taught in law school, including when and how to properly make discovery objections.

 

Cindy McClelen is a litigation paralegal at McManis Faulkner.  She assists attorneys and legal assistants throughout discovery, case management, pretrial preparation, and trial.