Victory On Appeal: Defendants Cannot Bully Plaintiffs In Discovery Productions

On July 30, 2023, Hadsell Stormer partner Morgan Ricketts notched another appellate victory for plaintiffs everywhere facing onerous and harassing discovery demands in Pollock v. Superior Court (Schuster). The case dealt with the interpretation of California Code of Civil Procedure section 2031.280, which became effective January 1, 2020. It requires civil litigants to identify, organize and label document productions with the specific request number to which the documents respond. Many attorneys in cases with small document productions still do not bother to demand labeling, since often the same documents are responsive to numerous the requests. Defense counsel in this case, however, insisted on compliance with the new statute. The problem was that the plaintiffs had already produced all of the documents in their possession that in any way related to the case. Because the production pre-dated the defendant’s document requests, plaintiffs would have had to re-produce every Bates labeled document, in a different order, to strictly comply with Section 2031.280.

The parties disagreed on what “compliance” required in this circumstance. Defense counsel argued that the responses themselves had to identify which Bates labels were responsive to each request. Hadsell Stormer took the opposite position, because the Code section governing responses to requests for documents (CCP § 2031.210) says nothing about such references. Section 2031.210 only requires that each consecutively numbered response contain a statement of compliance, a statement of inability to comply, or an objection. Therefore, instead of amending the responses, Ricketts provided a 46-page reference guide to the previously-made production, which identified all requests to which each document was responsive, and on which plaintiff’s behalf. The Court of Appeal agreed that this was good enough, and reversed the trial court’s discovery order in defendant’s favor.

This ruling is a much-needed boon to attorneys who find themselves opposite a large number of separately represented parties, in particular – as Hadsell Stormer frequently does, in our complex and heavily litigated cases involving numerous defendants. Successive requests for production from even one party can quickly spiral out of control if the responding party must re-organize and re-produce all the documents that have already been produced in order to comply with Section 2031.280. This opinion makes clear that reasonable efforts to provide the statutorily required information are sufficient.

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