Consumer protection lawsuits in federal court: part 11 — interrogatories

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One common form of discovery is called an interrogatory which means one party in your lawsuit sends the other party a written question (or series of questions) that must be answered in writing.

What is an interrogatory used for?
Interrogatories are used to get information from the other side. So you might ask things such as:

**Identify all calls you made to the Plaintiff, listing date, number called, number called from, substance of conversation, was the call recorded, length of call, etc.

**Explain in detail why you claim the statute of limitation is a valid defense in an Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lawsuit that was filed in 3 months from the date of your first call.

So the basic idea is you ask the other side for information — sometimes we ask for broad information and sometimes the information is very narrow.

Who can send an interrogatory?
Only a party to the lawsuit. So that is you and the defendant who you sued.

Who can interrogatories be sent to?
Only to another party. So you can send interrogatories to the defendant or defendants and they can send them to you.

No one can send to a person or company who is not a party. For that, we would use subpoenas to get a non party to give a deposition or produce documents.

How long does the other side have to answer interrogatories?
Normally 30 days from when they receive them. In some ways 30 days sounds like a long time but the time goes by quickly and often the answering party wants an extension of time to answer the interrogatories.

And this 30 days is the time to answer or object. A party objects if they think the interrogatory is improper in some way.

How important is it to answer interrogatories?
Very. If you don’t, or if the other side doesn’t, then a motion to compel can be filed. Objections to a specific interrogatory can be waived if not answered or objected to in time.

How important is it to answer interrogatories completely?
Again it is very important. These answers can be referred to in a deposition and may appear in court filings so you want to make sure you have given a complete answer.

Normally defendants give very vague answers as they think lawyers who represent consumers won’t push them on this. Sometimes we don’t because their answer will come back to bite them at trial but other times we do push them to make them give us complete answers.

What happens if someone doesn’t fully answer an interrogatory?
A several step process happens.

Step one is to write the other side and let them know there is a problem with one or more interrogatory answers. Give them a deadline to fix it and make sure it is clear what the supposed problem is so everyone is clear on this.

Step two (sometimes combined with step one) is to request the other side (through their lawyer) “meet and confer”. That is a legal term that means you get together in person or over the phone to try and resolve your differences over the response to the interrogatories.

Federal judges want to know that you at least tried to get the other side to talk about the dispute.

Step three is to file a “motion to compel” which is where the judge is asked to get involved to decide who is wrong and who is right. We’ll discuss this a bit later in our series on consumer protection federal lawsuits.

What if you (or the other side) want documents and not just written answers?
You send what are called “request for production of documents” and that will be our next article in our series of blog posts.

We hope this helps and look forward to continuing our series with you.

John Watts

PS — If you have questions, give us a call at 205-879-2447 as long as you are in Alabama and don’t have a lawyer representing you.

Oh and if you want to read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule 33), here it is….

(a) In General.

(1) Number. Unless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, a party may serve on any other party no more than 25 written interrogatories, including all discrete subparts. Leave to serve additional interrogatories may be granted to the extent consistent with Rule 26(b)(1) and (2).

(2) Scope. An interrogatory may relate to any matter that may be inquired into under Rule 26(b). An interrogatory is not objectionable merely because it asks for an opinion or contention that relates to fact or the application of law to fact, but the court may order that the interrogatory need not be answered until designated discovery is complete, or until a pretrial conference or some other time.

(b) Answers and Objections.

(1) Responding Party. The interrogatories must be answered:

(A) by the party to whom they are directed; or
(B) if that party is a public or private corporation, a partnership, an association, or a governmental agency, by any officer or agent, who must furnish the information available to the party.

(2) Time to Respond. The responding party must serve its answers and any objections within 30 days after being served with the interrogatories. A shorter or longer time may be stipulated to under Rule 29 or be ordered by the court.

(3) Answering Each Interrogatory. Each interrogatory must, to the extent it is not objected to, be answered separately and fully in writing under oath.

(4) Objections. The grounds for objecting to an interrogatory must be stated with specificity. Any ground not stated in a timely objection is waived unless the court, for good cause, excuses the failure.

(5) Signature. The person who makes the answers must sign them, and the attorney who objects must sign any objections.

(c) Use. An answer to an interrogatory may be used to the extent allowed by the Federal Rules of Evidence.

(d) Option to Produce Business Records. If the answer to an interrogatory may be determined by examining, auditing, compiling, abstracting, or summarizing a party’s business records (including electronically stored information), and if the burden of deriving or ascertaining the answer will be substantially the same for either party, the responding party may answer by:

(1) specifying the records that must be reviewed, in sufficient detail to enable the interrogating party to locate and identify them as readily as the responding party could; and
(2) giving the interrogating party a reasonable opportunity to examine and audit the records and to make copies, compilations, abstracts, or summaries.

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