After you file a defamation lawsuit (in the form of a "complaint") and the defendant files an answer, the litigation progresses into what is called the discovery period -- basically a pretrial stage where both sides exchange information in preparation for trial. In this article, we'll discuss the use of interrogatories as a discovery tool in defamation cases.
What are Interrogatories?
Essentially, interrogatories are written questions sent from one party to another in order to clarify and narrow the facts and issues for trial. The other party must answer the questions in writing and under oath.
Interrogatories can be a powerful tool because the answers provided by the other party may be used as evidence. Thus, they may be used in summary judgment motions, motions to dismiss, party admissions, and for impeachment purposes.
How you can use interrogatories is governed by the civil procedure rules of your particular jurisdiction. Most states will limit the number of interrogatories that can be sent so as not to bury the other side in unnecessary paperwork. In California, for example, you can submit up to thirty-five special interrogatories. The interrogatories must be answered within a certain period of time. In California, it is usually thirty days from service.
Drafting the Introduction
Interrogatories should be drafted in a careful and precise manner so as to elicit the answers you want. Any ambiguity will lead either to an objection that the interrogatory is vague and incapable of being answered, or will be answered but the answer will be meaningless.
Duties Of The Answering Party. The introduction of the interrogatories should set the duties the other party has in answering the interrogatories. For example, the other party has a duty to answer the questions fully based on the information in their possession and information reasonably available to them. If he or she can only provide a partial answer, then he or she must state why this is the case. If the other side raises an objection, ask them to state what question or portion of the question is being objected to and the basis for the objection.
Definitions. The definitions section of the interrogatories can be very useful to increase the effectiveness of your interrogatories. Clearly defining frequently used terms can clarify the questions you want to be answered. There is also the added practical benefit that you will be able to save space by not having to provide an extensive definition for a term each time it is used.
When drafting interrogatories, be sure to tailor the questions to your specific case. Below are a few sample interrogatories to guide you:
- Identify all persons answering or supplying information used in answering these Interrogatories.
- State the name, address, and business telephone number of each person with personal knowledge regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding the happenings of the occurrences referred to in the complaint.
- Is defendant the writer of the blog known as “Defamer?”
- How many people read defendant’s blog on a monthly basis?
- Please state the facts defendant relied upon when defendant published on May 5, 2012 the following: “Well if it isn't Shakey the Surgeon! You did a heck of a job there, pal, except now I look like the Elephant Man.”
- Please state the facts defendant relied upon when defendant published on May 6, 2012 the following:“Who made you a surgeon? I heard you got your degree from a matchbook.”
Objections To Interrogatories
You should consult your local rules of civil procedure concerning how objections to interrogatories can be raised. Nonetheless, you must answer the portions of the interrogatory which is not objectionable. Generally, common objections can be divided into three categories: scope, timing, and grounds.
Scope. When an interrogatory is overly broad, the answering party can object to its scope and is excused for answering any portion of the question. Or, the interrogatory may not be restricted to a reasonable time period. However, the objecting party has the burden of showing that the interrogatory is burdensome or irrelevant.
Timing. Objections to the interrogatories must be served with the interrogatories. If the objecting party fails to raise the objection at this time, he or she may have waived it.
Specific Grounds. There are a variety of specific objections that can be raised, such as that the information sought is privileged, calls for legal conclusions, answering would be unduly burdensome, argumentative, etc.