Judge: Armen Tamzarian, Case: 20STCV37302, Date: 2023-02-22 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 20STCV37302    Hearing Date: February 22, 2023    Dept: 52

Defendant Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club’s Motion for Terminating Sanctions

Defendant Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club moves for terminating sanctions against plaintiffs Bill Starkov and Jessica Starkov.

Grounds for Sanctions

After a court issues an order compelling responses to interrogatories or requests for production, “[i]f a party then fails to obey” the order, “the court may make those orders that are just, including” imposing monetary, issue, evidence, or terminating sanctions.  (CCP § 2030.290(c) [interrogatories]; § 2031.300(c) [requests for production].)

Plaintiffs have now disobeyed multiple court orders compelling discovery.  On September 30, 2022, the court granted defendant’s motions to compel discovery and ordered plaintiffs Bill Starkov and Jessica Starkov to serve verified responses without objections to form interrogatories and requests for production within 20 days.  The court also ordered plaintiff’s counsel Steve White to pay $390 in sanctions for each of the four motions, totaling $1,560. 

Plaintiffs disobeyed those orders.  Defense counsel Ha Eun Cho states, “To date, plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ counsel have not provided any responses, nor any sanctions payment.”  (Cho Decl., ¶ 12.)

In November 2022, defendant filed a motion to enforce the prior orders and to seek additional monetary sanctions.  The court granted that motion on January 9, 2023.  The court ordered plaintiffs Bill Starkov and Jessica Starkov each to serve verified responses without objections to form interrogatories and requests for production no later than January 23.  They still have not done so.  (Cho Decl., ¶ 12.)

Appropriate Sanctions

Discovery sanctions should be imposed incrementally, “starting with monetary sanctions and ending with the ultimate sanction of termination.”  (Lopez v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 566, 604.)  “[A] terminating sanction should generally not be imposed until the court has attempted less severe alternatives and found them to be unsuccessful and/or the record clearly shows lesser sanctions would be ineffective.”  (Ibid.)  Appropriate sanctions are those “such as are suitable and necessary to enable the party seeking discovery to obtain the objects of the discovery he seeks, but [not] which are designed not to accomplish the objects of discovery but to impose punishment.”  (Laguna Auto Body v. Farmers Ins. Exchange (1991) 231 Cal.App.3d 481, 488.)

Sanctions short of termination have been ineffective to curb plaintiffs’ discovery abuses.  Defendants served these discovery requests in December 2021.  (Cho Decl., ¶ 3.)  Over a year later, plaintiffs still have not responded.  Monetary sanctions did not result in any progress.  Plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ counsel also have not paid the monetary sanctions.  Plaintiffs’ refusal to respond to discovery and willful disobedience of court orders has substantially prejudiced defendant’s ability to defend itself.  One who chooses to file a lawsuit must accept the obligations to participate in discovery and obey court orders.  Plaintiffs have flouted those obligations.

Evidence or issue sanctions would not suffice.  Plaintiffs have disobeyed orders compelling responses to the initial step of written discovery, thus derailing the discovery process at the beginning.  The only adequate evidence or issue sanctions would be so broad as to establish facts fatal to plaintiffs’ claims or prohibit them from supporting any of their claims.  Such sanctions would have the same effect as termination.   

Defendant has been completely unable to accomplish the objects of discovery.  “The purpose of discovery is to make trial ‘ “less a game of blindman’s bluff and more a fair contest with the basic issues and facts disclosed to the fullest practicable extent.” ’ ”  (Reales Investment, LLC v. Johnson (2020) 55 Cal.App.5th 463, 473.)  “ ‘An important aspect of legitimate discovery from a defendant’s point of view is the ascertainment, in advance of trial, of the specific components of plaintiff’s case so that appropriate preparations can be made to meet them.  It is impossible to discover this other than from the plaintiff.’ ”  (Id. at pp. 473-474.) 

Without any discovery, defendant cannot prepare for trial—which is set for March 29, only five weeks from this hearing.  Absent terminating sanctions, plaintiffs’ conduct would result in running out the clock and subjecting defendant to trial by surprise.  Under these circumstances, the court finds terminating sanctions are appropriate.    


            Defendant Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club’s motion for terminating sanctions is granted. 

Under Code of Civil Procedure section 2023.030(d)(3), the court hereby dismisses this action with prejudice.