Judge: Michael E. Whitaker, Case: 21STCV45747, Date: 2022-08-02 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 21STCV45747    Hearing Date: August 2, 2022    Dept: 32

PLEASE NOTE:   Parties are encouraged to meet and confer concerning this tentative ruling to determine if a resolution may be reached.  If the parties are unable to reach a resolution and a party intends to submit on this tentative ruling, the party must send an email to the Court at sscdept32@lacourt.org indicating that party’s intention to submit.  The email shall include the case number, date and time of the hearing, counsel’s contact information (if applicable), and the identity of the party submitting on this tentative ruling.  If the Court does not receive an email indicating the parties are submitting on this tentative ruling and there are no appearances at the hearing, the Court may place the motion off calendar.  If all parties do not submit on this tentative ruling, they should arrange to appear in-person or remotely (which is highly encouraged).  Further, after the Court has posted/issued a tentative ruling, the Court has the inherent authority to prohibit the withdrawal of the subject motion and adopt the tentative ruling as the order of the Court. 

 

TENTATIVE RULING

 

DEPARTMENT

32

HEARING DATE

August 2, 2022

CASE NUMBER

21STCV45747

MOTION

Motions to Compel Further Responses To

Form Interrogatories, Set 1 & Requests for Production of Documents, Set 1; Request for Monetary Sanctions

MOVING PARTY

Defendant Rochelle Sterling, as Trustee of the Sterling Family Trust and dba Beverly Hills Properties

OPPOSING PARTY

None

 

In the complaint filed on December 15, 2021, Plaintiff Adoracion Salonga (“Plaintiff”) \ alleges that she was injured after falling on property owned, controlled or possessed by Defendants Sterling Family Trust, Donald Sterling, Bruce H. Moore, Rochelle Sterling and Beverly Hills Properties.  Defendant Rochelle Sterling, as Trustee of the Sterling Family Trust and dba Beverly Hills Properties (“Defendant”) moves the Court for an order compelling Plaintiff to provide further responses to the following discovery requests:

 

  1. Form Interrogatories, Set 1, Propounded to Plaintiff

    1. Propounded:  January 26, 2022

    2. Responded:  March 4, 2022

    3. Motion Filed:  May 17, 2022

       

  2. Request for Production of Documents, Set 1, Propounded to Plaintiff

    1. Propounded:  January 26, 2022

    2. Responded:  March 4, 2022

    3. Motion Filed:  May 17, 2022

       

      Plaintiff has not filed an opposition to the motion. 

       

                  At the outset, the Court finds that Defendant filed a single motion to compel responses to the two sets of discovery requests.  Instead, Defendant was required to file two separate motions compelling responses to each discovery request.  The Court therefore will order Defendant to pay an additional $60 in filing fees.  (Gov. Code, § 70617, subd. (a).) 

       

       

      Procedural Requirements

       

                  Informal  Discovery Conference

       

                  Per the Seventh Amended Standing Order for Procedures in the Personal Injury Hub Courts Effective May 16, 2022 (Revised 05/04/2022), ¶ 9E, “PI Hub Courts will not hear Motions to Compel Further Discovery Responses to Discovery until the parties have engaged in an Informal Discovery Conference (IDC) . . . The purpose of the IDC is to assist the parties to resolve and/or narrow the scope of discovery disputes.”   

       

                 

                  Here, Defendant complied with the Standing Order in scheduling and attending the IDC on June 21, 2022.  Plaintiff did not appear at the IDC. 

       

                  Timeliness of Motion

       

                  A notice of motion to compel further responses must be given within 45 days of the service of the responses, or any supplemental responses, or on or before any specific later date to which the parties have agreed in writing. (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 2030.300, subd. (c); 2031.310, subd. (c).)  Failure to file such a motion within this time period constitutes a waiver of any right to compel further responses to interrogatories or requests for production of documents.  (Ibid.)

       

      Here, Defendant filed the motion on the date set forth above.  Plaintiff has not objected to the timeliness of the motion. 

       

                  Meet and Confer

       

                  A motion to compel must be accompanied by a meet and confer declaration under Code of Civil Procedure section 2016.040.  (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 2030.300, subd. (b)(1); 2031.310, subd. (b)(2).)  A meet and confer declaration must state facts showing a reasonable and good-faith attempt at an informal resolution of each issue presented by the motion.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2016.040.) 

       

                  “The Discovery Act requires that, prior to the initiation of a motion to compel, the moving party declare that he or she has made a serious attempt to obtain an informal resolution of each issue. This rule is designed ‘to encourage the parties to work out their differences informally so as to avoid the necessity of a formal order.  . . .  This, in turn, will lessen the burden on the court and reduce the unnecessary expenditure of resources by litigants through promotion of informal, extrajudicial resolution of discovery disputes.”  (Townsend v. Superior Court (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 1431, 1434-1435, citations omitted [cleaned  up].)  To comply, “A reasonable and good-faith attempt at informal resolution entails something more than bickering with [opposing counsel].  Rather, the law requires that counsel attempt to talk the matter over, compare their views, consult, and deliberate.”  (Townsend, supra, 61 Cal.App.4th at p. 1439; see also Clement v. Alegre (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 1277, 1294 [to satisfy the attempt at informal resolution required in section 2016.040 opposing parties must do more than try to persuade each other of their errors].)  In short, the Discovery Act “requires that there be a serious effort at negotiation and informal resolution.”  (Townsend, supra, 61 Cal.App.4th at p. 1438.)

       

                  To that end, trial courts are entrusted with discretion and judgment to determine the necessary effort required to satisfy the requirement of an informal resolution. (Obregon v. Superior Court (1998) Cal.App.4th 424, 433.)  In determining if parties have satisfied section 2016.040, judges may consider “the history of the litigation, the nature of the interaction between counsel, the nature of the issues, the type and scope of discovery requested, the prospects for success and other similar factors can be relevant.” (Id. at pp. 431-432 [holding that the trial court was correct in determining that sending a letter with oppositions was an insufficient attempt at an informal resolution].)  In sum, meet and confer efforts should go beyond merely sending letters to each other stating each party’s respective positions.

       

                  Here, as set forth in the Declaration of Linda M. Toutant, counsel for Defendant, Defendant met and conferred with counsel for Plaintiff, Michael Coletti, by written communications.  (Declaration of Linda M. Toutant, ¶¶ 7-10, Exhibits F-L.)  Plaintiff failed to substantively respond to Defendant’s meet and confer efforts.  (Ibid.) 

       

                  Accordingly, the Court finds that Defendant engaged in a reasonable and good faith attempt at an informal resolution of the issues presented in the motion.    

       

                  Separate Statement

       

                  California Rules of Court, rule 3.1345 requires that any motion involving the content of discovery contain a separate statement with the text of each request, the response, and a statement of factual and legal reasons for why an order compelling further responses is warranted. 

       

                  Here, Defendant has filed a separate statement related to the motion which complies with the Rules of Court.

       

      Analysis

                 

                  “The purpose of the discovery rules is to enhance the truth-seeking function of the litigation process and eliminate trial strategies that focus on gamesmanship and surprise.  In other words, the discovery process is designed to make a 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.”  (Juarez v. Boy Scouts of Am., Inc. (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 377, 389 [cleaned up].)  

       

                  Where a party objects or responds inadequately discovery requests, a motion lies to compel further responses, and that party has the burden to justify the objections or inadequate responses. (Fairmont Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (2000) 22 Cal.4th 245, 255; Code Civ. Proc., §§ 2030.300, subd. (a) [motion to compel further responses lies “[o]n receipt of a response to interrogatories”]; 2031.310, subd. (a) [motion to compel further responses lies “[o]n receipt of a response to a demand for inspection”].)  “A trial court's determination of a motion to compel discovery is reviewed for abuse of discretion.  However, when the facts asserted in support of and in opposition to the motion are in conflict, the trial court's factual findings will be upheld if they are supported by substantial evidence.” (Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Superior Court (2009) 47 Cal.4th 725, 733 [cleaned up].)

       

      RULINGS RE Form Interrogatories: [1]

       

                  Form Interrogatory Nos. 2.6:   GRANTED

       

      RULINGS RE Request for Production of Documents:[2] 

       

                  Requests Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 25, 26 & 30:    GRANTED[3]

       

      Sanctions

                 

      A trial court may sanction a party for engaging in the misuse of discovery, which includes:  failure to respond or submit to an authorized method of discovery; making an evasive response to discovery; making, without substantial justification, an unmeritorious objection to discovery; and making or opposing, unsuccessfully and without substantial justification, a motion to compel or to limit discovery. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2023.010.)

       

                  In addition, Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.300, subdivision (d) provides: “The court shall impose a monetary sanction under Chapter 7 (commencing with Section 2023.010) against any party, person, or attorney who unsuccessfully makes or opposes a motion to compel a further response to interrogatories, unless it finds that the one subject to the sanction acted with substantial justification or that other circumstances make the imposition of the sanction unjust.”  (See also Code Civ. Proc., § 2031.310, subd. (h).)

       

                  Here, Defendant seeks monetary sanctions in connection with the motion based upon Plaintiff’s failure to provide complete, substantive responses to the subject discovery requests.  The Court finds Plaintiff’s failure, in part, to provide complete, substantive responses to be an abuse of the discovery process, warranting monetary sanctions.  Accordingly, the Court will impose monetary sanctions against Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s counsel of record, Law Offices of Michael Coletti, in the amount of $1095 which represents three hours of attorney time to prepare the motions and attend the hearing at $325 per hour, plus the filing fees of $120.

       

      CONCLUSION AND ORDERS

       

      Therefore, the Court grants Defendant’s motion to compel further responses per Code of Civil Procedure sections 2030.300 and 2031.310, and orders Plaintiff Herrera to serve further substantive responses to Form Interrogatories No. 2.6 and Request for Production of Documents Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 25, 26 and 30, within 30 days of notice of the Court’s orders. 

       

      Further, the Court orders Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s counsel of record, Law Offices of Michael Coletti, jointly and severally to pay monetary sanctions in the amount of $1095 to Defendant, by and through counsel for Defendant, within 30 days of notice of the Court’s orders. 

       

      In addition, the Court orders Defendant to pay an additional $60 in filing fees to the Clerk of the Court on or before August 16, 2022 and sets an Order to Show Cause re Proof of Payment for September 13, 2022 at 8:30 A.M. in Department 32. 

       

      Defendant shall provide notice of the Court’s orders and file a proof of service of such.

       

       



[1] “Each answer in a response to interrogatories shall be as complete and straightforward as the information reasonably available to the responding party permits.  If an interrogatory cannot be answered completely, it shall be answered to the extent possible.  If the responding party does not have personal knowledge sufficient to respond fully to an interrogatory, that party shall so state, but shall make a reasonable and good faith effort to obtain the information by inquiry to other natural persons or organizations, except where the information is equally available to the propounding party.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.220, subds. (a)-(c).)

 

[2] Code of Civil Procedure section 2031.230 requires “A representation of inability to comply with the particular demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling shall affirm that a diligent search and a reasonable inquiry has been made in an effort to comply with that demand. This statement shall also specify whether the inability to comply is because the particular item or category has never existed, has been destroyed, has been lost, misplaced, or stolen, or has never been, or is no longer, in the possession, custody, or control of the responding party. The statement shall set forth the name and address of any natural person or organization known or believed by that party to have possession, custody, or control of that item or category of item.” 

 

[3] Code of Civil Procedure section 2031.240 provides that “If an objection is based on a claim of privilege or a claim that the information sought is protected work product, the response shall provide sufficient factual information for other parties to evaluate the merits of that claim, including, if necessary, a privilege log.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2031.240, subd. (c)(1).) “The purpose of a privilege log is to provide a specific factual description of documents in aid of substantiating a claim of privilege in connection with a request for document production.”   (Catalina Island Yacht Club v. Superior Court (2015) 242 Cal.App.4th 1116, 1125 [cleaned up].)