Case Name: SR Real Estate Holdings, LLC v. Patriot Resources, LLC, et al.
Case No.: 16-CV-295744
This action initiated by plaintiff SR Real Estate Holdings, LLC (“Plaintiff”) against defendant Patriot Resources, LLC (“Defendant”) arises out of unpaid oil royalties.
According to the complaint (“Complaint”), Plaintiff provides real estate management and development services to Sargent Ranch, a property covering approximately 6,000 acres in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties. (Complaint, ¶ 2.) Defendant operates an oil and gas extractor on 320 acres within a portion of Sargent Ranch located in Santa Clara County. (Id. at ¶ 4.)
In 1974, the then-owners of fee title to Sargent Ranch entered into an oil and gas lease with Gulf Oil Corporation, whereby it could explore for and extract oil and gas in return to payment of royalties (“1974 Lease”). (Complaint, ¶ 8.) By 2003, Defendant was a successor-in-interest to all right, title, and interest as lessee under the 1974 Lease. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Sargent Ranch, LLC (“SRLLC”) was the owner in fee of all of Sargent Ranch and the successor-in-interest to 75% of all right, title, and interest as lessor under the 1974 Lease. (Ibid.) The remaining 25% of all right, title, and interest as lessor under the 1974 Lease has at all times been owned by Shriners Hospital for Children. (Id. at ¶ 10.)
Throughout the years, there were at least three deeds of trust secured by Sargent Ranch. On October 28, 2003, SRLLC “entered into a deed of trust” (“3rd DOT”) which, although junior to the first deed of trust (“1st DOT”), was secured by Sargent Ranch and all rent and royalties obtained by SRLLC from the property, including royalties under the 1974 Lease. (Complaint, ¶ 11.)
On February 22, 2012, the 3rd DOT was foreclosed on because SRLLC was in default. (Complaint, ¶ 12.) The trustee’s deed transferred SRLLC’s right, title, and interest in Sargent Ranch to the beneficiaries at the time of the 3rd DOT, who subsequently assigned their right, title, and interest in Sargent Ranch to Plaintiff by grant deed. (Id. at ¶ 13.)
Plaintiff thereafter defaulted on the 1st DOT and it was foreclosed on February 18, 2014. (Complaint, ¶ 14.) The trustee’s deed transferring Plaintiff’s right, title, and interest in Sargent Ranch to the former beneficiaries of the 1st DOT was recorded on February 24, 2014. (Ibid.) They have owned Sargent Ranch since then. (Ibid.)
After the foreclosure of the 1st DOT, the former beneficiaries claimed entitlement to the unpaid royalties as successors-in-interest to Plaintiff by foreclosure and to all royalties accruing thereafter. (Complaint, ¶ 18.) Defendant refused to pay them the unpaid royalties and maintained it acquired title to all royalties in 2007 by assignment. (Id. at ¶ 19.) The former beneficiaries to the 1st DOT then initiated an action against Defendant to recover the unpaid royalties in 2014 (“Prior Lawsuit”). (Id. at ¶ 20.) Defendant entered into an agreement with agents for the former beneficiaries, DACA GP, LLC (“DACA”), providing Defendant would pay DACA all royalties accruing after the February 2014 foreclosure and conduct a binding arbitration to determine the rights of the unpaid royalties, while DACA would waive all other claims for relief. (Id. at ¶ 21.) The arbitrator made several findings, including: (1) Defendant’s owner testified that the former beneficiaries to the 3rd DOT owned the property during the time in question and they may be the rightful owners of the unpaid royalties; (2) Defendant expected to pay the royalties but did not want to pay them twice; and (3) the former beneficiaries of the 1st DOT failed to establish they are entitled to the unpaid royalties. (Ibid.)
After the arbitration, the former beneficiaries of the 1st DOT and the 3rd DOT agreed that all interested parties would: (1) assign their rights to Plaintiff; (2) waive all competing interests; and (3) cooperate in prosecuting this action against Defendant. (Complaint, ¶ 24.)
While the above events occurred, Defendant was on notice that Plaintiff is entitled to 75% of all royalties under the 1974 Lease from February 22, 2012 to February 18, 2014. (Complaint, ¶ 17.) Defendant still has not paid Plaintiff. (Ibid.)
Plaintiff asserts causes of action against Defendant for breach of contract and conversion.
The instant dispute concerns the adequacy of discovery responses. Plaintiff propounded form interrogatories, set one (“FI”), special interrogatories, set one (“SI”), requests for admissions, set one (“RFA”), and requests for production, set one (“RPD”) on Defendant. (Yunker Decl., ¶ 9.) Defendant timely responded on March 13, 2017. (Ibid.) Some responses were objection-only and others contained both objections and substantive responses. On March 29, 2017, Plaintiff’s attorney sent counsel for Defendant’s counsel a meet and confer e-mail specifying the deficient discovery responses, explaining why its objections were meritless, and stating why the substantive responses were inadequate. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Defendant’s counsel responded she did not have time to meet and confer prior to the deadline to filing this motion because she would be out of town. The parties did not come to an agreement with respect to the adequacy of the responses.
Currently before the Court is Plaintiff’s motion to compel further responses to the FI, SI, RFA, and RPD pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure sections 2030.300, 2033.290, and 2031.310. and an attendant request for sanctions. Defendant opposes the motion and also requests an award of monetary sanctions.
- Meet and Confer
Defendant argues Plaintiff failed to adequately meet and confer prior to filing the motion and it should therefore be denied.
A motion to compel further responses to written discovery shall be accompanied by a meet and confer declaration “showing a reasonable and good faith attempt at an informal resolution of each issue presented by the motion.” (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 2016.040, 2030.300, subd. (b), 2031.310, subd. (b), 2033.290, subd. (b).) The rule requiring parties to meet and confer is designed “to encourage the parties to work out their differences informally so as to avoid the necessity for a formal order” which, 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. Super. Ct. (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 1431, 1435.) “A reasonable and good-faith attempt at informal resolution entails something more than bickering . . . . the law requires that counsel attempt to talk the matter over, compare their views, consult, and deliberate.” (Id. at p. 1439.)
Defendant argues Plaintiff failed to engage in adequate meet and confer discussions for several reasons. First, Defendant points to the fact Plaintiff waited two weeks after receiving the responses to the written discovery to initiate the meet and confer process. Next, as a result of waiting two weeks, Defendant asserts Plaintiff provided it little time to respond to the meet and confer letter prior to deadline to file the motion. Last, Defendant argues Plaintiff knew its attorney, Jean Pledger, would be out of the country from April 3 until April 17 and purposely waited until she was about to leave in order to raise any issues concerning the adequacy of the discovery responses.
Plaintiff states it did not immediately send a meet and confer letter because it had a deposition scheduled and hoped it could obtain the information sought from the deposition testimony. After Plaintiff conducted the deposition, it sent the meet and confer letter. Plaintiff explains the meet and confer process was abbreviated by highlighting that the statutory discovery cut-off in this case is April 28, 2017; thus, it had to schedule a hearing on the motion to compel prior to that date. Plaintiff states it could only obtain a hearing date of April 25 or April 27. (Yunker Decl., ¶¶ 16-17.) Plaintiff asserts Defendant’s counsel stated she was available for a hearing on April 25. (Id. at ¶ 17.) The scheduling of the hearing date then required Plaintiff to file the moving papers by April 3. (Ibid.) Therefore, according to Plaintiff, an accelerated meet and confer process was necessary. Plaintiff also insists it was willing to compromise with Defendant. Plaintiff states it told Defendant it would not file a motion to compel if Defendant would agree, prior to April 5, to supplement the discovery responses at issue. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Because Plaintiff knew Defendant’s attorney would be out of the country, it did not require the supplemental responses to be served prior to April 5. (Ibid.) Plaintiff further insists it sent a detailed meet and confer letter on March 29—days prior to Defendant’s attorney’s departure—which allowed sufficient time to meet and confer. Plaintiff indicates that after the conversation on March 29, it received no further response from Defendant except to schedule the present hearing. (Id. at ¶ 18.)
The Court finds Plaintiff failed to adequately meet and confer, but that Defendant also failed to engage in a reasonable and good-faith attempt at informal resolution. This case was filed in May 2016 and Plaintiff waited until February 2017 to serve the subject discovery requests, only a few days before the trial setting conference. Plaintiff waited two weeks after receiving Defendant’s discovery response to send an initial e-mail even though it knew the trial date was set and the discovery cut-off was looming. Although Plaintiff states it waited to meet and confer in order to conduct a deposition and see whether it could obtain the information, the prudent course of action would have been to discuss the deficiencies earlier given the discovery deadline is April 28.
For Defendant’s part, it also appears to have refused to engage in any discussion regarding the adequacy of the discovery responses. Plaintiff initially contacted Defendant several days prior to counsel’s scheduled vacation. Plaintiff attempted repeatedly to discuss the responses with Defendant. Plaintiff also offered to forego filing the motion based on a promise to supplement responses in the future after the vacation. However, it appears Defendant stopped responding to Plaintiff’s e-mails, with the exception of an e-mail regarding the scheduling of the instant motion. When it became clear Defendant’s attorney Jean Pledger would not meet and confer with Plaintiff, Plaintiff offered to meet and confer with other attorneys at the firm. Plaintiff apparently received no response to that offer. Thus, the parties never actually discussed the merits of the motion or reasonably attempted informal resolution. The parties only discussed when to meet and confer and the scheduling of the motion.
Given these circumstances, the Court will exercise its discretion and reach the motion on its merits. Both parties are admonished to more fully comply with the meet and confer requirement in the future.
- Merits of the Motion
Plaintiff moves to compel further responses from FI, SI, RFA, and RPD.
A party propounding interrogatories may move for an order compelling further responses if that party deems an answer is evasive or incomplete and/or an objection is without merit or too general. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (a).) A responding party has the burden of justifying any objections. (Kirkland v. Super. Ct. (2002) 95 Cal.App.4th 92, 98.)
- Form Interrogatories
Plaintiff argues further responses to FI Nos. 121.-12.3, 12.6, and 15.1 are warranted because the objections are meritless and the substantive responses are deficient.
- FI Nos. 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, 12.6
FI Nos. 12.1-12.3 and 12.6 all inquire as to the identities of witnesses and written reports concerning the “incident.” In the FI, the “incident” is defined as “the circumstances and events surrounding the alleged accident, or other occurrence or breach of contract giving rise to this action or proceeding.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 2: lis. 1-3.)
Defendant objected to FI Nos. 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, and 12.6 on numerous grounds.
First, Defendant objected to FI Nos. 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, and 12.6 on the basis the definition of “incident” is “insufficient to determine the time frame or actions discussed due to the multi-year events that make up Plaintiff’s claims.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 2: lis. 15-16.)
Plaintiff argues Defendant cannot now claim the term “incident” is ambiguous because it used the form-provided definition in its own interrogatories propounded to it. Plaintiff further asserts the term “incident” is sufficiently broad to encompass all relevant transactions that are in dispute in this case. Last, Plaintiff contends Defendant’s counsel has been involved in the royalties claim since 2012, and cannot dispute its knowledge of all witnesses to the incident.
Defendant attempts to justify its objection by stating “there were different ‘owners’ of royalty payments at different points in time.” Therefore, according to Defendant, “the term ‘INCIDENT’ is not sufficiently clear enough to provide a responsive answer.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 3: lis. 15-16.) Defendant additionally asserts the term “incident” “is too broad in terms of the possible time covered, and does not cover a period of time which is easily ascertainable.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 4: lis. 21-23.) These explanations do not sufficiently justify the objection. Although Defendant states the term “incident” covers too broad of a time period, it does not provide a sufficient explanation to allow the Court to evaluate this argument. For example, Defendant does not state the length of time the term “incident” covers or exactly why the length of time renders the term confusing. Therefore, it is not apparent to the Court why the term “incident” covers too broad of a time period. Accordingly, the objection is unsubstantiated.
Second, in response to FI No. 12.6, Defendant also objected on the bases of “attorney client privileged information or attorney work product.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 6: lis. 21-22.) FI No. 12.6 specifically asks whether a report was made by any person concerning the incident and, if so, requests the identification of the person. Defendant, in opposition, states Plaintiff “is apparently seeking information that Opposing Counsel believes is privileged. . . . Plaintiff apparently desires some type of landmen report and wants to start a privilege log regarding chain of title issues to the court.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 8: lis. 2-5.) Defendant further asserts Plaintiff is attempting to discover its “legal reasoning” and is not entitled to “legal opinions which may be prepared for [it].” Defendant’s argument is misguided. As persuasively argued by Plaintiff, “the existence of a document containing privileged information is not privileged.” (Hernandez v. Super. Ct. (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 285, 293, emphasis in original.) Interrogatories may be used to discover the existence of documents in the opposing party’s possession, even if such documents contain potentially privileged information. (Ibid.) Here, Plaintiff is not seeking production of privileged documents. It only seeks to discover the identities of parties who drafted a report. Therefore, Defendant’s objection is unsubstantiated.
Last, in response only to FI No. 12.1, Defendant states for the first time in its separate statement in opposition that because “Plaintiff is seeking information about the identities of lawyers[,]” it “objects to that type of information as attorney-client privilege and attorney-client work product.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 3: lis. 18-19.) Defendant did not object to FI No. 12.1 in its initial response based on the attorney-client privilege and attorney work product doctrine. These objections have therefore been waived. (See Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Super. Ct. (1997) 59 Cal.App.4th 263, 273.) Furthermore, the objection is not otherwise meritorious as Defendant provides no legal authority supporting its contention that the identity of an attorney is privileged.
- Substantive Responses
Defendant provided substantive responses to FI Nos. 12.1-12.3 and 12.6. Plaintiff argues each response is deficient.
A party may respond to an interrogatory by providing “[a]n answer containing the information sought to be discovered[,]” exercising an option to produce writings, or objecting. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.210, subd. (a).) Each answer must be “as complete and straightforward as the information reasonably available to the responding party permits.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.220, subd. (a).)
- FI No. 12.1
FI No. 12.1 seeks the identities of witnesses to the incident. In response, Defendant provided several names, including the name of its president and previous managing members, and then stated “plaintiff and lawyers.” Defendant then stated it did not have information regarding the address or phone number of the individuals.
Plaintiff asserts the response is deficient because it does not identify the “lawyers.” Plaintiff states the identification of the “lawyers” is particularly important because Defendant’s president testified during deposition that no one other than its lawyers have any substantive knowledge about the issues raised in this action. Defendant does not address its substantive response in opposition.
Plaintiff’s argument is well-taken. The response does not contain the information sought because it does not state the name, address, and telephone number of each individual named as a witness.
- FI Nos. 12.2-12.3
FI Nos. 12.2-12.3 seek the identities of individuals Defendant interviewed about the incident or identities of individuals who made statements concerning the incident. Defendant responded that the transcript of the deposition of David Wallace taken on January 16, 2015 may be responsive to the interrogatory.
Plaintiff argues this response is deficient because it does not identify whether these are all the witnesses and documents responsive to the requests. In opposition, Defendant simply states it is uncertain why the contact information for David Wallace was not included.
The responses are not code-compliant for several reasons. First, the requests seek the identification of witnesses and the responses do not actually identify individuals. The responses do not answer the question posed because they refer to documents, i.e. the deposition transcript. Second, the responses do not fully identify any individuals because they do not provide contact information as admitted by Defendant in opposition.
The Court observes Plaintiff also suggests the response is incomplete because there must be other witnesses of the incident. There is no basis to conclude Defendant withheld information in its response. With that said, Defendant is cautioned that the further response must be complete.
- FI No. 12.6
FI No. 12.6 inquires whether a report was made concerning the incident, and if so, seeks the identity of the person who made it. Defendant responded “no non-privileged report has been made regarding Plaintiff’s allegations concerning its claimed breach of contract or conversion.”
Plaintiff contends this response is not code-compliant because it does not describe any possible privileged reports and improperly limits the scope of the interrogatory to breach of contract and conversion. Defendant does not discuss the substance of its response but rather only attempts to defend its objection based on the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work product doctrine.
The response to the FI is not code-compliant. As stated above, the existence of a document is not privileged. (Hernandez v. Super. Ct., supra, 112 Cal.App.4th at p. 293.) While Defendant may object to producing documents on the basis of privilege, it may not properly object to listing the document in response to an interrogatory. (See ibid. [“If an interrogatory asks the responding party to identify a document, an adequate response must include a description of the document.”].) Therefore, the response is deficient because, by stating “no non-privileged report has been made[,]” it leaves open the possibility that a privileged document exists and is excluded from the response. The response is additionally deficient because it improperly focuses on “allegations concerning [Plaintiff’s] claimed breach of contract or conversion.” The response appears to leave out the possibility of the existence of reports concerning the chain of title of Sargent Ranch, which is an issue of particular importance in this case.
- FI No. 15.1
FI No. 15.1 requests that for each denial of a material allegation and special affirmative defense in the pleadings, Defendant: (a) state all facts upon which they are based; (2) identify individuals with knowledge of those facts; and (c) identify all documents that support the denial or affirmative defense and identify individuals in possession of those documents. Defendant did not object to the interrogatory and listed five defenses in response.
Plaintiff takes issue with the fifth defense, which reads: “[t]he contract lease was assigned, in part, and therefore the requirements by Patriot to pay royalties to those who own the mineral rights was modified, waived, or.” Plaintiff argues this response is incomplete. In opposition, Defendant agrees that it is incomplete and must be supplemented.
It is evident that this response does not fully answer the question posed, and as a result, is not code-compliant.
- Special Interrogatories
Plaintiff moves to compel further responses to SI Nos. 1-4 on the bases the objections are meritless and the substantive responses are not code-compliant.
- SI No. 1
SI No. 1 states: “Does [Defendant] contend that Adams et al. did not become entitled to 75% of the Royalties owed to the Lessor by [Defendant] under the 1974 Lease after the 2012 Foreclosure?” Defendant provided an objection-only response to SI No. 1.
First, it objected on the basis the definition of “Adams et al.” fails to provide sufficient information to ascertain the identities of the former beneficiaries and it therefore could not respond. Next, Defendant stated it “could not ascertain the definition of ‘2012 Foreclosure,’” because the response states the term will be defined in paragraph 9, but paragraph 9 defines a grant deed. It appears to the Court Defendant intended to object on the ground the terms are vague and ambiguous.
For context, at the beginning of the entire SI, Plaintiff provided a definition section. In paragraph 7, Plaintiff defined “Adams et al.” as “the former beneficiaries under the Deed of Trust affecting Sargent Ranch recorded on 10/28/03, who became owners of Sargent Ranch as of the foreclosure of their Deed of Trust in 2012.” In paragraph 8, Plaintiff stated “‘2012 Foreclosure’ refers to the foreclosure described in Paragraph 9 above.” In paragraph 9, Plaintiff defined “Grant Deed” as “the grant deed recorded on 12/11/12 whereby Adams et al. transferred rights in Sargent Ranch to [Plaintiff].”
As to the definition of the term “Adams et al.” and “2012 foreclosure,” Plaintiff argues it is sufficiently clear who is referenced in the deed of trust. Plaintiff asserts Defendant has knowledge of the identities on the deed of trust because it has it in its possession. Plaintiff further states the definition is abundantly clear as Defendant’s attorney, Jean Pledger, personally dealt with Adams et al. in 2012. Plaintiff additionally insists writing “9” instead of “7” in connection with the “2012 foreclosure” definition was a simple typo and is clearly evident it was referring to paragraph 7. Defendant’s attempt to justify the objection based on the definition “Adams et al.” is not clearly articulated. Defendant states: “Though I do not immediately understand what is meant by Opposing Counsel, I cannot answer for Jean Pledger. I would just comment that by [Plaintiff] is improperly attempting to compel an interrogatory with substantial ambiguity by essentially arguing, ‘you know what I mean.’” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 11:lis. 26-28.)
An ambiguous objection should be sustained only when the nature of the information sought is not apparent. (See Deyo v. Kilbourne (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 771, 783; Standon v. Super. Ct. (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 898. 903 [stating that a vague and ambiguous frequently considered a nuisance objection].) “[W]here the question is somewhat ambiguous, but the nature of the information sought is apparent, the proper solution is to provide an appropriate response.” (Deyo v. Kilbourne, supra, 84 Cal.App.3d at p. 783.)
The Court finds Defendant does not sufficiently justify its objection as to why the definitions are vague and ambiguous. The definitions of these terms is otherwise clear. Specifically, the identification of the deed of trust renders the definition understandable and the nature of the information sought is apparent. As Plaintiff states, both parties possess a copy of the deed of trust, and thus the names thereon may be easily ascertained. Thus, the objection on this basis lacks merit.
Last, Defendant also objected to all interrogatories because the definitions were included as a preface to the specific requests. Defendant states providing the definitions as a preface at the beginning of the SI violates Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.060, subdivision (d). That argument is contrary to well-established law. Section 2030.060, subdivision (d) provides that “[e]ach interrogatory shall be full and complete in and of itself.” The purpose of the statutory language preventing the use of a preface and compound interrogatories is to avoid a party undermining the rule allowing a party to propound only thirty-five interrogatories. (Clement v. Alegre (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 1277, 1290-1291.) The rule generally applies only where more than one subject is covered by the question. (Id. at p. 1291.) Here, the prefatory definition section is not used for the purpose of undermining the rule allowing thirty-five interrogatories. The prefatory definition section is used to provide a clear definition of terms frequently used in the interrogatories. Thus, the statute does not preclude the use of a prefatory definition section in this case.
In light of the above, Defendant fails to justify any of its objections.
- SI Nos. 2-4
SI Nos. 2-4 asked follow-up questions that depend on Defendant responding “yes” to SI No. 1. Defendant only responded stating “N/A.”
This response is not code-compliant because it is not an answer containing the information sought to be discovered.
In sum, all objections are overruled and the responses are deficient. Accordingly, further responses to FI Nos. 12.1-12.3, 12.6, and 15.1, and SI Nos. 1-4 are warranted.
- Requests for Admission
Plaintiff moves to compel a further response to RFA No. 4.
Each response to a request for admission shall answer the substance of the requested admission or set forth an objection to the particular request. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2033.210, subd. (b).) If the responding party provides an answer, the answer “shall be as complete and straightforward as the information reasonably available to the responding party permits.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 2033.220, subd. (a).) In addition, the responding party shall “[a]dmit so much of the matter involved in the request as is true” and “[d]eny so much of the matter involved in the request as is untrue.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 2033.220, subd. (b)(1)-(2).) The party requesting admissions may move for an order compelling a further response if that party deems that an answer to a particular request is evasive or incomplete. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2033.290, subd. (a).)
RFA No. 4 seeks admission that: “All of the approximately 320 acres of Sargent Ranch containing oil wells operated by Patriot are located in Santa Clara County.” Defendant responded: “Responding party admits that it is currently operating an oil and gas lease on a portion of the real property described in the Oil and Gas lease dated November 15, 2974 by and between James W. Rea, Jr., also known as James W. Rea III, Bee Rea Choate and Robin Anderson, lessors, and Gulf Oil Corporation, lessee and that production is from approximately 320 acres.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 15: lis. 25-28.)
Plaintiff asserts this response is not code-compliant because it is evasive and incomplete since it does not directly address the question posed and neither admits nor denies that all 320 acres in question are within Santa Clara County. In opposition, Defendant states: “Patriot does not own Sargent Ranch and yet Patriot is asked to admit that all of the oil wells on Sargent Ranch are in Santa Clara County? Patriot could have an opinion on the matter, but an admission on this matter would not absolutely establish conclusive proof of the assertion.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 16: lis. 14-19.)
The Court finds the substantive response is not code-compliant. While Defendant “admits” it operates an oil and gas lease on a portion of real property, it does not admit that the real property is located in Santa Clara County. Defendant neither denies any part of the question posed nor states it lacks sufficient information to respond. As the response purports to only be an admission, it is not as complete and straightforward as the information before Defendant would permit. Further, Defendant’s argument in opposition is unavailing. Defendant misconstrues the question posed; the request seeks information as to the oil wells it operates. It does not seek information about all of the oil wells in Santa Clara County located on Sargent Ranch.
In light of the above, a further response to RFA No. 4 is warranted.
- Requests for Production
Plaintiff moves to compel further responses to RPD Nos. 8-15 on the bases the objections are without merit and the substantive responses are not code-compliant.
A party responding to an inspection demand must respond separately to each item in the demand by stating one of the following: (1) an agreement to comply, (2) a representation of inability to comply, or (3) objections. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2031.210, subd. (a).) Code of Civil Procedure section 2031.310, subdivision (a) provides that a demanding party may move for an order compelling a further response to an inspection demand if it deems that a statement of compliance with the demand is incomplete, a representation of inability to comply is inadequate, incomplete, or evasive, and/or an objection is without merit or too general.
A party moving to compel further responses to a request for production must make a threshold showing of good cause for the discovery sought. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2031.310, subd. (b)(1).) To satisfy that burden, the moving party must make “a fact-specific showing of relevance.” (Glenfeld Development Corp. v. Super. Ct. (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 1113, 1117.) Information is relevant to the subject matter if it might reasonably assist a party in evaluating its case, preparing for trial, or facilitating settlement. (Gonzalez v. Super. Ct. (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 1539, 1546.) “Admissibility is not the test and information, unless privileged, is discoverable if it might reasonably lead to admissible evidence.” (Ibid., emphasis in original.) Courts liberally construe the relevance standard, and any doubts as to whether a request seeks information within the scope of discovery are generally resolved in favor of allowing discovery. (Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Super. Ct. (1982) 31 Cal.3d 785, 790.) If good cause is shown, the burden shifts to the responding party to justify any objections. (Kirkland v. Super. Ct (2002) 95 Cal.App.4th 92, 98.)
- RPD No. 8
RPD No. 8 seeks all documents concerning the “Assignment and Assumption of Lessor’s Interest in Leases from Fivestar Commerce, Inc. to Wayne Pierce entered into as of 1/19/00.” Defendant objected on the basis the phrase “Assignment and Assumption of Lessor’s Interest in Leases from Fivestar Commerce, Inc. to Wayne Pierce entered into as of 1/19/00” is ambiguous. Defendant then stated it “was not a party to any such document and cannot comply with this request.”
Plaintiff asserts the assignment is crucial to the case because it concerns Defendant’s contention that it was assigned Wayne Pierce’s interest in Sargent Ranch in 2007, and is therefore entitled to the unpaid royalties. Plaintiff claims Wayne Pierce was never properly assigned an interest because the assignment was not recorded and its validity is disputed.
This argument is well-taken. The assignment and assumption is relevant to underlying issues in the case because it concerns Defendant’s position it had interest in Sargent Ranch and the unpaid royalties. Defendant offers no arguments in opposition. Therefore, Plaintiff establishes good cause for the discovery sought.
With respect to the objection based on ambiguity, Defendant does not attempt to justify it. The objection is therefore overruled.
Turning to the substantive response, it is not code-compliant. Defendant appears to represent an inability to comply with the demand. A statement of inability to comply must state that a diligent search and reasonable inquiry was undertaken, the reason the documents could not be located (e.g., lost, destroyed, never existed), and any individuals he or she believes might have the requested documents. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2031.230.) Defendant does not state why it is unable to comply as required by section 2031.230, and is therefore deficient.
Accordingly, a further response to RPD No. 8 is warranted.
- RPD Nos. 9-10
RPD Nos. 9 and 10 seek all documents concerning the indemnity agreement between Defendant and SRLLC entered into in August 2000 and the memorandum from Wayne Pierce to Steve Coombs dated September 2007 concerning the chain of title of ownership. In response to both requests, Defendant objected on the bases of attorney-client privilege and the attorney work product doctrine. It then stated it would comply and produce all non-privileged responsive documents.
Plaintiff asserts the documents sought are important to the underlying issue because they concern the chain of title of ownership of Sargent Ranch. The chain of title of ownership is relevant because what appears to be at dispute in this case is the identity of the party entitled to the unpaid royalties. Accordingly, documents concerning this topic would help Plaintiff evaluate its claims. Plaintiff therefore establishes good cause for the documents sought.
Plaintiff does not appear to actually challenge the objections based on the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work product or challenge the adequacy of the substantive response. Instead, it essentially requests the production of a privilege log. Plaintiff states: “Defendant’s objection concerning privilege may be well-founded, but [it] completely failed to identify the supposedly privileged documents.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 18: lis. 5-6.)
Documents withheld under any privilege shall be described in a privilege log that identifies each document for which a privilege is claimed, its author, recipients, date of preparation, and the specific privilege claimed. (See Code Civ. Proc., § 2031.240, subd. (b); see also Hernandez v. Super. Ct., supra, 112 Cal.App.4th at pp. 291-292.) The purpose of the log is to “provide a specific factual description of documents in aid of substantiating a claim of privilege in connection with a request for production of documents.” (Id. at 292.)
It is unclear if Defendant withheld any document on the basis of privilege. The Court cannot order the production of a privilege log if no documents have been withheld on that basis. However, if any responsive document is withheld on the basis of the attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine, Defendant must produce a privilege log identifying each document withheld and setting forth sufficient facts for other parties to evaluate the merits of the asserted objection. (See Best Products, Inc. v. Super. Ct. (2004) 119 Cal.App.4th 1181, 1188-1189.)
Accordingly, further responses to RPD No. 9-10 are not warranted because Plaintiff apparently does not challenge the objection or the substantive response.
- RPD No. 11
RPD No. 11 seeks all documents concerning the attachments noted as “Tabs” to the memorandum referred to in “the above Request No. 11.” Defendant objected on the basis the term “Tabs” is ambiguous and did not substantively respond.
Plaintiff asserts the documents sought are relevant to this case because memorandum written by Wayne Pierce pertains to his authority to assign the rights to the 1974 Lease to Defendant. Therefore, obtaining the memorandum and its associated “Tabs” of information will help Plaintiff evaluate its case. As such, Plaintiff establishes good cause for the discovery sought.
In opposition, Defendant simply states it “objects to this request as vague and uncertain” and the term “Tabs” is undefined. (Opp. Sep. St., p. 20: lis. 14-15.) “[W]here the question is somewhat ambiguous, but the nature of the information sought is apparent, the proper solution is to provide an appropriate response.” (See Deyo v. Kilbourne, supra, 84 Cal.App.3d at p. 783.) Defendant does not adequately justify its objection here. It does not describe why meaning of the term “Tabs” is not apparent. Further, the memorandum itself uses the word “Tabs” to describe the exact attachments. Therefore, the objection is unsubstantiated and overruled.
For the reasons stated above, a further response to RPD No. 11 is warranted.
- RPD No. 12
RPD No. 12 seeks documents relating to communications between Defendant and “Adams et al.” Defendant objected on the basis the term “Adams et al.” is ambiguous and did not substantively respond.
Plaintiff asserts the documents sought are relevant to the case because they concern the chain of the interest in the unpaid royalties. Adams et al. is the previous owner of Sargent Ranch and transferred its ownership rights to Plaintiff. A central issue to this case is the ownership of the rights to Sargent Ranch, and thus any communications between these parties may help Plaintiff evaluate the chain of title. Accordingly, there is good cause for the discovery sought.
With respect to the objection, as discussed above, the term “Adams et al.” is not ambiguous and is easily discernable. Accordingly, the objection is unsubstantiated and overruled.
Accordingly, a further response to RPD No. 12 is warranted.
- RPD Nos. 13-15
RPD Nos. 13-15 seek documents concerning communications between multiple parties, including Defendant, Plaintiff, Wayne Pierce, persons seeking royalty payments, and each party’s “representatives.” Defendant provided an objection-only response to all RPD at issue and objected on the bases of the attorney-client privilege and the fact the RPD is “seeking communications with unknown and unidentified ‘representatives’ of Plaintiff.” As to only RPD No. 15, Defendant also objected on the basis it is burdensome.
Plaintiff argues these documents are relevant because they concern the chain of title of the interest in the unpaid royalties. Communications between the parties, Wayne Pierce, and other individuals seeking royalty payments may reflect any agreements as to their respective rights to the unpaid royalties and the ownership titles of the land. As the issue of ownership and title is clearly central to the case, the communications between the parties asserting ownership may lead to admissible evidence. Therefore, there is good cause for the discovery sought.
In opposition, Defendant appears to attempt to justify its objections. With respect to its objections based on the term “representative” and the attorney-client privilege, Defendant states: “The objection is clear and the objection stands as submitted. Opposing counsel has equal access to correspondence between [Defendant] and his own client. This request is burdensome, harassing and unnecessary.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 22: lis. 18-20.) This statement is not an adequate justification of its objections. First, it simply restates the objections and insists they are clear. Next, the “justification” actually raises new objections. As these objections were not raised in response to the RPD, they are waived and it is unnecessary to address them. (See Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Super. Ct., supra, 59 Cal.App.4th at p. 273.)
As to the burden objection asserted in response to RPD No. 15, Defendant simply writes Plaintiff’s “request is overly broad and burdensome” and must be “further refined.” (Opp. Sep. St., p. 25: lis. 3-4.) To substantiate this objection, the party must make a particularized showing of facts demonstrating hardship, such as facts showing the extent of the burden, including an estimate of the total man hours required to accomplish the task. (See West Pico Furniture Co. v. Super. Ct. (1961) 56 Cal.2d 407, 417-418.) As Defendant clearly does not make such a showing, its objection is not substantiated.
Similar to RPD Nos. 9-10, Plaintiff insists Defendant should provide a further response reflecting the documents that were withheld on the basis of privilege. As discussed above, it is unclear if Defendant withheld any document on the basis of privilege. If any responsive document is withheld on the basis of the attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine, Defendant must produce a privilege log identifying each document withheld and setting forth sufficient facts for other parties to evaluate the merits of the asserted objection. (See Best Products, Inc. v. Super. Ct., supra, 119 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1188-1189.)
In light of the above, further responses to RPD Nos. 13-15 are warranted.
Plaintiff’s motion to compel further responses is DENIED as to RPD Nos. 9-10. The motion is GRANTED as to FI Nos. 121.-12.3, 12.6, and 15.1, SI Nos. 1-4, RFA No. 4, and RPD Nos. 8 and 11-15. Defendant shall serve verified, code-compliant further responses without objections to these requests and produce all responsive documents in conformity with its responses within 20 calendar days of the filing of this order. Along with its responses, Defendant shall provide a privilege log identifying any documents withheld on the basis of privilege and providing a factual basis for the privilege claimed. (See Best Products, Inc. v. Super. Ct., supra, 119 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1188-1189.)
- Requests for Sanctions
- Plaintiff’s Request
Plaintiff requests monetary sanctions pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 2023.010, which describes various misuses of the discovery process. “A request for a sanction shall, in the notice of motion, identify every person, party, and attorney against whom the sanction is sought, and specify the type of sanction sought.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 2023.040.) Plaintiff does not identify the party to be sanctioned or the type of sanction sought in the notice of motion. The request is therefore not code-compliant and is DENIED.
- Defendant’s Request
Defendant requests monetary sanctions in the amount of $3,335.00 against Plaintiff and its counsel pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure sections 2023.020, which provides that “[n]otwithstanding the outcome of the particular discovery motion, the court shall impose a monetary sanction ordering that any party or attorney who fails to confer as required pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees, incurred by anyone as a result of that conduct.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 2023.020.)
As discussed at length above, it cannot be said that Defendant incurred expenses “as a result” of Plaintiff’s conduct. Defendant failed to adequately meet and confer with Plaintiff and was non-responsive to its attempts to discuss the merits of the motion. Plaintiff sent Defendant a detailed meet and confer letter and offered to compromise. Defendant did not respond to these efforts. Therefore, Defendant’s request for sanctions is DENIED.
 The Complaint does not state any facts concerning the second deed of trust.
 In the notice of motion, Plaintiff does not state the exact nature of the motion or cite any provision of the Code of Civil Procedure as a basis for bringing it. Plaintiff further does not specify the exact discovery requests at issue—i.e. interrogatories or requests for production. The nature of the motion can only be ascertained from reviewing the memorandum of points and authorities and separate statement. In the future, Plaintiff should precisely identify the grounds for bringing the motion in the notice of motion. (See Code Civ. Proc., § 1010; see also Cal. Rules of Court, rule 3.1110(a).)