MOTIONS TO COMPEL RESPONSES TO SPECIAL INTERROGATORIES, FORM INTERROGATORIES, AND REQUESTS FOR PRODUCTION OF DOCUMENTS

Plaintiffs’ unopposed motions to compel responses from Defendants Estrada Trucking Company, Caleb Estrada Vasquez, Gabriel Estrada, and Romeo Estrada to special interrogatories, form interrogatories, and requests for production of documents, are granted.

A propounding party may move for an order compelling responses to interrogatories at any time “[i]f a party to whom interrogatories are directed fails to serve a timely response.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.290 subd. (b).)  By failing to serve timely responses, Defendants waived “any right to exercise the option to produce writings under Section 2030.230, as well as any objection to the interrogatories, including one based on privilege or on the protection for work product.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.290, subd. (a).)

Pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.290, subdivision (c), 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 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.”  The “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.)

A propounding party may move for an order compelling responses to a demand for inspection at any time “[i]f a party to whom a demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling is directed fails to serve a timely response.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2031.300, subd. (b).)  By failing to serve timely responses, Defendants waived “any objection to the demand, including one based on privilege or on the protection for work product under Chapter 4 (commencing with Section 2018.010).”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2031.300, subd. (a).)

Pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 2031.300, subdivision (c), 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 response to a demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling, 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.”

Plaintiffs served the form interrogatories, special interrogatories, and requests for production at issue by mail on July 31, 2019.  (Benson Decl., ¶ 9, Exhibits A, B, C, and D.)  This includes the following:

1)   Abrar’s special interrogatories, set one, to Estrada Trucking Company

2)   Dogar’s special interrogatories, set one, to Estrada Trucking Company

3)   Ul Haq’s special interrogatories, set one, to Estrada Trucking Company

4)   Plaintiffs’ requests for production of documents, set one, to Estrada Trucking Company

5)   Plaintiffs’ form interrogatories, set one, to Estrada Trucking Company

6)   Abrar’s special interrogatories, set one, to Vasquez

7)   Dogar’s special interrogatories, set one, to Vasquez

8)   Ul Haq’s special interrogatories, set one, to Vasquez

9)   Plaintiffs’ requests for production of documents, set one, to Vasquez

10) Plaintiffs’ form interrogatories, set one, to Vasquez

11) Plaintiffs’ requests for production of documents, set one, to Gabriel Estrada

12) Plaintiffs’ special interrogatories, set one, to Gabriel Estrada

13) Plaintiffs’ form interrogatories, set one, to Gabriel Estrada

14) Plaintiffs’ requests for production of documents, set one, to Romeo Estrada

15) Plaintiffs’ special interrogatories, set one, to Romeo Estrada

16) Plaintiffs’ form interrogatories, set one, to Romeo Estrada

(Benson Decl., ¶ 9, Exhs. A, B, C, and D)

After receiving no responses, Plaintiffs attempted to meet and confer with Defendants regarding the lack of response but was also met with no response.  (Benson Decl., ¶¶ 10-13, Exh. E.)  Accordingly, the motions are granted.  Defendants shall serve verified, Code-compliant responses to the first set of special interrogatories, form interrogatories, and requests for production of documents, without objections to the above discovery within 15 days of the notice of rulings.

Within 30 days of the notice of rulings, each Defendant shall pay sanctions in the amount of $400 to Siddiqui Law.

MOTIONS TO DEEM ADMITTED REQUESTS FOR ADMISSIONS

Plaintiffs moves to deem admitted requests for admissions.  The motions were unopposed.

Plaintiffs served the requests for admission at issue by mail on July 31, 2019.  (Benson Decl., ¶ 9, Exh. A.)  This includes the following:

1)   Abrar’s requests for admission to Vasquez

2)   Dogar’s requests for admission to Vasquez

3)   Ul Haq’s requests for admission to Vasquez

4)   Abrar requests for admission to Estrada Trucking Company

5)   Dogar’s requests for admission to Estrada Trucking Company

6)   Ul Haq’s requests for admission to Estrada Trucking Company

7)   Plaintiffs’ requests for admission to Gabriel Estrada

8)   Plaintiffs’ requests for admission to Romeo Estrada

After receiving no responses, Plaintiffs attempted to meet and confer with Defendants regarding the lack of response but was also met with no response.  (Benson Decl., ¶¶ 10-13, Exh. E.)

Unless Defendants serve Code-compliant responses prior to this hearing, the truth of the matters specified in Defendant’s requests for admission are deemed admitted. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2033.280, subd. (c) [the court shall deem the matters admitted “unless it finds that the party to whom the requests for admission have been directed has served, before the hearing on the motion, a proposed response to the requests for admission that is in substantial compliance with Section 2033.220”]; see also St. Mary v. Superior Court (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 762, 782 [actual compliance not required where the proposed response is facially a good-faith effort to respond to requests for admission in a manner that is substantially code-compliant].)

Within 30 days of the notice of ruling, Vasquez shall pay sanctions in the amount of $300 to Siddiqui Law.  Within 30 days of the notice of ruling, Estrada Trucking Company shall pay sanctions in the amount of $300 to Siddiqui Law.  Within 30 days of the notice of ruling, Gabriel Estrada shall pay sanctions in the amount of $200 to Siddiqui Law.  Within 30 days of the notice of ruling, Within 30 days of the notice of ruling, Romeo Estrada shall pay sanctions in the amount of $200 to Siddiqui Law.

As to all of the motions, Plaintiffs request terminating sanctions against all of the Defendants.  Failing to respond to an authorized method of discovery is a misuse of the discovery process.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2023.010, subd. (d).)  Imposition of sanctions for misuse of discovery lies within the trial court’s discretion.  (Doppes v. Bentley Motors, Inc. (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 967, 991.)  A trial court may order a terminating sanction for discovery abuse after considering the totality of the circumstances: the conduct of the party to determine if the actions were willful; the detriment to the propounding party; and the number of formal and informal attempts to obtain the discovery. Generally, a decision to order terminating sanctions should not be made lightly.  (Los Defensores, Inc. v. Gomez (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 377, 390.) But where a violation is willful, preceded by a history of abuse, and the evidence shows that less severe sanctions would not produce compliance with the discovery rules, the trial court is justified in imposing the ultimate sanction. Under this standard, trial courts have properly imposed terminating sanctions when parties have willfully disobeyed one or more discovery orders. (Ibid.; Stein v. Hassen (1973) 34 Cal.App.3d 294; R.S. Creative, Inc. v. Creative Cotton, Ltd. (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 486, 495.)

Here, defaults against Defendants were set aside on May 22, 2019.  An answer was filed two days later.  On May 31, 2019, trial was set for February 18, 2020.  In early July 2019, defense counsel substituted out.  Plaintiffs then propounded all of the discovery at issue upon the self-represented Defendants.  There have been no prior discovery motions.  The record does not support the imposition of the “severest” sanctions, yet. (See Hartbrodt v. Burke (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 168, 174-176 [affirming trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s action for disobedience of its order to follow discovery where plaintiff’s vigorous and persistent resistance to provide discovery was vividly demonstrated in the record]; Williams v. Travelers Ins. Co. (1975) 49 Cal.App.3d 805, 810 [affirming trial court’s imposition of terminating sanctions where record was “replete with evidence of continuous use of obstructive tactics by [plaintiff] during earlier pretrial proceeding” and plaintiff failed to comply with multiple discovery orders despite being given additional opportunities to provide further answers].)  Plaintiffs have not shown that less severe sanctions would not product compliance with the discovery rules.

Finally, on July 15, 2019, a stipulation and order for withdrawal of counsel for Defendant Estrada Trucking Company was filed.  Defendant Estrada Trucking Company was advised that that it cannot appear in this action without being represented by an attorney and to seek immediate legal advice regarding representation in this matter.  (See Register of Actions #54.)  An entity must be represented in court by a licensed attorney.  It cannot represent itself in court, either in pro per or through an officer or agent who is not an attorney.  (Paradise v. Nowlin (1948) 86 Cal.App.2d 897, 898.)  Failure to retain an attorney may lead to striking the pleadings, among other things.  Nearly four months have now passed, and Defendant Estrada Trucking Company still has not retained counsel.  The Court sets for January 17, 2020, at 9:00 am in Department C21, a hearing for an order to show cause why the answer of Defendant Estrada Trucking Company should not be stricken and default be entered against it.

Plaintiffs shall give notice of rulings and of the January 17, 2020 hearing on the order to show cause.