Motion to Compel Further Responses to Special Interrogatories and for Monetary Sanctions (Judge Elaine Lu)


Case Number: 21STCV24026    Hearing Date: August 30, 2022    Dept: 26

Superior Court of California

County of Los Angeles

Department 26

 

PATRICIA COSTELLO-GOLDSTEIN,

 

Plaintiff,

vs.

 

WELLS FARGO FINANCIAL NETWORK, LLC, et al.,

 

Defendants.

 

Case No.: 21STCV24026

 

Hearing Date: August 30, 2022

 

[TENTATIVE] ORDER RE:

DEFENDANT TOWNSGATE WEALTH MANAGEMENT’S MOTION TO COMPEL PLAINTIFF’S FURTHER RESPONSES TO SPECIAL INTERROGATORIES AND FOR SANCTIONS IN THE SUM OF $2,880.00

 

 

Background

            On June 29, 2021, Patricia Costello-Goldstein (“Plaintiff”) initiated the present action against Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC, Townsgate Wealth Management, Larry A. Bernstein, Abby E. Dinkins, and Does 1 through 20 (collectively, “Defendants”).  Plaintiff’s Complaint alleged the following causes of action: (1) Breach of Fiduciary Duty; (2) Negligence; (3) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; (4) Promissory Fraud; (5) Negligent Misrepresentation; and (6) Constructive Fraud.

            On August 9, 2021, Defendants Townsgate Wealth Management, Larry A. Bernstein, and Abby E. Dinkins filed a Demurrer and Motion to Strike against Plaintiff’s Complaint.

            On August 16, 2021, Defendant Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC filed a Demurrer and Motion to Strike against Plaintiff’s Complaint.

            On December 23, 2021, Defendant Townsgate Wealth Management filed the following two discovery motions: (1) Defendant Townsgate Wealth Management’s Motion to Compel Plaintiff’s Further Responses to Special Interrogatories and Sanctions in the Sum of $2,880.00; and (2) Defendant Townsgate Wealth Management’s Motion to Compel Plaintiff’s Further Responses to Request for Production of Documents and Sanctions in the Sum of $2,880.00 (collectively, “Motions to Compel Further”).

            On February 1, 2022, the Court ustained Defendants’ Demurrers to the Complaint with leave to amend and granted Defendants’ Motions to Strike Plaintiff’s Complaint with leave to amend.

            On February 24, 2022, Plaintiff filed the operative First Amended Complaint against Defendants.  Plaintiff’s operative First Amended Complaint alleges the following causes of action: (1) Breach of Contract; (2) Breach of Fiduciary Duty; (3) Negligence; (4) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; (5) Promissory Fraud; (6) Negligent Misrepresentation; and (7) Constructive Fraud.

            On August 8, 2022, the Court issued an Order noting that Defendant Townsgate Wealth Management had filed the aforementioned Motions to Compel Further.  The Court’s Order instructed the parties as follows: “The parties are ordered to meet and confer by real time conversation face-to-face or by telephone in good faith regarding their discovery disputes within two court days of notice of this order.  The parties are also ordered to contact the Court Clerk to schedule an informal discovery conference to occur during the week of August 8-12, 2022 so that the Court may assist in the event the parties are unable to resolve all of their discovery disputes.”  (Minute Order, filed August 8, 2022.)

            On August 15, 2022, the Court sustained Defendants’ Demurrers to the first cause of action as alleged within Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint, only, with leave to amend.  The Court overruled Defendants’ Demurrer as to the remainder of Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint and denied Defendants’ Motion to Strike Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint.

            On August 25, 2022, Plaintiff filed a Request for Dismissal of the first cause of action of the operative First Amended Complaint, which the Court granted.  Defendant Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC answered on August 29, 2022, and the other three answers each answered August 25, 2022

            A Case Management Conference is scheduled for October 20, 2022.  The Court has yet to set a trial date in this action.

Legal Standard

            “Any party may obtain discovery . . . by propounding to any other party to the action written interrogatories to be answered under oath.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.010, subd. (a).)

“The party to whom interrogatories have been propounded shall respond in writing under oath separately to each interrogatory by any of the following: (1) An answer containing the information sought to be discovered[;] (2) An exercise of the party’s option to produce writings[;] (3) An objection to the particular interrogatory.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.210, subd. (a).

            “Each answer in a response to interrogatories shall be as complete and straightforward as the information reasonably available to the responding party permits.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.220, subd. (a).)  “If an interrogatory cannot be answered completely, it shall be answered to the extent possible.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.220, subd. (b).)  “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, subd. (c).)

            “On receipt of a response to interrogatories, the propounding party may move for an order compelling a further response if the propounding party deems that any of the following apply: (1) An answer to a particular interrogatory is evasive or incomplete[;] (2) An exercise of the option to produce documents under Section 2030.230 is unwarranted or the required specification of those documents is inadequate[;] (3) An objection to an interrogatory is without merit or too general.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (a).)

            A propounding party’s motion for an order compelling a further response must be made “within 45 days of the service of the verified response, or any supplemental verified response, or on or before any specific later date to which the propounding party and the responding party have agreed in writing . . . .”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (c).)

            A propounding party’s motion for an order compelling a further response must be accompanied by a meet and confer declaration.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (b)(1).)  A meet and confer declaration in support of a motion shall 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.)

            A propounding party’s motion for an order compelling a further response must also be accompanied by a separate statement, outlining the text of each request, the response, and a statement of factual and legal reasons for compelling further responses. (Cal. Rules of Court, Rule 3.1345, subd. (a)(3).)

            “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.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (d).)

Discussion

            Defendant Townsgate Wealth Management (“Defendant”) moves for an Order compelling Plaintiff Patricia Costello-Goldstein’s further response to the following Special Interrogatories: Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-6, 8-11, 13, 15-20.  Defendant brings the present Motion on the ground that Plaintiff’s responses to the aforementioned Special Interrogatories constitute meritless, boilerplate objections.

Meet and Confer Obligation under Code of Civil Procedure Section 2030.300

            The Court finds Defendant has properly met and conferred in compliance with Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.200, subdivision (b)(1).  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (b)(1).)  Pursuant to the averments made within Defendant’s supporting evidentiary Declaration, Defendant demonstrates that, following receipt of Plaintiff’s responses, Defendant sent a meet and confer letter to Plaintiff’s counsel on approximately November 12, 2021 concerning Plaintiff’s alleged insufficient responses.  (Markun Decl., ¶ 4, Ex. C.)  On November 18, 2021, Plaintiff responded to Defendant’s meet and confer letter.  (Id. ¶ 5.)  On November 30, 2021, the parties engaged in a telephonic meet and confer regarding Plaintiff’s alleged insufficient responses to Defendant’s Special Interrogatories (Set One).  (Ibid.)  During the aforementioned telephonic meet and confer, the parties agreed Plaintiff would serve a sufficient, supplemental response no later than December 15, 2021.  (Ibid.)   Despite the lapse of this deadline, Plaintiff has failed to serve the agreed-upon supplemental response, which necessitated the present Motion.  (Ibid.)  The Court finds Defendant has properly met and conferred with Plaintiff, for the purposes of attempting to reach an informal resolution to the issues presented within Defendant’s Motion, in compliance with Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.200, subdivision (b)(1).  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (b)(1).)

 

Defective Notice of Motion under Code of Civil Procedure Section 2030.290

            Plaintiff argues that the Court should deny Defendant’s Motion in its entirety on the procedural ground that Defendant noticed the present Motion under the incorrect provision of the Code of Civil Procedure.  Specifically, Plaintiff argues that Defendant has improperly noticed the present Motion under Code of Civil Procedure 2030.290 (provision governing motions to compel a party’s initial responses to interrogatories), as opposed to Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.300 (provision governing motions to compel a party’s further response to interrogatories).  (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 2030.290 [“If a party to whom interrogatories are directed fails to serve a timely response . . . ¶(b) The party propounding the interrogatories may move for an order compelling response to the interrogatories.”], 2030.300 [“On receipt of a response to interrogatories, the propounding party may move for an order compelling a further response . . . .”].)

            Plaintiff’s argument is unpersuasive.  Most troublesome is that Plaintiff’s contention that Defendant has failed to properly notice the present Motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.300 is plainly incorrect.  Defendant’s Notice of Motion clearly states: “Defendant seeks this relief pursuant to C.C.P. Sections . . . 2030.300 . . . .”  (Notice of Mot., at p. 2:11-12 [italics added].)  Accordingly, the Court rejects Plaintiff’s procedural argument as lacking merit.

Separate Statement under California Rules of Court, Rule 3.1345

            Plaintiff opposes Defendant’s Motion on an additional procedural ground.  In particular, Plaintiff argues that the Court should deny Defendant’s Motion in its entirety for failure to submit a Separate Statement which complies with California Rules of Court, Rule 3.1345.  (Cal. Rules of Court, Rule 3.1345.)  Plaintiff contends Defendant’s Separate Statement is insufficient because it fails to set forth “[the] factual and legal reasons for compelling further responses . . . as to each matter in dispute” and fails to provide “the text of all definitions, instructions, and other matters required to understand each discovery request and the responses to it.”   (Id., Rule 3.1345, subd. (c)(3), (c)(4).)

            Again, Plaintiff’s argument is unpersuasive.  Plaintiff’s contention that Defendant’s Separate Statement fails to include “[the] factual and legal reasons for compelling [a] further response” is unsupported.  Defendant’s Separate Statement is not as bare as Plaintiff would lead this Court to believe.  Defendant’s Separate Statement sufficiently outlines the factual and legal reasons for compelling Plaintiff’s further response and specifically addresses the merits of each objection asserted within Plaintiff’s responses.  (See Def.’s Separate Statement, at pp. 2-16.)

            Plaintiff also contends that Defendant’s Separate Statement fails to provide “the text of all definitions.”  This contention is also meritless.  The definitions that Plaintiff asserts are lacking – for terms such as “Plaintiff,” “Complaint,” “Bernstein,” “Dinkins,” “Defendants,” “Action,” “Documents” and “Relating To” — are simply not necessary to “understand each discovery request” presently in dispute.  (Opp., at p. 3:24-27.)  The Court finds that these terms are self-explanatory and self-evident, and a definition is not “necessary” to understand the Special Interrogatories within which they are referenced.

            Accordingly, the Court finds Defendant’s Separate Statement to be sufficient.

Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13, 16, 19, and 20

            The Court will first address Plaintiff’s objections to the following Special Interrogatories (Set One): Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13, 16, 19, and 20.

            Special Interrogatory No. 2 requests: “Identify all of the specific financial records that PLAINTIFF provided to BERNSTEIN as referenced in Paragraph 11 of the COMPLAINT (alleging that PLAINTIFF ‘provided Bernstein with documentation concerning . . . her other brokerage accounts, with a view towards transferring her assets to Townsgate and Wells Fargo for Bernstein to manage.’).  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 2.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 3 requests: “Identify all of the specific financial information that PLAINTIFF provided BERNSTEIN as referenced in Paragraph 11 of the COMPLAINT (alleging that ‘plaintiff had numerous oral and written communications with Bernstein in which she divulged to him intimate details concerning her financial condition and financial affairs . . .’).”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 3.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 4 requests: “Identify all of the information comprising the “divorce strategy” that PLAINTIFF allegedly disclosed to BERNSTEIN at issue in Paragraphs 11, 15, 16, 19, 20, 24, 25, 32, 36, 39 and 40 of the COMPLAINT.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 4.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 6 requests: “Identify all of the specific ‘highly sensitive and confidential information about her divorce strategy’ that PLAINTIFF ‘shared with Bernstein’ as alleged in Paragraph 11 of the COMPLAINT.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 6.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 9 requests: “Identify the specific information that PLAINTIFF disclosed to DINKINS ‘when Dinkins pressured plaintiff in April 2020 to speak with Bernstein’ as alleged in Paragraph 15 of the COMPLAINT.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 7.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 10 requests: “State all facts supporting the contention in Paragraph 15 of the COMPLAINT that ‘Dinkins, who has a history of improperly gossiping about her clients and disclosing to others confidential financial information about her clients.’”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 8.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 11 requests: “Identify each and every instance within your personal knowledge of DINKINS ‘improperly gossiping about her clients and disclosing to others confidential financial information about her clients’ as alleged in Paragraph 15 of the COMPLAINT.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 9.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 13 requests: “On what specific date did PLAINTIFF first become aware of DINKINS’ alleged ‘history of improperly gossiping about her clients and disclosing to others confidential financial information about her clients’ as referenced in Paragraph 15 of the Complaint.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 10.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 16 requests: “Paragraph 16 of the COMPLAINT alleges that ‘plaintiff has had to incur and continues to incur significant additional legal fees and costs in her pending divorce proceeding by reason of [DEFENDANTS’ alleged misconduct].’ Is PLAINTIFF seeking to recover any of those ‘attorneys’ fees and costs’ as an element of PLAINTIFF’s damages in this ACTION?”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 12.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 19 requests: “State the name and contact information of each person whom PLAINTIFF contends has personal knowledge of the events at issue in PLAINTIFF’s COMPLAINT.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 14.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 20 requests: “State the name and contact information of each PERSON whom PLAINTIFF contends has possession, custody or control of DOCUMENTS RELATING TO the events at issue in PLAINTIFF’s COMPLAINT.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 15.)

            Plaintiff’s responses to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13, 16, 19, and 20 are nearly identical.  To each of these Special Interrogatories, Plaintiff advances three (3) objections.  First, Plaintiff objects on the ground that the Special Interrogatory is “compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive, in violation of C.C.P. § 2030.060(f).”  Second, Plaintiff objects on the ground that the Special Interrogatory “is not full and complete in and of itself in violation of C.C.P. § 2030.060(d).”  Finally, Plaintiff objects on the ground that various terms employed in the above Special Interrogatories—including the terms, “identify,” “financial records,” “information,” “specific information” “information comprising the ‘divorce strategy’,” “highly sensitive and confidential information about her divorce strategy,” and “supporting”—are “not defined, vague, ambiguous, and unintelligible in the context of this interrogatory.”  The Court addresses each of Plaintiff’s objections in turn.

            Objection—Compound, Conjunctive, or Disjunctive

            Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.060, subdivision (f) provides, “[n]o specially prepared interrogatory shall contain subparts, or a compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive question.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.060, subd. (f).)  Where an interrogatory covers two (2) discrete matters in a single question, an objection on the grounds of compound and disjunctive may be sustained.  (Weil & Brown, Cal. Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (The Rutter Group 2021 Update) ¶ 8:978.)

            Here, the Court finds Plaintiff’s objection that these special interrogatories are  “compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive” to be meritless.  Upon review, the only Special Interrogatories which may be potentially subject to such an objection would be Special Interrogatory Nos. 19 and 20, which request that Plaintiff identify the name and contact information of individuals who have “personal knowledge of the events at issue in PLAINTIFF’s COMPLAINT” or who may possess “DOCUMENTS RELATING TO the events at issue in PLAINTIFF’s COMPLAINT.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at pp. 14-15.)  However, the Court is unpersuaded an individual’s name and contact information constitute sufficiently different or “discrete” topics for the purposes of rendering Special Interrogatory Nos. 19 and 20 susceptible to an objection on the ground of “compound” or “disjunctive.”   Accordingly, the Court overrules Plaintiff’s objection of “compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive” with respect to Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13, 16, 19, and 20.

            Objection—Not Full and Complete In and Of Itself

            Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.260, subdivision (d) provides, “Each interrogatory shall be full and complete in and of itself.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.260, subd. (d).)  “ ‘The requirement that each interrogatory be “full and complete in and of itself” is violated where resort must necessarily be made to other materials in order to answer the question.  [Citation.]’  [Citation.]”  (Clement v. Alegre (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 1277, 1289, citing Weil & Brown, California Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (The Rutter Group 2009), at p. 8F-21 [emphasis in original].)  However, “reference to other materials or documents or incorporation by reference of such materials is prohibited [only] where the effect is to undermine the rule of 35[,]” that is, the rule which proscribes the propounding of more than thirty-five (35) special interrogatories upon a party.  (Id. at p. 1290.)  In other words, a party’s reference to other materials within a special interrogatory will be impermissible only where such a reference “effectively” and practically requires the responding party’s response to more than thirty-five (35) special interrogatories.  (Ibid. [“ ‘[Plaintiff’s] interrogatories were not “full and complete in and of (themselves)” because they required reference to transcripts of [plaintiff’s] deposition testimony.  [Plaintiff] was effectively asking more than 10,000 separate questions (violating the Rule of 35).’ ”].)

            The Court recognizes that Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13, 16, 19, and 20 expressly reference Plaintiff’s operative Complaint and request specific information regarding the specific allegations included within Plaintiff’s operative Complaint.  (E.g., Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 3 [Special Interrogatory No. 3 states, “Identify all of the specific financial information that PLAINTIFF provided BERNSTEIN as referenced in Paragraph 11 of the COMPLAINT (alleging that ‘plaintiff had numerous oral and written communications with Bernstein in which she divulged to him intimate details concerning her financial condition and financial affairs . . .’).”].)  Though Defendant’s Special Interrogatories will require Plaintiff to reference outside materials for the purposes of providing a response (i.e., Plaintiff’s operative Complaint), the Court finds Plaintiff’s objection under Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.260, subdivision (d) to be meritless because such a reference has not been employed by Defendant to violate the “rule of 35.”  (Clementsupra, 177 Cal.App.4th at p. 1290.)  Each of Defendant’s Special Interrogatories references Plaintiff’s Complaint for the purposes of seeking a single item of information—for example, identification of the “financial information” which Plaintiff allegedly shared with Defendant Larry A. Bernstein, or identification of Plaintiff’s alleged “divorce strategy” which she shared with Defendant Larry A. Bernstein.  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at pp. 3-4 [Special Interrogatory Nos. 3-4.)  Defendant’s Special Interrogatories do not reference Plaintiff’s Complaint for the purposes of requesting information over and beyond thirty-five (35) categories of information.  Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiff’s objection under Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.260, subdivision (d) is meritless, and this objection is overruled with respect to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13, 16, 19, and 20.

            Objection—Not Defined, Vague, Ambiguous, and Unintelligible

            An objection on the ground that an interrogatory is vague and ambiguous will only be sustained where the interrogatory is wholly unintelligible and where the nature of the information sought is unascertainable.  (Deyo v. Kilbourne (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 771, 783 [“A party may not deliberately misconstrue a question for the purpose of supplying an evasive answer. [Citation.] Indeed, where the question is somewhat ambiguous, but the nature of the information sought is apparent, the proper solution is to provide an appropriate response.”].)

            Here, the Court finds Plaintiff’s objection of “not defined, vague, ambiguous, and unintelligible” to be meritless.  Plaintiff contends Defendant’s Special Interrogatories (Set One) employs terms which are not defined and which render each Special Interrogatory vague, ambiguous, and unintelligible.  Specifically, Plaintiff takes issue with the following terms—“identify,” “financial records,” “information,” “specific information” “information comprising the ‘divorce strategy’,” “highly sensitive and confidential information about her divorce strategy,” and “supporting.”  The Court observes that the aforementioned terms do not, and cannot, render Defendant’s Special Interrogatories “wholly unintelligible.”  The meaning of each term is plainly clear or, alternatively, Defendant is merely requesting that Plaintiff provide information with respect to the terms and allegations expressly included in Plaintiff’s own operative Complaint.  For example, Plaintiff herself has repeatedly referenced her “divorce strategy” within the operative Complaint and cannot now maintain that Defendant’s adoption of Plaintiff’s term is vague, ambiguous, or unintelligible.  Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiff’s objection of “not defined, vague, ambiguous, and unintelligible” is meritless.  The Court overrules this objection with respect to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13, 16, 19, and 20.

            Conclusion and Findings

            The Court finds Plaintiff’s objections in response to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13, 16, 19, and 20 constitute “meritless objections,” and, therefore, Defendant is entitled to a further response.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (a)(3) “On receipt of a response to interrogatories, the propounding party may move for an order compelling a further response if the propounding party deems that . . . ¶(3) An objection to an interrogatory is without merit or too general.”].)  Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion to Compel Further Responses to Special Interrogatories (Set One) is GRANTED, with respect to Special Interrogatory Nos. 2-4, 6, 9, 10-11, 13, 16, 19, and 20.

 

Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15

            Next, the Court considers Plaintiff’s objections to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15.

            Special Interrogatory No. 5 requests: “Identify the brokerage name and account number for each of the ‘brokerage accounts’ at issue in Paragraph 11 of the COMPLAINT (alleging that PLAINTIFF ‘provided Bernstein with documentation concerning … her other brokerage accounts, with a view towards transferring her assets to Townsgate and Wells Fargo for Bernstein to manage’).”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 5.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 8 requests: “Identify the date and time of each of the “numerous communications” between PLAINTIFF and DINKINS “in which [DINKINS] strongly pressed Plaintiff to move all of her assets to Townsgate and Wells Fargo for Bernstein to manage” as referenced in Paragraph 13 of the COMPLAINT.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 7.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 15 requests: “State the name and contact information of each of PLAINTIFF’s ‘neighbors and friends’ at issue in Paragraph 15 of the COMPLAINT (which alleges that ‘[DINKINS] informed one or more of plaintiff’s neighbors and friends that plaintiff was being unreasonable in the divorce proceeding, was a liar, and was in need of mental health counseling’).”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 11.)

            Plaintiff’s responses to Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15 are identical.  Plaintiff advances the following two (2) objections, as follows: “Objection on the following grounds: (1) the interrogatory is compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive in violation of C.C.P. § 2030.060(f); and (2) the interrogatory is not full and complete in an[d] of itself in violation of C.C.P. § 2030.060(d).”  The Court addresses Plaintiff’s objections in turn, respectively.

            Objection—Compound, Conjunctive, or Disjunctive

            The Court has reviewed Plaintiff’s objection to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15.  Plaintiff’s objection on the ground of “compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive” is meritless.  The Court recognizes that Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15 request Plaintiff’s disclosure of “the brokerage name and account number” of each brokerage account Plaintiff provided to Defendant Larry A. Bernstein, “the date and time” Defendant Abby E. Dinkins allegedly persuaded Plaintiff to move her assets to Defendant Townsgate Wealth Management, and “the name and contact information” of Plaintiff’s neighbors or friends who Plaintiff informed about her divorce proceedings.  However, Plaintiff’s objections are meritless against each of the aforementioned Special Interrogatories because the Special Interrogatories presently in dispute each concerns a single transaction and does not require Plaintiff to disclose of information involving separate and discrete categories of information.  (Weil & Brown, supra, ¶ 8:978 [where an interrogatory covers two (2) discrete matters in a single question, an objection on the grounds of compound and disjunctive may be sustained].)  Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiff’s objection on the ground of “compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive” is meritless.  This objection to Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15 is overruled.

            Objection—Not Full and Complete In and Of Itself

            For the same reasons set forth in the preceding sub-section of this Order regarding Plaintiff’s objections on the ground of “not complete in and of itself,” the Court finds Plaintiff’s objection to Special Interrogatory No. 5, 8, and 15 on the ground of “not complete in and of itself” is meritless.  The Court recognizes that Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15 require Plaintiff to reference certain paragraphs within her operative Complaint for the purposes of responding to the aforementioned Special Interrogatories.  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 7 [Special Interrogatory No. 8 requests: “Identify the date and time of each of the “numerous communications” between PLAINTIFF and DINKINS “in which [DINKINS] strongly pressed Plaintiff to move all of her assets to Townsgate and Wells Fargo for Bernstein to manage” as referenced in Paragraph 13 of the COMPLAINT.”].)   However, Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15 are not susceptible to Plaintiff’s objection because Defendant’s reference to outside materials (i.e., Plaintiff’s operative Complaint) does not violate the “rule of 35.”  (Clementsupra, 177 Cal.App.4th at p. 1290.)  Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15 reference Plaintiff’s Complaint for the purposes of seeking a single item of information—for example, identification of the “brokerage account” Plaintiff shared with Defendant Larry A. Bernstein, or identification of the time period when Defendant Abby E. Dinkins pressured Plaintiff to “move all of her assets to [Defendant] Townsgate and Wells Fargo.”   (Def.’s Separate Statement, at pp. 5, 7 [Special Interrogatory Nos. 5 and 8].)  Defendant’s Special Interrogatories do not reference Plaintiff’s Complaint for the purposes of requesting information over and beyond thirty-five (35) categories of information.  Accordingly, Plaintiff’s objection under Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.260, subdivision (d) is meritless and overruled with respect to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15.

            Conclusions and Findings

            Plaintiff’s objections to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15 constitute “meritless objections,” and, therefore, Defendant is entitled to a further response.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (a)(3) “On receipt of a response to interrogatories, the propounding party may move for an order compelling a further response if the propounding party deems that . . . ¶(3) An objection to an interrogatory is without merit or too general.”].)  Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion to Compel Further Responses to Special Interrogatories (Set One) is GRANTED, with respect to Special Interrogatory Nos. 5, 8, and 15.

Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18

            Finally, the Court considers Plaintiff’s objections in response to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18.

            Special Interrogatory No. 17 requests: “If Plaintiff is seeking to recover any of the ‘attorneys’ fees and costs’ at issue in Paragraph 16 of the COMPLAINT as an element of PLAINTIFF’s damages in this ACTION: State the total amount of such attorneys’ fees and costs incurred as of June 29, 2021 when PLAINTIFF filed this action.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 13.)

            Special Interrogatory No. 18 requests: “If Plaintiff is seeking to recover any of the “attorneys’ fees and costs” at issue in Paragraph 16 of the COMPLAINT as an element of PLAINTIFF’s damages in this ACTION: State the total amount of such attorneys’ fees and costs incurred as the date of PLAINTIFF’s response to this first set of Special Interrogatories.”  (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 13.)

            Plaintiff’s response to Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18 are identical, and state as follows: “Objection on the following grounds: (1) the interrogatory is not full and complete in and of itself in violation of C.C.P. § 2030.060(d); and (2) the interrogatory improperly seeks the premature disclosure of expert witness opinions.”  The Court addresses Plaintiff’s objections in turn, respectively.

            Objection—Not Full and Complete In and Of Itself

            For the reasons stated above, the Court finds Plaintiff’s objection  to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18 on the ground of “not complete in and of itself” to be meritless.  The Court recognizes that Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18 require Plaintiff to reference certain paragraphs within her operative Complaint for the purposes of responding to the aforementioned Special Interrogatories.   However, Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18 are not susceptible to Plaintiff’s objection because Defendant’s reference to outside materials (i.e., Plaintiff’s operative Complaint) does not violate the “rule of 35.”  (Clementsupra, 177 Cal.App.4th at p. 1290.)  Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18 reference Plaintiff’s Complaint for the purposes of seeking a single item of information—for example, identification of the amount of attorneys’ fees Plaintiff has incurred in this action.   (Def.’s Separate Statement, at p. 13)  Defendant’s Special Interrogatories do not reference Plaintiff’s Complaint for the purposes of requesting information over and beyond thirty-five (35) categories of information.  Accordingly, Plaintiff’s objection under Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.260, subdivision (d) is meritless and is overruled with respect to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18.

            Objection—Improperly Seeks Premature Disclosure of Expert Witness Opinions

            Plaintiff’s objection to Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18, on the ground the Special Interrogatories “improperly seek premature disclosure of expert witness opinions” constitute general and meritless objections.  Plaintiff has failed to cite any case law or statutory authority which outlines the basis for Plaintiff’s objection.  Further, nothing in these interrogatories requires Plaintiff to disclose information concerning the attorneys’ fees incurred in this action or contemplates the disclosure of expert testimony or opinion.  Accordingly, Plaintiff’s objection on this ground is general, meritless, and hereby overruled with respect to Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18.

            Conclusion and Findings

            The Court concludes Plaintiff’s objections in response to Defendant’s Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18 constitute “meritless objections,” and, therefore, Defendant is entitled to a further response.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (a)(3) “On receipt of a response to interrogatories, the propounding party may move for an order compelling a further response if the propounding party deems that . . . ¶(3) An objection to an interrogatory is without merit or too general.”].)  Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion to Compel Further Responses to Special Interrogatories (Set One) is GRANTED with respect to Special Interrogatory Nos. 17 and 18.

 

Imposition of Monetary Sanctions under Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.300

            “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.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (d).)

            The Court finds Plaintiff has without justification unsuccessfully opposed Defendant’s present Motion, and therefore, monetary sanctions are proper and warranted.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (d).)  Plaintiff’s boilerplate objections to Defendant’s Special Interrogatories (Set One) wholly lacked merit.  The Court imposes monetary sanctions against Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s counsel, collectively, in an amount of $2,240.00 ($320 hourly rate multiplied by 7 hours for preparation of the Motion, preparation of the Reply, and attending the hearing).  (Markun Decl., ¶ 7.)

CONCLUSION AND ORDER

            Defendant Townsgate Wealth Management’s Motion to Compel Further Responses to Special Interrogatories and Sanctions is GRANTED.

            Plaintiff Patricia Costello-Goldstein is ordered to serve further, verified, code-compliant response to Defendant’s Special Interrogatories (Set One) Nos. 2-6, 8-11, 13, 15-20, without objections, within twenty (20) days of this Court’s Order.

            Plaintiff Patricia Costello-Goldstein and Plaintiff’s counsel of record Steiner & Libo are, collectively, ordered to pay monetary sanctions to Defendant Townsgate Wealth Management in a sum of $2,240.00 within 30 days.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300, subd. (d).)

            The analysis in this order should provide guidance to the parties with regard to Defendant Townsgate’s motion to compel Plaintiff’s further responses to requests for production of documents, which is set for hearing on September 13, 2022.  The parties are ordered to meet and confer by real time conversation face-to-face or by telephone in good faith within three days regarding Defendant Townsgate’s motion to compel Plaintiff’s further responses to requests for production of documents, which is set for hearing on September 13, 2022.  No later than three court days before the September 13, 2022 hearing, the parties must file a joint statement summarizing the meet and confer efforts and setting forth all items of discovery that remain in dispute.  For each discovery request still in dispute, the joint statement must include: (1) the text of the request or discovery item in dispute; and (2) all responses, answers, and objections, already provided.  The parties are not to provide any argument in the joint statement.  For any matters withheld on the basis of a privilege or other protection, a privilege log must be prepared, setting forth the title, subject, and nature of the claim of privilege with respect to each document.  The privilege log should also include a declaration generally detailing the underlying factual predicates for each claimed privilege.

            For any motion to compel further in this action that has been filed or will be filed in the future, the responding party’s voluntary service of supplemental responses prior to the hearing will moot all issues for the motion except for sanctions.  The parties are ordered to meet and confer regarding sanctions and to file a joint statement within 5 days of the service of supplemental responses; the joint statement must advise that supplemental responses have been served and advise whether the parties have been able to resolve the sole remaining issue of sanctions.  In order to demonstrate that supplemental responses have been served thereby mooting a pending motion to compel further, the responding party must also file and serve a copy of the verified supplemental responses no later than when the opposition is due.  If the moving party deems that the supplemental responses remain deficient and/or non-code compliant, the moving party must timely (within 45 days of service of the supplemental responses) file and serve a new motion to compel further complying with all statutory requirements, including a meet and confer regarding the supplemental responses and a separate statement that includes all responses (original and supplemental).

            On August 15, 2022, the Court sustained Defendants’ Demurrers to the first cause of action as alleged within Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint, only, with leave to amend.

            On August 25, 2022, Plaintiff elected not to amend the first cause of action pursuant to  the leave granted on August 15, 2022 and instead filed a Request for Dismissal of the first cause of action.  All four named defendants have now answered, and the case is at issue.  Accordingly, the Court hereby advances the Case Management Conference from October 20, 2022 to September 15, 2022 at 8:30 am.  All parties are to file  case management statements at least 5 days in advance and to appear at the CMC.

            Moving Party to give notice within seven days.

DATED: August 30, 2022                                                      ___________________________

                                                                                    Elaine Lu

                                                                                    Judge of the Superior Court