Plaintiff the Estate of Frances Marsh moves to compel Defendant Chicago Title Insurance Company to provide supplemental responses to the first set of form interrogatories, requests for admission, and requests for production of documents.  For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

  1. General Authority to Compel Further Responses.

Responses to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and requests for admission are due 30 days after service (plus appropriate time for method of service).  (Code Civ. Proc. §§ 2030.260; 2031.260; 2033.250.)

A motion to compel further response to discovery “shall” (1) be made within 45 days of the service of the response or on or before any specific later date to which the parties have agreed in writing, (2) demonstrate a reasonable, good faith meet and confer attempt at informal resolution of each issue presented, and (3) be accompanied by a separate statement.  (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 2030.300, 2033.290, 2031.310, 2016.040 [good faith meet and confer]; Cal. Rules of Court, rule 3.1345, subd. (a) [separate statement].)

Moving party satisfied each of these requirements.

A party may move to compel further responses to interrogatories on the grounds that the answer is evasive or incomplete, an exercise of the option to produce documents under California Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.230 is unwarranted or the required specification of those documents is inadequate, and/or an objection to an interrogatory is without merit or too general. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.300(a).)

“Parties must state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in answering written interrogatories.” (Scheiding v. Dinwiddie Const. Co. (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 64, 76; see Code Civ. Proc., § 2023.010(f) [evasive response is ground for sanctions].) Where the question is specific and explicit, an answer that supplies only a portion of the information sought is improper. It is also improper to provide “deftly worded conclusionary answers designed to evade a series of explicit questions.” (Deyo v. Kilbourne (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 771, 783.)

A responding party may properly refer to documents instead of providing a complete and straightforward answer to an interrogatory only in those cases where the interrogatory seeks information contained in so many records and files that responding to the interrogatory would necessitate making a compilation or summary of the information contained in the records and the burden or expense of preparing or making it would be substantially the same for the party propounding the interrogatory as for the responding party. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.230.) In order to utilize this code section, the responding party must satisfy certain requirements. (Ibid.) The interrogatory must refer to Section 2030.230 and specify the writings from which the answer may be derived or ascertained. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.230.) “This specification shall be in sufficient detail to permit the propounding party to locate and to identify, as readily as the responding party can, the documents from which the answer may be ascertained. The responding party shall then afford to the propounding party a reasonable opportunity to examine, audit, or inspect these documents and to make copies, compilations, abstracts, or summaries of them.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.230.)

  1. Merits

Requests for Admission

RFA No. 3 asks Defendant to admit that “With regard to the processing of the MARSH CLAIM, admit that Sydney Sefick had full authority to act on behalf of CHICAGO TITLE.” Defendant objected on the basis that the term “full authority” is vague.  Defendant asserts that it is not clear whether the term “full authority” includes the authority to select defense counsel, to pay defense counsel any amount, to settle the underlying claim for any amount, etc.  Defendant makes a good point, and the objections are well taken.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is denied.  For the same reason, the motion is  denied as to RFA No. 4, which asks Defendant to admit that “With regard to the processing of the MARSH CLAIM, admit that Sydney Sefick had full authority to act on behalf of FIDELITY NATIONAL”

RFA No. 6 asks Defendant to admit that “With regard to the processing of the MARSH CLAIM, decisions made by Sydney Sefick were ratified after-the-fact by CHICAGO TITLE.”  Defendant objected on the basis that the terms “decisions made by Sydney Sefick” and “ratified after-the-fact” are vague and ambiguous.  Courts generally do not sustain “vague and ambiguous” objections unless the question is unintelligible.  The answering party owes a duty to respond in good faith as best he or she can.  (Deyo v. Kilbourne (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 771, 783.)  This RFA is not unintelligible.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA No. 11 asks Defendant to admit that “With regard to the processing of the MARSH CLAIM, Sydney Sefick made representations as to California law to the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH.”  Defendant objected on the basis that the term “representation” is vague and ambiguous.  This is not an unintelligible request.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 21 asks Defendant to admit that “Frances Marsh purchased BLACK DUCK in May 2006 as an Internal Revenue Code section 1031 exchange property.”  Defendant responded that it does not have sufficient information or belief to either admit or deny this request and on that basis, denies this request.  This response substantially complies with Code Civ. Proc. § 2033.220.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is denied.

RFA 23 asks Defendant to admit that “In the UNDERLYING LITIGATION, Mark Wynne admitted that Frances Marsh believed that she had bought 100% of BLACK DUCK from the owner-of-record, Thomas Kennedy.”

RFA 24 asks Defendant to admit that “In the UNDERLYING LITIGATION, Mark Wynne testified that he and Kim Wynne were the owners of BLACK DUCK at the time of Frances Marsh’s purchase in May 2006.”

RFA 25 asks Defendant to admit that “In the UNDERLYING LITIGATION, Mark Wynne testified that he and Kim Wynne had sold Frances Marsh less than 100% of BLACK DUCK in May 2006.”

In response to RFAs 23-25, Defendant objected that the RFAs are compound, vague, and seek irrelevant information or information that is equally available to Plaintiff.  Defendant has not met its burden of justifying these objections.  As to RFAs 23-25, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 28 asks Defendant to admit that “Because of title defects, Frances Marsh acquired nothing of value with her purchase of BLACK DUCK in May 2006.”  Defendant objected to this request as vague. This request, while perhaps somewhat vague, is not unintelligible.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 30 asks Defendant to admit that “On May 3, 2018, CHICAGO TITLE accepted the tender of the defense by the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH, with a reservation of rights.”  Defendant objected on the grounds that the request was vague, ambiguous and compound.  Defendant also stated: “Without waiving objections, Respondent admits that it sent correspondence dated May 4, 2018, in response to the tender of defense made by the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH, Respondent denies the remainder of this request.”  Although Plaintiff may have gotten the date wrong in the RFA, the response is evasive and nonresponsive.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 43 asks Defendant to admit that “Until May 28, 2018, CHICAGO TITLE did not inform the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH that Giller would be representing the estate in the UNDERLYING LITIGATION.”  Defendant objects that the term “underlying litigation” is vague as to whether it refers to a Washington lawsuit or a California one.  Neither party attached a copy of the actual RFAs, so the court cannot determine how the term “Underlying Litigation” was defined.  Because of this, there is an insufficient basis to grant the motion.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is denied.

RFA 50 asks Defendant to admit that “In its July 31, 2018, revised coverage letter, CHICAGO TITLE, through Sydney Sefick, stated that the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH did not have standing to pursue claims under the SUBJECT TITLE INSURANCE POLICY since Frances Marsh had died.”  Defendant objected to the request on the grounds that the request is compound, vague, and ambiguous. Subject to those objections, Defendant admitted that Ms. Sefick, on behalf of CTIC, sent a letter dated July 31, 2018, which was produced. Otherwise, CTIC denied the request.  Defendant’s objections lack merit.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 61 asks Defendant to admit that “In September 2018, the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH stated that it would substitute Giller into the UNDEIU,YING LITIGATION if the case did not settle at a September 27, 2018, mediation.”  Defendant objected to the request on the grounds that the request is vague and ambiguous and also that the request also seeks information that is not subject to discovery pursuant to Evidence Code section 1119.  The court finds this request seeks confidential information protected by Section 1119.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is denied.

RFA 62 asks Defendant to admit that “On September 10, 2018, attorney Giller sent an email to the counsel for the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH stating that the “biggest” issue in the case was the validity of the May 8, 2006, quitclaim deed.”

RFA 63 asks Defendant to admit that” On September 14, 2018, the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH informed Giller that the validity of the quitclaim deed was also an important issue for the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH’s first party claim against CHICAGO TITLE.”

Defendant objected to RFAs 62-63 and stated it had insufficient information to admit or deny the requests and for that reason denied the requests.  This response substantially complies with Code Civ. Proc. § 2033.220.  As to these specific requests, Plaintiff’s motion is denied.

RFA 64 asks Defendant to admit that “After receiving the September 14, 2018, email from the counsel for the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH regarding the estate’s first party claim, Giller never again questioned the validity of the QUITCLAIM DEED.”  Defendant objected that the request was vague and ambiguous as to the phrase “first party claim” and “never again questioned the validity”.  Defendant has not met its burden of justifying these objections.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 65 asks Defendant to admit that “CHICAGO TITLE refused to participate in the September 27, 2018, mediation in the UNDERLYING ACTION.”  Defendant objected to the request on the grounds that it was vague and ambiguous as to the meaning of “refused to participate” and on the basis of Evidence Code section 1119.  Defendant has not met its burden of justifying the objections.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 67 asks Defendant to admit that “The ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH allowed Ron Giller to attend the September 27, 2018, mediation in the UNDERLYING ACTION on the condition that he was only an observer.”  Defendant objected to the request on the grounds that it is compound; vague and ambiguous as to the phrase “on the condition that he was only an observer”; and because the request sought information that is not subject to discovery pursuant to Evidence Code section 1119.  The court finds this request seeks confidential information protected by Section 1119. As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is denied.

RFA 72 asks Defendant to admit that “During the September 27, 2018, mediation, Giller announced to the MARSH MEDIATION PARTIES that he had been retained by CHICAGO TITLE to provide a “limited defense” of the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH in the UNDERLYING LITIGATION.”

RFA 75 asks Defendant to admit that “Without notice to or the consent of the MARSH MEDIATION PARTIES and after they had terminated the mediation, Giller met with the MARK WYNNE MEDIATION PARTIES on September 27, 2018.”

RFA 77 asks Defendant to admit that “During his meeting with the MARK WYNNE MEDIATION PARTIES after the termination of the mediation on September 27, 2018, Giller conceded the validity of the QUITCLAIM DEED.”

RFA 78 asks Defendant to admit that “During his meeting with the MARK WYNNE MEDIATION PARTIES after the termination of the mediation on September 27, 2018, Giller conceded factual and legal issues which undermined all of the causes of action asserted in the ESTATE OF MARSH’S Second Amended Cross-complaint.”

Defendant objected to RFA Nos. 72, 75, 77 and 78 on the basis that the communications at issue in these requests are subject to the mediation confidentiality of Section 1119.  The court finds these requests seek confidential information protected by Section 1119.  As to these specific requests, Plaintiff’s motion is denied.

RFA 82 asks Defendant to admit that “In October 2018 and via email and written correspondence, counsel for the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH renewed concerns about conflicts of interest and the need for cumis counsel.”

RFA 83 asks Defendant to admit that “In October 2018 and via email and written correspondence, counsel for the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH requested that CHICAGO TITLE propose a different attorney to represent the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH in the UNDERLYING LITIGATION.”

Defendant objected to RFAs 82-83 on the grounds that they are compound, vague and ambiguous.  Defendant has not met its burden of justifying these objections.  As to these specific requests, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 86 asks Defendant to admit that “After receiving the ESTATE OF MARSH’s emails and correspondence in October 2018 expressing concerns about Giller, CHICAGO TITLE, through Sydney Sefick, would not propose any other attorney to be appointed counsel to represent the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH in the UNDERLYING LITIGATION.” Defendant objected to the request on the grounds that it is compound, vague and ambiguous.  Defendant has not met its burden of justifying these objections.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 99 asks Defendant to admit that “Since November 2018, CHICAGO TITLE has spent little time reviewing the materials submitted by the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH before denying all requests for reconsideration of the re-tender.  Defendant objected to the request on the grounds that it is compound, vague and ambiguous.  Defendant has not met its burden of justifying these objections.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 100 asks Defendant to admit that “Since November 2018, the primary basis for CHICAGO TITLE denying the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH’s requests for reconsideration of the re-tender decision has been a claim that the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH lacks standing to pursue a claim under the SUBJECT TITLE INSURANCE POLICY because the insured, Frances Marsh, died.”

RFA 101 asks Defendant to admit that “Under California law, the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH has standing to pursue a claim under the SUBJECT TITLE INSURANCE POLICY.”

Defendant objected to RFAs 100-101 on the grounds that they are compound, vague and ambiguous.  Defendant has not met its burden of justifying these objections.  As to these specific requests, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

RFA 105 asks Defendant to admit that “If Giller had substituted in as counsel of record for the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH in the UNDERLYING LITIGATION, he would have control over the results of the litigation as to key issues relating to the coverage dispute between the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH and CHICAGO TITLE.”

RFA 106 asks Defendant to admit that “If Giller had substituted in as counsel of record for the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH in the UNDERLYING LITIGATION, he would have control over the determination of the validity of the QUITCLAIM DEED.”

RFA 107 asks Defendant to admit that “If Giller had substituted in as counsel of record for the ESTATE OF FRANCES MARSH in the UNDERLYING LITIGATION, he would have control over the determination as to whether Frances Marsh’s execution of the QUITCLAIM DEED was a voluntary act.”

Defendant objected that RFAs 105-107 call for speculation and are impossible to answer.  Defendant is correct that these requests call for speculation, but the Code provides a way for Defendant to respond to this type of request.  Code Civ. Proc. § 2033.220(c) provides: “If a responding party gives lack of information or knowledge as a reason for a failure to admit all or part of a request for admission, that party shall state in the answer that a reasonable inquiry concerning the matter in the particular request has been made, and that the information known or readily obtainable is insufficient to enable that party to admit the matter.”  As to these specific requests, Plaintiff’s motion is granted; however, given the speculative nature of the RFAs, the forthcoming answer will, most likely, be no more informative than was the initial response.

RFA 109 asks Defendant to admit that “In October 2018, Giller submitted a budget of $75,000 to CHICAGO TITLE.”

Defendant objected on the grounds that the request was vague and ambiguous and then “admitted” that it did not receive a written budget for $75,000 from Mr. Giller.  This response is sufficient.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is denied.

RFA 110 asks Defendant to admit that “In October 2018, CHICAGO TITLE, through Sydney Sefick, determined that the Giller $75,000 estimate was too low given the contentious nature of the UNDERLYING LITIGATION.”  Defendant objected on the basis that the request is vague and did not otherwise respond.   Defendant has not met its burden of justifying this objection.  As to this specific request, Plaintiff’s motion is granted.

All in all, the motion is granted as to RFA Nos. 6, 11, 23-25, 28, 30, 50, 64, 65, 82-83, 86, 99, 100, 101, and 107. Defendant’s objections to these requests are overruled.  Defendant is ordered to provide further verified responses without objections within 30 days of notice of this ruling.  As to the remainder of the requests, the motion is denied.

Form Interrogatories

Plaintiff takes issue with Defendant’s response to form interrogatories 15.1 and 17.1.  Plaintiff contends that Defendant’s response to form interrogatory 15.1 misrepresents the insurance policy at issue and the response is otherwise insufficient.

Form Interrogatory No. 15.1 states:

Identify each denial of a material allegation and each special or affirmative defense in your pleadings and for each:

(a) state all facts upon which you base the denial or special or affirmative defense;

(b) state the names, ADDRESSES, and telephone numbers of all PERSONS who have knowledge of those facts; and

(c) identify all DOCUMENTS and other tangible things that support your denial or special or affirmative defense, and state the name, ADDRESS, and telephone number of the PERSON who has each DOCUMENT.

As to No. 15.1(a), the response is sufficient.  As to subsection (c) of interrogatory No. 15.1, however, the response does not sufficiently identify documents that support Defendant’s denials or affirmative defenses.  In its Opposition, Defendant refers to Code Civ. Proc. § 2030.230, which states:

If the answer to an interrogatory would necessitate the preparation or the making of a compilation, abstract, audit, or summary of or from the documents of the party to whom the interrogatory is directed, and if the burden or expense of preparing or making it would be substantially the same for the party propounding the interrogatory as for the responding party, it is a sufficient answer to that interrogatory to refer to this section and to specify the writings from which the answer may be derived or ascertained. This specification shall be in sufficient detail to permit the propounding party to locate and to identify, as readily as the responding party can, the documents from which the answer may be ascertained. The responding party shall then afford to the propounding party a reasonable opportunity to examine, audit, or inspect these documents and to make copies, compilations, abstracts, or summaries of them.

An interrogatory response based on Section 2030.230 must specifically refer to Section 2030.230 and must specify the writings from which the answer may be derived or ascertained.  Defendant’s response did not comply with Section 2030.230, because it did not refer to Section 2030.230 and it referred to generalized groups of documents (e.g., “the documents previously produced”).  Defendant is ordered to provide a further verified response to subsection (c) of interrogatory 15.1 within 30 days of notice of this ruling.

With respect to form interrogatory no. 17.1, the court finds that Defendant’s response is sufficient.  Form Interrogatory 17.1 states:

Is your response to each request for admission served with these interrogatories an unqualified admission? If not, for each response that is not an unqualified admission:

(a) state the number of the request;

(b) state all facts upon which you base your response;

(c) state the names, ADDRESSES, and telephone numbers of all PERSONS who have knowledge of those facts; and

(d) identify all DOCUMENTS and other tangible things that support your response and state the name, ADDRESS, and telephone number of the PERSON who has each DOCUMENT or thing.

While Plaintiff appears to be dissatisfied with the responses or contends that the responses are false, the court cannot “force a litigant to admit any particular fact if he is willing to risk a perjury prosecution or financial sanctions.”  (Holguin v. Superior Court (1972) 22 Cal.App.3d 812, 820.)  For instance, as to RFA No. 2, which ask Defendant to admit that from January 1, 2018, to the present, Sydney Sefick was an officer of Sydney Sefick of Fidelity National Title Group, Inc., Defendant responded that Ms. Sefick is not an offer of Fidelity National.  Plaintiff contends that Defendant must identify which company employs Ms. Sefick, but this was an RFA, not an interrogatory.  RFA No. 7 asks Defendant to admit that decisions made by Sefick were approved by Fidelity National.  Defendant denied the RFA and stated that Fidelity National was not involved in the processing of the claim.  Plaintiff is dissatisfied with this response and states that Defendant must identify what affiliation Ms. Sefick has with any entity involved in processing Marsh’s claim.  But the RFA does not call for this information.  The motion to compel is denied as to interrogatory no. 17.1.

The motion is granted as to form interrogatories no. 50.1 and 50.2.  Defendant apparently agreed to supplement its responses to these interrogatories, but had not yet done so as of the time of filing Defendant’s opposition.

The motion is denied as to interrogatory 50.3 for lack of meet and confer.

Requests for Production

Plaintiff seeks further responses to a number of inspection demands.  Defendant contends that Plaintiff has not shown good cause for the demands.  A motion for order compelling further responses to inspection demands “shall set forth specific facts showing good cause justifying the discovery sought by the demand.”  (Code Civ. Proc. § 2031.310(b)(1).)  To establish “good cause,” the burden is on the moving party to show relevance to the subject matter and specific facts justifying discovery, such as why such information is necessary for trial preparation or to prevent surprise at trial.  (Glenfed Develop. Corp. v. Sup.Ct. (National Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Penn.) (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 1113, 1117.)  If “good cause” is shown by the moving party, the burden is then on the responding party to justify any objections made to document disclosure (the same as on motions to compel answers to interrogatories or deposition questions.  (Kirkland v. Sup.Ct. (Guess?, Inc.) (2002) 95 Cal.App.4th 92, 98.)  Defendant is correct that Plaintiff’s counsel’s declaration does not establish good cause for the inspection demands.

Plaintiff contends that Defendant has no standing to assert the mediation privilege because it did not participate in the mediation and Ron Giller could not participate on behalf of Defendant because he was only proposed counsel.  Regardless of whether Giller attended the mediation as counsel or as an observer, however, Defendant would have reasonably expected confidentiality in the mediation proceedings.  (See Evid .Code §§ 1119, 1121; Foxgate Homeowners’ Ass’n, Inc. v. Bramalea California, Inc. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1, 17; Eisendrath v. Superior Court (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 351, 364 (noting that the mediation privilege covers “any communications between mediation participants before the end of mediation that occur outside the mediator’s presence, provided that these communications are materially related to the mediation.”.).)  Defendant has met its burden of establishing preliminary facts essential to the claim of privilege and thus the burden shifts to Plaintiff to prove that the burden has been waived.  (Lopez v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 566, 596.)  Any waiver of confidentially in mediation must be express. (Evid. Code § 1122; Simmons v. Ghaderi (2008) 44 Cal.4th 570, 588.)  Plaintiff has not met that burden here.

Plaintiff also contends that Defendant’s production of documents in a disorganized manner is an abuse of the discovery process.  Code Civ. Proc. § 2031.280(a) states that “Any documents or category of documents produced in response to a demand for inspection, copying, testing, or sampling shall be identified with the specific request number to which the documents respond.”

Defendant has evidently produced over 25,000 pages of bates-stamped documents, which are generally not organized in chronological order nor are they organized to correspond to the document requests.  Defendant responds that it produced documents in the same manner in which they are kept.  This is not sufficient under Section 2031.280(a).  Defendant is ordered to produce documents in compliance with Section 2031.280(a) within 30 days of notice of this ruling.

Plaintiff makes no other arguments in its moving memorandum of points and authorities.  Thus, insofar as Plaintiff seeks other relief, the motion is denied.

No sanctions will be issued because the motions were granted in part and denied in part, and the motions were opposed with substantial justification.

Plaintiff to give notice.