Civil Litigation 101: What are Interrogatories?

In my previous blog entitled What is Discovery?, I explained the discovery process as the “fact finding” part of the pre-trial phase. Interrogatories are an integral part of the discovery process.

What are interrogatories?

Interrogatories, as defined by The Free Dictionary, are “written questions submitted to a party from his or her adversary to ascertain answers that are prepared in writing and signed under oath and that have relevance to the issues in a lawsuit.” In simpler terms, interrogatories are written questions directed to a party opponent which must be answered under oath. Because the scope of discovery in Maryland is broad, interrogatories may relate to any matter, not privileged, relevant (or which may lead to the disclosure of relevant evidence) to the claims and defenses of any party. The responding party must either answer the interrogatories in writing and under oath or object to them. The answers are admissions of a party and are otherwise admissible at trial to the extent permitted by the rules of evidence.

How lengthy interrogatories can be, the number of interrogatories that can be asked, the time frame within which interrogatories must be answered, and when interrogatories must be given to an opposing party are all factors governed by the rules of procedure in the court in which the case is being filed.

In Maryland District Court cases the parties are limited to 15 questions. The defendant must send the interrogatories to the plaintiff within 10 days of the deadline for filing a Notice of Intention to Defend. The plaintiff must send interrogatories within 10 days of receiving the defendant’s Notice of Intention to Defend. If one party does not answer the questions properly, the other party may ask the court to take certain actions, called “sanctions,” against the non-responsive party. The requirements for District Court interrogatories are contained in Maryland Rule 3-421.

Maryland Circuit Court cases are generally more complex than District Court cases. In Circuit Court proceedings, Maryland Rule 2-421 governs interrogatories and provides:

Rule 2-421. Interrogatories to parties

(a) Availability; number. Any party may serve written interrogatories directed to any other party. Unless the court orders otherwise, a party may serve one or more sets having a cumulative total of not more than 30 interrogatories to be answered by the same party. Interrogatories, however grouped, combined, or arranged and even though subsidiary or incidental to or dependent upon other interrogatories, shall be counted separately. Each form interrogatory contained in the Appendix to these Rules shall count as a single interrogatory.

(b) Response. The party to whom the interrogatories are directed shall serve a response within 30 days after service of the interrogatories or within 15 days after the date on which that party’s initial pleading or motion is required, whichever is later. The response shall answer each interrogatory separately and fully in writing under oath, or shall state fully the grounds for refusal to answer any interrogatory. The response shall set forth each interrogatory followed by its answer. An answer shall include all information available to the party directly or through agents, representatives, or attorneys. The response shall be signed by the party making it.

(c) Option to produce business records. When (1) the answer to an interrogatory may be derived or ascertained from the business records, including electronically stored information, of the party upon whom the interrogatory has been served or from an examination, audit, or inspection of those business records or a compilation, abstract, or summary of them, and (2) the burden of deriving or ascertaining the answer is substantially the same for the party serving the interrogatory as for the party served, and (3) the party upon whom the interrogatory has been served has not already derived or ascertained the information requested, it is a sufficient answer to the interrogatory to specify the records from which the answer may be derived or ascertained and to afford to the party serving the interrogatory reasonable opportunity to examine, audit, or inspect the records and to make copies, compilations, abstracts, or summaries. A specification shall be in sufficient detail to permit the interrogating party to locate and to identify, as readily as can the party served, the records from which the answer may be ascertained.

(d) Use. Answers to interrogatories may be used at the trial or a hearing to the extent permitted by the rules of evidence.

In short, in a Circuit Court Proceeding, a party is limited to 30 interrogatories. If a party fails to provide interrogatories as requested, or if that party’s answers are insufficient, the opposing party may file a Motion for Sanctions or a Motion to Compel as allowed by the Maryland Rules.

In Federal Court proceedings, a party is entitled to propound 25 interrogatories to an opposing party. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“F.R.C.P.”) 33 prescribes the requirements for interrogatories. Keep in mind, each Federal District Court jurisdiction has its own local rules. In Maryland, Rule 104 sets forth the local discovery requirements for the U.S. District Courts within the state.

For Maryland cases, a great resource which can be used in preparing and drafting interrogatories is the Forms Appendix found in the Maryland Rules. While interrogatories should be tailored specifically to the facts of each case, there are standard interrogatories which any prudent attorney should include in every case. Maryland Rules Form 3 provides the following standard interrogatories:

Form 3. General interrogatories

Interrogatories

1. Identify each person, other than a person intended to be called as an expert witness at trial, having discoverable information that tends to support a position that you have taken or intend to take in this action, including any claim for damages, and state the subject matter of the information possessed by that person. (Standard General Interrogatory No. 1.)

2. Identify each person whom you expect to call as an expert witness at trial, state the subject matter on which the expert is expected to testify, state the substance of the findings and opinions to which the expert is expected to testify and a summary of the grounds for each opinion, and, with respect to an expert whose findings and opinions were acquired in anticipation of litigation or for trial, summarize the qualifications of the expert, state the terms of the expert’s compensation, and attach to your answers any available list of publications written by the expert and any written report made by the expert concerning the expert’s findings and opinions. (Standard General Interrogatory No. 2.)

3. If you intend to rely upon any documents, electronically stored information, or tangible things to support a position that you have taken or intend to take in the action, including any claim for damages, provide a brief description, by category and location, of all such documents, electronically stored information, and tangible things, and identify all persons having possession, custody, or control of them. (Standard General Interrogatory No. 3.)

4. Itemize and show how you calculate any economic damages claimed by you in this action, and describe any non-economic damages claimed. (Standard General Interrogatory No. 4.)

5. If any person carrying on an insurance business might be liable to satisfy part or all of a judgment that might be entered in this action or to indemnify or reimburse for payments made to satisfy the judgment, identify that person, state the applicable policy limits of any insurance agreement under which the person might be liable, and describe any question or challenge raised by the person relating to coverage for this action. (Standard General Interrogatory No. 5.)

The Maryland Forms Appendix also provides form interrogatories for certain types of cases including motor torts, domestic/family law cases, products liability cases, personal injury cases, and medical malpractice cases.

In closing, interrogatories are an invaluable tool in an attorney’s arsenal to assuage facts particular to a case, to prepare an attorney for deposition of a witness and/or opposing party, and/or to prepare an attorney for trial. Interrogatories may be used in connection with Requests for Production of Documents, Requests for Admissions, and depositions.

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