Thursday, July 13, 2017

Williams v. Super. Ct., S227228

Discovery & objections: Class action: Standing: Affirmative defense: Summary judgment: Fishing expeditions:

In the absence of privilege, the right to discovery in this state is a broad one, to be construed liberally so that parties may ascertain the strength of their case and at trial the truth may be determined. Our prior decisions and those of the Courts of Appeal firmly establish that in non-PAGA (Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004) class actions, the contact information of those a plaintiff purports to represent is routinely discoverable as an essential prerequisite to effectively seeking group relief, without any requirement that the plaintiff first show good cause.

(PAGA authorizes an employee who has been the subject of particular Labor Code violations to file a representative action on behalf of himself or herself and other aggrieved employees. (Lab. Code, § 2699)).

(…) Early in discovery, Williams issued two special interrogatories (…)

(…) Williams moved to compel responses (…)

A trial court must be mindful of the Legislature‘s preference for discovery over trial by surprise, must construe the facts before it liberally in favor of discovery, may not use its discretion to extend the limits on discovery beyond those authorized by the Legislature, and should prefer partial to outright denials of discovery. (Greyhound Corp. v. Superior Court, 56 Cal.2d at p. 383.) A reviewing court may not use the abuse of discretion standard to shield discovery orders that fall short: Any record which indicates a failure to give adequate consideration to these concepts is subject to the attack of abuse of discretion, regardless of the fact that the order shows no such abuse on its face. (Id. at p. 384; see Pacific Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Superior Court (1970) 2 Cal.3d 161, 171.)

In the absence of contrary court order, a civil litigant‘s right to discovery is broad. Any party may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action . . . if the matter either is itself admissible in evidence or appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. (Code Civ. Proc., § 2017.010; see Davies v. Superior Court (1984) 36 Cal.3d 291, 301 [discovery is not limited to admissible evidence].)

This right includes an entitlement to learn the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter.

Of course, the discovery may also fail to reveal any, or many, other violations or unlawful policies, but that is an equally worthy end result. The discovery statutes were intended to curtail surprises, enable each side to learn as much as possible about the strengths and weaknesses of its case, and thereby facilitate realistic settlements and efficient trials. (See Fairmont Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (2000) 22 Cal.4th 245, 253, fn. 2; Greyhound Corp. v. Superior Court, supra, 56 Cal.2d at p. 376.)  (fn. 3).

(…) Code of Civil Procedure section 2019.020. That provision sets out the general rule that the various tools of discovery may be used by each party in any order, and one party‘s discovery shall not operate to delay the discovery of any other party. (Id., subd. (a).) However, if a party shows good cause, the trial court may establish the sequence and timing of discovery for the convenience of parties and witnesses and in the interests of justice. (Id., subd. (b).)

California law has long made clear that to require a party to supply proof of any claims or defenses as a condition of discovery in support of those claims or defenses is to place the cart before the horse. The Legislature was aware that establishing a broad right to discovery might permit parties lacking any valid cause of action to engage in fishing expeditions, to a defendant‘s inevitable annoyance. (Greyhound Corp. v. Superior Court, supra, 56 Cal.2d at p. 385.) It granted such a right anyway, comfortable in the conclusion that mutual knowledge of all the relevant facts gathered by both parties is essential to proper litigation. (Id. at p. 386.)

Doubts as to whether particular matters will aid in a party‘s preparation for trial should generally be resolved in favor of permitting discovery; this is especially true when the precise issues of the litigation or the governing legal standards are not clearly established. (see Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal.3d 785, 791, fn. 8.) In pursuing such discovery, the strength or weakness of the plaintiff‘s individual claim is immaterial: It is well established that relevancy of the subject matter does not depend upon a legally sufficient pleading, nor is it restricted to the issues formally raised in the pleadings. (Union Mut. Life Ins. Co., infra, at p. 10.)

(…) The way to raise lack of standing is to plead it as an affirmative defense, and thereafter to bring a motion for summary adjudication or summary judgment, not to resist discovery until a plaintiff proves he or she has standing. (Cf. Union Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Superior Court, 80 Cal.App.3d at p. 12 [a discovery motion is not the right vehicle to litigate the appropriate scope of an action].)

(Possible objections: overbreadth, relevance, undue burden, expense, intrusiveness, privacy interests).

(Cal. S.C., July 13, 2017, Williams v. Super. Ct., S227228).

Le droit d'exercer la procédure de discovery est large, il vise à permettre aux parties d'apprécier le mérite de leurs prétentions, ainsi qu'à favoriser des accords amiables. Par exemple, dans les actions de classe, l'obtention de l'identité de toutes les parties potentielles peut faire l'objet de la procédure de discovery, sans que le demandeur ne doive préalablement démontrer les mérites de sa démarche de classe. Le caractère relevant ou non de la preuve recherchée ne dépend pas de ce que contiennent les mémoires. Le risque d'une "fishing expedition" a été reconnu par le législateur : il a considéré qu'il s'agissait d'un inconvénient inévitable lié au système précité.

La cour de première instance doit préférer une procédure de discovery partielle plutôt qu'un rejet complet.

Les réquisitions doivent toutefois porter sur des moyens de preuve admissibles au procès, ou porter sur des éléments susceptibles de découvrir de tels moyens. Par exemple, les noms et adresses des personnes susceptibles de divulguer des moyens de preuve peuvent être requis.

Le Code de procédure civile, à sa Section 2019.020, prévoit que de manière générale les différents outils de la procédure de discovery peuvent être utilisés par toutes les parties dans n'importe quel ordre. La discovery d'une partie ne saurait empêcher la discovery d'une autre. Cependant, pour justes motifs, la cour peut établir l'ordre et le moment des diverses opérations de discovery, de manière à ce que ces opérations ne chargent pas inutilement les parties ni les témoins, le tout à la lumière de l'intérêt de l'administration de la justice.

A titre d'exemple, si une partie entend se prévaloir d'une absence de "standing" de l'autre partie, elle doit le faire en soulevant une défense affirmative, puis en sollicitant une décision sommaire. Elle ne peut pas valablement résister à la procédure de discovery jusqu'à ce que l'adverse partie démontre satisfaire aux conditions de "standing".

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