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Interrogatories: Points to Ponder

2 min

Interrogatories are written questions sent to the opponent in a case. Interrogatories allow the parties to pose who, what, when, where, and why queries, making them an excellent method of getting additional information. The interrogatories may ask about any information that is discoverable, not privileged, and relevant to the claims and defenses of any party. Relevant information is generally defined as “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

Function and Service

The function of interrogatories, as with all discovery tools, is to narrow and define the issues and disputes in the case. In general, parties use written discovery prior to conducting depositions. However, there is no specific requirement for the discovery to proceed in that order. The opposing party is required to answer each question in the interrogatories under penalty of perjury. The answers must be submitted within a certain number of days after receiving the interrogatories, according to the applicable rules.

Types of Interrogatories

Fact interrogatories request factual information. For example, “identify the location of party’s company”, or “identify every individual with knowledge about the information alleged in the complaint.” The responding party may be obligated to identify significant papers, documents, things, or individuals with knowledge. Contention interrogatories inquire about the answers, opinions, or arguments pertaining to either a fact or the application of the law to facts. Contention interrogatories may ask a party to affirm their arguments, explain the facts based on the arguments, affirm a position, clarify how the law relates to facts, or articulate the legal grounds for the argument.

Limitations on Questions 

Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs interrogatories in a federal case. According to the Rule, only 25 interrogatories are permitted. While drafting the interrogatories, it is the lawyer’s responsibility to ensure that the number of interrogatories stays within the limits. The party should request the court's permission or written instruction from the answering party if more than 25 interrogatories need to be drafted. Some states require the party to show “good cause” before allowing supplemental interrogatories. It is recommended to organize the interrogatories in a clear, crisp, and concise manner. Special care must be taken to ensure that the details demanded in each interrogatory are relevant to the main issue and subject matter of the interrogatory.

Whom to Serve

Interrogatories and answers are served according to the applicable rule of civil procedure. The majority of interrogatories are delivered by mail. Additionally, the copies have to be sent to all other parties, except when otherwise ordered by the court. Interrogatories and answers are not filed with the court, except when they are used in the proceeding or the court orders them to be filed. It is the responsibility of the lawyer who serves the interrogatories to keep track of the due date and to get in touch with the other party if they have not received the document by the deadline. If the opposite party fails to respond to the interrogatories, it might be necessary to file a motion to compel discovery and get a court order directing the party to answer the interrogatories. It should be expected that the opposite party will object to the questions in the interrogatories. Rule 33(b) (4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure specifies that any objection not presented in an appropriate and timely manner is considered waived. Interrogatories are an exceptionally effective way to collect information in a case. They are possibly the least expensive discovery tool since the communications are made by exchanging written documents.

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