What are the minimum requirements for interrogatory responses in New York?
A party served with an interrogatory must answer each interrogatory separately and fully. (NY CPLR § 3133)
Answers to interrogatories must be responsive to the questions asked. (Ranne v. Huff, 782 N.Y.S.2d 231, 11 A.D.3d 952 (N.Y. App. Div. 2004))
The purpose of interrogatories is to obtain evidence. Therefore, answers that fail to provide evidence are insufficient. (Blessin v. Greenberg, 453 N.Y.S.2d 249, 89 A.D.2d 862 (N.Y. App. Div. 1982))
Responses to interrogatories that fail to provide facts or provide only a general statement of facts are insufficient. (New Line Stone Co., Inc. v. BCRE Services LLC, 932 N.Y.S.2d 690, 89 A.D.3d 581 (N.Y. App. Div. 2011), Blessin v. Greenberg, 453 N.Y.S.2d 249, 89 A.D.2d 862 (N.Y. App. Div. 1982))
Compliance with a disclosure order requires both a timely response and one that evinces a good faith effort to address the requests meaningfully. (Kihl v. Pfeffer, 722 N.E.2d 55, 94 N.Y.2d 118, 700 N.Y.S.2d 87 (N.Y. 1999))
The answering party must exercise due diligence in attempting to provide answers. Due diligence requires investigating potential sources of information, i.e. contacting other parties, when necessary to provide an answer. (9H Realty Corp. v. Zurich Ins. Co., 452 N.Y.S.2d 245, 89 A.D.2d 584 (N.Y. App. Div. 1982), Vividize, Inc. v. Modern Litho, Inc., 398 N.Y.S.2d 4, 59 A.D. 616 (N.Y. App. Div. 1977))
In Blessin v. Greenberg, the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, held that answers to interrogatories that were either totally nonresponsive or conclusory and general in nature were insufficient.
In New Line Stone Co., Inc. v. BCRE Services LLC, the New York Appellate Division, First Department, held that the defendants' answers to interrogatories were insufficient where they failed to provide facts or provided only a general statement of facts.
In 9H Realty Corp. v. Zurich Ins. Co., the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, held that answers to interrogatories were insufficient when the answering party failed to exercise due diligence in attempting to provide answers.
NY CPLR § 3133 requires a party served with interrogatories to answer each interrogatory separately and fully:
(b) Form of answers and objections to interrogatories. Interrogatories shall be answered in writing under oath by the party served, if an individual, or, if the party served is a corporation, a partnership or a sole proprietorship, by an officer, director, member, agent or employee having the information. Each question shall be answered separately and fully, and each answer shall be preceded by the question to which it responds.
In Kihl v. Pfeffer, 700 N.Y.S.2d 87, 94 N.Y.2d 118, 722 N.E.2d 55 (N.Y. 1999), the New York Court of Appeals held that interrogatory responses must provide meaningful answers. Previously, the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, had found that the plaintiff's responses to interrogatories were insufficient, reasoning that they were not responsive to the questions asked, failed to provide a reasonable level of detail, and improperly reserved the right to provide answers at a later time. The Second Department ordered the plaintiff to provide more detailed answers, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the plaintiff's answers would have to demonstrate a good faith effort to respond to the interrogatories meaningfully and in a timely manner (at 121-123):
By order dated March 31, 1997, the Trial Judge granted Honda's motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to comply with the Preliminary Conference Order unless plaintiff served further answers to interrogatories 43 through 56 within 20 days after service of a copy of the order on plaintiff's counsel. The court held that plaintiff's answers were "not responsive, lack any reasonable detail and improperly reserve the right to provide answers at a later time."
Regrettably, it is not only the law but also the scenario that is all too familiar (see, e.g., Tewari v Tsoutsouras, 75 NY2d 1, 10-11; Reynolds Sec. v Underwriters Bank & Trust Co., 44 NY2d 568, 571-572; Laverne v Incorporated Vil. of Laurel Hollow,
[94 N.Y.2d 123]
18 NY2d 635, 637, appeal dismissed 386 US 682). If the credibility of court orders and the integrity of our judicial system are to be maintained, a litigant cannot ignore court orders with impunity. Indeed, the Legislature, recognizing the need for courts to be able to command compliance with their disclosure directives, has specifically provided that a "court may make such orders * * * as are just," including dismissal of an action (CPLR 3126). Finally, we underscore that compliance with a disclosure order requires both a timely response and one that evinces a good-faith effort to address the requests meaningfully.
In Ranne v. Huff, 782 N.Y.S.2d 231, 11 A.D.3d 952 (N.Y. App. Div. 2004), the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, found that to be sufficient answers to interrogatories must be responsive to the questions asked. The Second Department held, however, that a party will not be required to provide responsive answers to questions that are irrelevant, overly broad in scope, or impossible or unduly burdensome to answer (at 952-953):
In this action brought by plaintiffs on a theory of strict products liability to recover for personal injuries sustained by John Ranne (plaintiff), Grove Manufacturing Company, a Division of Kidde, Inc. (defendant), appeals from an order that, insofar as challenged by defendant, granted plaintiffs' motion in part and compelled it to provide responses or further responses to particular items set forth in plaintiffs' first set of interrogatories and revisions to plaintiffs' first set of
[11 A.D.3d 953]
interrogatories. Supreme Court made that order on the basis of plaintiffs' argument that defendant's responses to the interrogatories had been insufficient, notwithstanding the contentions of defendant that it had responded sufficiently to those interrogatories that were answerable and had appropriately declined to answer those that were overly broad in their scope and thus impossible or unduly burdensome to answer.
We reject defendant's contention that plaintiffs' interrogatories should be vacated in their entirety. However, we agree with defendant that the court erred in compelling defendant to respond or respond further to certain of plaintiffs' interrogatories. Certain of the interrogatories are overbroad and seek information that either is irrelevant to plaintiff's accident and the product and product features implicated therein (cf. Van Horn v Thompson & Johnson Equip. Co., 291 AD2d 885, 886 ; Rozell v Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co., 264 AD2d 930, 931-932 ; Winiecki v Melroe Co., 252 AD2d 496, 496-497 ; Latuso v Black & Decker [U.S.], 198 AD2d 844 ) or would be unduly burdensome for defendant to provide (see Albert v Time Warner Cable, 255 AD2d 248 ). With respect to certain other interrogatories, plaintiffs have not demonstrated that defendant has been nonresponsive or that a further response is needed (see Shenouda v Cohen, 1 AD3d 428 ; Grosso Moving & Packing Co. v Damens, 261 AD2d 339 ; L.K. Comstock & Co. v City of New York, 80 AD2d 805, 807 )." We therefore modify the order by denying plaintiffs' motion with respect to interrogatory Nos. 7-11, 22-23, 25, 28-29, 35-53, 59, 62-63, and 92.
In New Line Stone Co., Inc. v. BCRE Services LLC, 932 N.Y.S.2d 690, 89 A.D.3d 581 (N.Y. App. Div. 2011), the New York Appellate Division, First Department, held that the defendants' answers to interrogatories were insufficient where they failed to provide facts or provided only a general statement of facts (at 691):
The motion court providently exercised its discretion in requiring defendants to provide more detailed responses to plaintiff's interrogatories 4 through 12, which sought the facts underlying defendants' seven affirmative defenses and three counterclaims. Most of defendants' responses provided general statement of facts, and some responses provided no facts at all. Moreover, defendants failed to meet their burden to establish that the information sought was privileged (see [89 A.D.3d 582] JP Foodservice Distribs. v. Sorrento, Inc., 305 A.D.2d 266, 758 N.Y.S.2d 805 ). However, defendants are not required to respond to interrogatory number 13, since it is repetitive.
The New York Appellate Division, Second Department, held in Blessin v. Greenberg, 453 N.Y.S.2d 249, 89 A.D.2d 862 (N.Y. App. Div. 1982) that overly general or conclusory answers to interrogatories did not comply with disclosure requirements. The Second Department reasoned that, since the purpose of interrogatories is to obtain evidence, answers that failed to provide evidence were insufficient (at 250):
This order does not merely require plaintiff to verify the answers to the interrogatories already served by her attorney, but requires plaintiff to fully respond to all interrogatories served. We note that the answers to interrogatories 13 through 26, specifically challenged at Special Term by appellant, were either totally nonresponsive or conclusory and general in nature. Such responses do not satisfy the purpose of interrogatories, which is to obtain evidence (see Lubell v. Work Wear Corp., 82 Misc.2d 1000 1002, 371 N.Y.S.2d 341, affd. 86 Misc.2d 1001, 384 N.Y.S.2d 74).
In 9H Realty Corp. v. Zurich Ins. Co., 452 N.Y.S.2d 245, 89 A.D.2d 584 (N.Y. App. Div. 1982), the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, held that answers to interrogatories were insufficient when the answering party failed to exercise due diligence in attempting to provide answers. The Second Department found that due diligence requires investigating potential sources of information, i.e. contacting other parties, when necessary to provide an answer (at 246):
Order affirmed insofar as appealed from, with $50 costs and disbursements. Plaintiff's time to respond is extended until 30 days after service upon it of a copy of the order to be entered herein, with notice of entry. 9H Realty Corp. commenced this action to recover under two insurance policies issued by defendants Zurich Insurance Company and Northwestern National Insurance Company for alleged damage to certain office equipment and bulk mailing machinery as a result of vandalism. The insurers set forth affirmative defenses alleging fraud in that a prior claim had been made to a different insurer for the same damage to the machinery. The insurance companies subsequently served upon 9H Realty Corp. and additional defendant Abraham Rodolitz (former owner of 9H Realty Corp.) a demand for answers to interrogatories. The interrogatories requested, inter alia, (1) a description of certain property purchased from National Equipment Rental, Ltd. which comprised part of the subject property, (2) the extent to which the property was damaged at the time of its purchase, (3) the extent of any damage subsequent to the purchase, and (4) the extent of any repairs to the property. Plaintiff's response was that it had no knowledge of the requested information. The insurers then moved to strike the complaint, or, in the alternative, to compel answers to certain of the interrogatories. In opposing the motion, plaintiff's counsel affirmed that plaintiff's records did not reveal the extent of damage or repairs to the property and that certain unnamed companies were hired to repair the property. Special Term granted the motion to the extent of directing plaintiff and additional defendant Abraham Rodolitz to respond to interrogatories 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 14. Although 9H Realty Corp. did not limit its appeal to that part of the order directing it to answer the interrogatories, in the absence of an appeal by Rodolitz, the appeal will be so limited.
It is clear that the interrogatories sought information which was material and necessary to the insurers' claim of fraud (see CPLR 3101, subd. Allen v. Crowell-Collier Pub. Co., 21 N.Y.2d 403, 288 N.Y.S.2d 449, 235 N.E.2d 430). Furthermore, plaintiff's failure to move to strike the interrogatories forecloses inquiry into the propriety of the information sought (see Leissner v. Ford Motor Co., 79 A.D.2d 700, 434 N.Y.S.2d 268). Thus the issue is not whether the interrogatories were proper, but whether plaintiff's answers were sufficient. Although plaintiff contends that it may not be compelled to furnish answers which require information that is unknown and unobtainable, respondents maintain that plaintiff has not used its best efforts to obtain such information.
We agree that plaintiff has not exercised due diligence in attempting to frame its answers to the interrogatories in question (see Kelly v. Town of North Hempstead, 85 A.D.2d 687, 445 N.Y.S.2d 508; Electorque Assoc. v. Averne Houses, 73 A.D.2d 682, 423 N.Y.S.2d 497; Vividize Inc. v. Modern Litho, 59 A.D.2d 616, 398 N.Y.S.2d 4). The mere checking of its own records does not constitute due diligence, for under these circumstances, plaintiff should have contacted the seller of the subject property, National Equipment Rental, Ltd., as well as the unnamed repair companies. Since plaintiff did not investigate these potential sources of information, it is unnecessary to order a hearing to explore whether or not access to the necessary information was in fact unavailable (cf. Electorque Assoc. v. Averne Houses, supra; Vividize Inc. v. Modern Litho, supra).
In Vividize, Inc. v. Modern Litho, Inc., 398 N.Y.S.2d 4, 59 A.D. 616 (N.Y. App. Div. 1977), the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed a denial of a motion to compel answers to interrogatories. The Supreme Court, Suffolk County, had denied the motion on the grounds that the interrogatories were overbroad and that the defendants lacked the knowledge necessary to answer the questions. The Second Department held that lacking knowledge was not a sufficient justification for the vague and unresponsive answers the defendants provided. They should have delegated the duty to respond to an individual who did have the necessary personal knowledge to answer (at 5):
Plaintiff-appellant served interrogatories upon defendants-respondents, who supplied vague and unresponsive answers. Plaintiff then moved, pursuant to CPLR 3124 and 3134 (subd. (a)), to compel more complete answers thereto by each of the defendants under oath. Special Term denied the motion on the grounds that: (1) if defendants lacked the necessary information, they could not be compelled to answer; (2) certain questions were overbroad; and (3) the interrogatories should have been addressed to a limited period of time.
The parties' motion papers raise a question of fact as to whether defendants lack the information needed to frame proper responses to all of the questions. Special Term should conduct a hearing on this issue. Special Term's limitation of the discoverable issues, and its objection to the broadness of the inquiry, was improper, since defendants never moved for a protective order pursuant to CPLR 3103 (see Siegel, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons.Laws of N.Y., Book 7B, CPLR 3124:2, p. 627; 3A Weinstein-Korn-Miller, N.Y.Civ.Prac., par. 3124.05). Each defendant should answer all of the interrogatories under oath unless he lacks personal knowledge necessary to frame a response. If personal knowledge is lacking on the part of one or more of the defendants, he should delegate the duty of responding under oath to a person who possesses personal knowledge, if any, or adopt the response of another defendant who possesses personal knowledge (see Lubell v. Work Wear Corp., 82 Misc.2d 1000, 371 N.Y.S.2d 341, affd. 86 Misc.2d 1001, 384 N.Y.S.2d 993).