California Form Interrogatory 15.1 (an “interrogatory” is just a question) is the most important interrogatory to serve on your opposing party in a lawsuit. And the law requires they answer it fully and completely. Yet, so many attorneys refuse to answer the question properly.

A typical use of 15.1 follows:

You file a Trust Contest or a Will Contest (or any other type of lawsuit) alleging three causes of action: (1) Undue Influence, (2) Lack of Capacity, and (3) Financial Elder Abuse. The opposing party files an answer to the Trust Contest or Will Contest denying most, or all, of your allegations, and on top of that includes 15 affirmative defenses (an affirmative defense, if proven by the opposing party, operates to defeat your claims even if the facts supporting the claim are true).

The opposing party’s denials and affirmative defenses must ultimately be tried, which can make for a long, costly and confusing trial.  But what if the denials and affirmative defenses could be trimmed down before trial?  That’s the purpose of 15.1—you can narrow the issues, and force the opposing party to show their cards—factual cards—before trial. Once you narrow the issues in a case, you are able to clearly and forcefully present the true facts of the case at trial, which generally equals a win for you.

How does 15.1 do this? 15.1 requires the opposing party to provide all facts, all persons, and all documents that support (1) their denials, and (2) their affirmative defenses. In other words, for each denial of a material allegation in your lawsuit (i.e., Trust Contest or Will Contest) the opposing party must (1) identify all facts supporting each denial, (2) identify all witnesses (including their names, addresses, and phone numbers) who can testify about facts supporting each denial, and (3) identify all documents (or things) (including the name, address and phone number of the person who has each document) supporting each denial. Likewise, the opposing party must identify all facts, witnesses, and documents that support each and every affirmative defense (all 15 of them in the case presented above—that’s a lot of work).

To date, I have never received a proper response from an opposing party to 15.1. I generally follow up the opposing party’s response with a required “meet and confer” letter articulating how they must respond to 15.1. If the opposing party refuses to supplement their improper response I generally file a motion with the court requiring that they properly respond to 15.1. Any time I have filed a motion with the Court on 15.1, the Court has granted my motion and ordered the other side to respond. I have even received monetary sanctions against the opposing parties. So beware, when 15.1 comes your way, especially from my firm, it must be answered.

If you have questions, or would like to receive a form copy of my motion to compel for 15.1, please contact me.