This case underscores the importance of interrogatory answers, and attempts to be evasive can come back to bite. In the case of Field v. U.S. Bank National Assn. as Trustee, etc., et al. (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 703, the California Court of Appeals addressed the issue of evasive discovery responses where a plaintiff who filed a wrongful foreclosure claim could not change a deliberately evasive interrogatory answer in an effort to defeat a motion for summary judgment filed against her by the defense.
Beth Field executed a note for over one million dollars on a piece of property in 2007. She defaulted on her payments and applied for a loan modification in 2017. In 2018 a foreclosure sale occurred and Field sued U.S. Bank and Rushmore Loan Management Services (herein both are known as Rushmore) for wrongful foreclosure. The Court of Appeal ruling concerns a motion for summary judgment filed by the defense after Field answered a contention interrogatory with the response "unsure."
Specifically, the interrogatory in question read as follows:
SPECIAL INTERROGATORY NO. 16: Do YOU contend that the [Notice of Trustee Sale] that YOU reference in paragraph 15 of the [Second Amended Complaint] was not mailed to YOU in compliance with California Civil Code section 2924b? If so, then please provide all facts RELATED TO this contention.
Rushmore moved for summary judgment arguing that the foreclosure against Field was conducted properly. Rushmore presented evidence of a properly recorded notice of the proposed trustee sale. Field opposed the motion claiming that Rushmore never served her with this notice. By making that argument, Field contradicted her discovery response of “Unsure” and changed her legal position to state that she never received the notice in the mail. The trial court granted Rushmore’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Field’s wrongful foreclosure claim.
Evasive Discovery Responses May Subject a Party to Summary Judgment
The purpose of the discovery process is to ascertain the facts of the matter at hand. It harms the opposing party, the clients and the court when a party chooses to avoid answering discovery truthfully and fully. In this case, Field in effect attempted to change her interrogatory response on the question of whether she received notice of the proposed trustee sale. In her initial response she stated that she was "unsure." After a motion for summary judgment was filed by the defense her response changed when she claimed that she never received the notice. The Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) section 2030.310 allows parties to amend their discovery responses under certain circumstances, but Field did not attempt to utilize this procedure. The court here found this approach to be highly suspect stating, "A party opposing summary judgment may not move the target after the proponent has launched its arrow."
CCP section 2023.010 also provides that evasive responses may be sanctioned by the court. Parties prepare their discovery responses with the help of counsel in most cases so it is reasonable for the opposing party to expect that the interrogatories will be answered in accordance with the requirements of the discovery rules. Here the court found that Field's response was deliberately ambiguous. The defense also asked for any related facts in regard to the response and Field provided none. "A party may not deliberately misconstrue the question in order to supply an evasive answer." Deyo v. Kilbourne (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 771, 783.
Trial courts who observe parties engaged in such discovery abuse are not obligated to hear a later declaration to the contrary in an attempt to avoid a summary judgment. Field's deliberate and transparent attempt to subvert Rushmore's motion for summary judgment by changing her response after the fact could not stand according to the Court of Appeal . Therefore, the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment to Rushmore was affirmed.