A motion to compel is a legal maneuver seeking a trial court order directing a party’s adherence to the provisions of the Civil Discovery Act. Litigants often resort to these motions when an opposing or third party withholds information during the discovery phase of litigation. This formal request compels parties to produce documents, items, objects, witnesses, written responses, and testimony, unveiling crucial evidence for trial. 

An aggrieved party can initiate a motion to compel responses or further responses, accompanied by a request for sanctions against a non-compliant party (Code of Civ. Proc., §§ 2030.290, 2030.300). The timing of such motions hinges on verified responses, with a 45-day limit for inadequate responses to interrogatories, inspection demands, or requests for admission (Code of Civ. Proc., § 2030.300(c)). Unverified written responses are deemed non-responses (Code of Civ. Proc., § 2030.250). For deponent-related matters, timing varies, with a 60-day limit for compelling answers at a deposition (Code of Civ. Proc., § 2025.480(b)). 

Considerations extend beyond procedural timelines. Aligning with summary judgment filing deadlines or trial dates is crucial, as discovery motions must be heard at least 15 days before the initially scheduled trial (Code of Civ. Proc., § 2024.020(a)). Failure to adhere to these time limits is not only a procedural necessity but also jurisdictional (Sexton v. Superior Court, 58 Cal.4th 1403, 1409). 

Beyond temporal concerns, parties and attorneys must weigh the potential misuse of discovery, as monetary sanctions may be imposed for such transgressions (Code of Civ. Proc., § 2023.030(a)). The court is mandated to impose sanctions unless substantial justification is demonstrated (Code of Civ. Proc., § 2023.030). 

Sanctions serve the fundamental purpose of compelling the disclosure of discoverable information, promoting the efficient and economical disposition of cases (Marriage of Economou, 224 Cal.App.3d 1466, 1475). Parties should carefully assess whether a motion to compel is worthwhile, considering the potential cost and time investment. Thoughtful consideration is essential, as these motions can be expensive and time-consuming, yielding minimal results. 

Before initiating a motion to compel, parties must engage in a “reasonable and good faith attempt at an informal resolution” (Code of Civ. Proc., § 2016.040). The importance of meeting and conferring is underscored, as it may obviate the need for a formal motion. 

Parties should also be mindful that filing an unsuccessful motion to compel may constitute a misuse of the discovery process, risking sanctions (Code of Civ. Proc., § 2023.010(h)). The court may impose monetary sanctions against parties or attorneys who unsuccessfully make or oppose a motion to compel (Code Civ. Proc., § 2030.290(c), 2030.300(d)). 

While motions to compel are potent tools for obtaining evidence, they should be reserved for situations where alternative discovery methods are impractical. Parties should explore all available options before resorting to formal motions, ensuring the judicious use of court time and resources. 

In conclusion, parties contemplating a motion to compel must meticulously evaluate its necessity, potential risks, and rewards. The article is provided for general informational purposes, and its content should not be construed as legal advice for any specific case or situation. Viewing or receipt of this information does not establish an attorney-client relationship. 


By W. Ethan McCallum, Esq.