I am pro se in a civil action in Massachusetts and the other side has sent me Interrogatories, do I have to answer them?
12 February 2017
Answer: If you want to have avoid possibly losing your case you have to answer and/or object properly.
Knowledge of the basics of the rules of civil procedure is necessary to either defending or pursuing a civil case. One basic idea is to understand that for almost all cases not filed in small claims, and even some that are in small claims, there is the ability for either party to obtain information and documents from the other side. This is called broadly “Discovery” and it is capitalized for a reason. If you do not provide fulfill your obligations in Discovery, you will likely lose your case.
In the example of the question above, Interrogatories is one tool litigants can use in Discovery. Essentially, they are questions that either must be answered under oath and/or objected to. Objections must have a basis, and it cannot be just that you do not want to answer the question/Interrogatory. Basically, if you ignore them, you can lose by default. This is because, if the other side follows the right procedure, you will lose. Mass. R. Civ. P. 33 governs Interrogatories and it has a provision that allows a party to win because the other side does not answer and/or object to Interrogatories.
Now, simply answering Interrogatories is not enough, the answers must be plenary, or full and complete. If you do not provide information that should have been provided in Discovery, like in an answer to an Interrogatory, the failure to provide that information can cost you.
For example, in the case of Cambridge YMCA v. Franks, a disgruntled tenant refused to pay rent based on the landlord’s failure to correct poor conditions which led to a case in housing court. 1998 Mass. App. Div. 242 (1998). The landlord was asked for certain documents in Discovery but did not provide them. At trial, the landlord attempted to introduce in evidence a “Resident Manual” and the tenant objected on the basis that it was not provided in Discovery and should have been. The housing court agreed and would not let the landlord introduce it into evidence at trial. Id. at 244. The landlord lost the case. The landlord appealed the issue, inter alia, and the Massachusetts Appellate Division found “the exclusion was a permissible penalty” because one of the remedies (or permissible sanctions) against a party for not providing Discovery is “prohibiting a party from introducing designated matters in evidence.” Id.
Doing a poor job in Discovery is something to avoid. In the event you are facing Discovery issues in a civil case in Massachusetts, feel free to give us a call to contemplate engaging this office to help.