California Landmark Cases on Discovery Sanctions

In general, management of discovery lies within the sound discretion of the trial court. Thus, a discovery order is reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard. (County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (2005) 130 Cal.App.4th 1099, 1104.) The discovery act provides for powerful sanctions for abuse of discovery: "They include monetary sanctions, contempt sanctions, issue sanctions ordering that designated facts be taken as established or precluding the offending party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses, evidence sanctions prohibiting the offending party from introducing designated matters into evidence, and terminating sanctions that include striking part or all of the pleadings, dismissing part or all of the action, or granting a default judgment against the offending party." (Cedars-Sinai Medical Center v. Superior Court (1998) 18 Cal.4th 1, 12.) The trial court's selection of a particular discovery sanction is an exercise of discretion, "subject to reversal only for manifest abuse exceeding the bounds of reason." (Kuhns v. State of California (1992) 8 Cal.App.4th 982, 988; Cadiz Land Co. v. Rail Cycle (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 74, 117.) The trial court has broad discretion in deciding whether to impose discovery sanctions and is subject to reversal only for arbitrary, capricious, or whimsical action. (Parker v. Wolters Kluwer United States, Inc. (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 285, 297.) "Discovery sanctions are intended to remedy discovery abuse, not to punish the offending party. Accordingly, sanctions should be tailored to serve that remedial purpose, should not put the moving party in a better position than he would otherwise have been had he obtained the requested discovery, and should be proportionate to the offending party's misconduct." (Williams v. Russ (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1215, 1223.) Ordinarily, nonmonetary sanctions, such as terminating sanctions, may not be imposed for misuse of the discovery process absent a failure to obey an order compelling discovery. (Code Civ. Proc., 2030.290, subd (c); 2031.320, subd. (c); New Albertsons, Inc. v. Superior Court (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1403, 1422-1424; see also Weil & Brown, Cal. Practice Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (The Rutter Group 2008) PP 8:1184, 8:1187.10-1187.11, 8.1488-1489, pp. 8F-73-75, 8H-31.) Some courts, however, have held that nonmonetary sanctions may be imposed absent an order compelling discovery where the misconduct committed in connection with the failure to produce evidence in discovery is "sufficiently egregious" or "where it is reasonably clear that obtaining such an order would be futile." (New Albertsons, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 168 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1424-1426 and cases cited therein.) Moreover, at least one court has held that "a terminating sanction is appropriate in the first instance without a violation of prior court orders in egregious cases of intentional spoliation of evidence." (Williams v. Russ, supra, 167 Cal.App.4th at p. 1223 dismissal of malpractice action upheld where the plaintiff allowed destruction of most of his client files after obtaining them from the defendant.)