Initial disclosures in California state courts

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With the enactment of Senate Bill No. 235 (“SB 235”), California state courts have moved closer to the Federal courts which requires disclosure of initial information in discovery.

Specifically, the new law amends California Code of Civil Procedure section 2016.090 and institutes a procedure for initial disclosures of information and documents that is similar to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The changes apply to civil actions filed on or after January 1, 2024, and remain in effect until January 1, 2027.

Key Provisions

  • SB 235 amends California Code of Civil Procedure section 2016.090 and imposes new discovery obligations requiring parties to make initial witness and document disclosures within sixty days of another party’s request. By triggering the duty to disclose information upon a request by the opposing party, SB 235 differs from Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 which requires parties to make initial disclosures within fourteen (14) days after the initial Rule 26(f) conference, or within thirty (30) days of the party’s appearance if the appearance is made after the Rule 26(f) conference.
  • SB 235 requires that courts impose a $1,000 sanction on parties that fail to comply/act in good faith with the new law.
  • The new law applies to all cases filed on or after January 1, 2024.
  • California Code of Civil Procedure section 2016.090 currently authorizes the court, with the stipulation of the parties to a civil action, to order the parties to provide initial disclosures within forty-five days of the court’s order. SB 235 amends section 2016.090 to require each party that has appeared in a civil action to provide initial disclosures within sixty (60) days of a demand by any party to the action unless the parties otherwise stipulate.
  • The initial disclosures must include the following:
    • “The names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of all persons likely to have discoverable information … that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defenses, or that is relevant to the subject matter of the action or the order on any motion made in that action.” SB 235 excludes information that would be used solely for impeachment. It also excludes expert witnesses and consultants whom a party later may designate as experts;
    • “A copy, or a description by category and location, of all documents” that fall within the same categories above; and
    • Any relevant insurance policies that may be used “to satisfy, in whole or in part, a judgment entered in the action or to indemnify or reimburse for payments made to satisfy the judgment.”
  • The disclosing party must verify the disclosures via a written declaration by the party or the party’s authorized representative or counsel.
  • The initial disclosure requirements do not apply to:
    • any party in an action who is not represented by counsel;
    • unlawful detainer actions;
    • actions brought in the small claims division of a court;
    • actions commenced under the Family Code or Probate Code; or
    • an action in which a party has been granted preference pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 36.
  • SB 235 makes it clear that “[a] party is not excused from making its initial disclosures because it has not fully investigated the case, because it challenges the sufficiency of another party’s disclosures, or because another party has not made its disclosures.”
  • In accordance with existing law, a party may propound supplemental demands for information twice before the initial setting of a trial date and once after the initial setting of a trial date.
  • SB 235 also raises the mandatory discovery abuse sanction from $250 to $1,000, upon a finding that a party “did not respond in good faith to a request for the production of documents,” “produced requested documents within seven days before the court was scheduled to hear a motion to compel production of the records,” or “failed to confer … in a reasonable and good faith attempt to resolve informally any dispute concerning the request.” The court may excuse the sanction upon making a written finding that the party “acted with substantial justification or that other circumstances make the imposition of the sanction unjust.”

Action Items

We assume that all counsel will serve a written demand for the initial disclosures as soon as practicable. Pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure sections 2030.020(b) and 2031.020(b), a plaintiff may propound interrogatories and inspection demands to a party without leave of court at any time that is ten (10) days after the service of the summons on, or appearance by, that party, whichever occurs first. Assuming the timing requirements apply to the demand for initial disclosures under SB 235, plaintiff’s attorneys may serve the written demand ten days after service of the Summons and Complaint. Regardless, upon receipt of a Summons and Complaint, a defendant should, as soon as practicable, provide their attorneys with all information and documents required to be disclosed

SB 235 is more onerous than its Federal counterpart, Rule 26(a)(1) which requires parties to disclose witnesses and documents “that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defenses.” SB 235 goes further than Rule 26 in that the parties must disclose witnesses and documents that are relevant to the case, which means that a party must disclose witnesses and documents that may potentially be harmful to its case.

SB 235 promotes a potentially streamlined discovery process that may force parties to evaluate their positions sooner than they otherwise would have. SB 235 also may reduce the amount of discovery needed by parties, given that the parties are now required to disclose all existing relevant witness information and documents at the outset.