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O’Brien v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

    Brief Fact Summary.

    O’Brien (Plaintiff) sued the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) (Defendant) and served written interrogatories on Defendant during the discovery phase. Defendant refused to answer several interrogatories, claiming they improperly called for conclusions and opinions on legal theories. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33(b) only excludes interrogatories concerning purely legal issues unrelated to the facts of the case.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff was a member of the IBEW and was found distributing antiunion literature. Defendant charged Plaintiff with violating the IBEW constitution, held a hearing, and then fined Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued, claiming that the actions by Defendant violated his free speech under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). During discovery, Plaintiff served interrogatories on Defendant which asked: 1) what specific statements gave rise to the charges against him, and why they violated the IBEW constitution; 2) how the statements violated his responsibility to Defendant or interfered with Defendant’s obligations; and 3) how the provisions of the IBEW constitution Plaintiff allegedly violated withstood the application of the LMRDA. Defendant refused to answer these interrogatories, claiming they called for legal conclusions.  Plaintiff moved to compel answers. 

    Issue.

    Does Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33(b) allow interrogatories which call for opinions or conclusions, so long as they do not involve purely legal issues unrelated to the facts of the case?

    Held.

    (Edenfield, J.) Yes. The Rule only excludes interrogatories concerning purely legal issues unrelated to the facts of the case. While case law had previously prohibited interrogatories calling for opinions, contentions, or conclusions, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33(b) now allows for broader questioning. The Rule does still disallow interrogatories which extend to purely legal issues unrelated to the facts of the case. The third interrogatory, concerning the application of the LMRDA to the IBEW constitution called for a purely legal conclusion and was therefore improper. Defendant must answer the first two interrogatories, but not the last. Motion to compel discovery denied in part and granted in part. 

    Discussion.

    Interrogatories are a means of getting information from a party to the action.  Nonparties cannot be served interrogatories. Both parties and nonparties may be deposed, either orally or in writing. The difference between written interrogatories and depositions on written questions is that in a deposition, the party is considered to be answering the questions on his own whereas interrogatories are usually written with counsel.


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