Failure to Translate Interrogatory Responses Leads to Sanctions
Responses to discovery interrogatories play such an important role in litigation that attorneys should allow non-native English-speaking clients to review a translation of interrogatory responses in their native language before certifying those responses as accurate and complete. Hiring a qualified translator to translate interrogatory responses into a client’s native language is the best way to ensure those responses are correct and avoid embarrassing and costly errors that may emerge as litigation proceeds.
Beyond ignoring best practices, however, failing to allow a client to review interrogatory responses in their native language can violate a party’s duty to verify that the responses are correct. As the following case demonstrates, courts take this duty so seriously that breaching it can lead to sanctions.
Lumber Yard Counsel Uses Assistant for Mandarin Interpretation
In the 2012 case of Brill v. Queens Lumber Yard, William Brill sued Queens Lumber Yard after he was run over and seriously injured by a forklift owned by the company. One of the lumber yard’s managers with knowledge of the incident, Ching Kuei Chen, was a native Mandarin speaker with limited reading comprehension of English. As part of discovery, Brill submitted written interrogatories to Queens Lumber Yard.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33(b) requires a party answering interrogatories to sign them. Federal Rule 26(g) clarifies that by this signature, the party “certifies that to the best of the person’s knowledge, information, and belief formed after a reasonable inquiry” the responses are complete and correct.
Counsel for the lumber yard, who did not speak Mandarin, prepared the company’s responses to Brill’s interrogatories in consultation with Chen using an administrative assistant for the lumber yard who was fluent in both English and Mandarin as an interpreter. Following this process, Chen signed a notarized statement verifying that he “read the foregoing answers to interrogatories and knows the contents thereof, and the same are true to his knowledge, information and belief.” Counsel submitted this statement to Brill along with the interrogatory responses.
Mandarin-Speaking Client Admits He Didn’t Read Interrogatory Responses
During Chen’s deposition a few months later, Brill’s counsel confronted Chen with his interrogatory responses. Chen, who testified through a Mandarin deposition interpreter, then admitted that he had limited English reading comprehension and that he had read neither the verification statement he signed nor the lumber yard’s interrogatory responses that he purported to verify as correct. Moreover, Chen testified that the lumber yard’s counsel had not translated or read the statement or responses to him before he signed them.
Brill’s counsel then moved for sanctions, informing the court that Chen had not read the lumber yard’s interrogatory responses in Chinese. The court ordered counsel for the lumber yard to correct the error immediately, specifically directing counsel to secure a Mandarin interpreter for Chen and to review the interrogatory responses with him one by one. Counsel was further instructed to provide Brill with updated information about which responses were accurate.
Court Sanctions Lumber Yard for Failing to Translate Interrogatory Responses
In considering Brill’s motion for sanctions, the court held that the lumber yard, via Chen, had submitted improperly certified interrogatory responses in violation of Rules 33(b) and 26(g). In doing so, the court noted that Chen could not have verified the accuracy and completeness of the responses because he had not read them in his native language, Mandarin Chinese.
The court rejected the argument that the improper certification was not willful or done in bad faith. Rather, the court upbraided the lumber yard’s counsel for failing to ensure that Chen understood what he was being asked to sign. “It was defendants’ counsel’s responsibility to ensure . . . that the responses were read and translated to [Chen] before he signed the form swearing to their veracity,” the court held. Because counsel failed to do so without substantial justification, the court imposed sanctions on Queens Lumber Yard, requiring the company to pay Brill’s attorney’s fees and costs incurred to correct the flawed interrogatory responses and improper certification.
Noting Translation in Certification Can Avert Sanctions
Attorneys wishing to avoid the mistakes of Queens Lumber Yard’s counsel should consider amending their standard interrogatory response verification statement for non-native English speakers to include an express indication that the responses were translated into the client’s native language for their review. Earlier this year, the court in Bui v. Mid-Century Insurance Company considered a situation like that in Brill. In Bui, a non-native English-speaking plaintiff had her ex-husband—also a non-native English speaker—sign interrogatory responses on her behalf.
After opposing counsel raised the issue, counsel for the plaintiff submitted an amended certification that verified the ex-husband acted as the plaintiff’s agent. Moreover, the amended certification specified that the plaintiff had each of the interrogatory answers translated to her native language and confirmed that the answers were true and correct. The court relied heavily on this fact in denying opposing counsel’s motion for sanctions.
Hire a Qualified Translator to Review Interrogatory Responses with Non-Native English-Speaking Clients
Brill and Bui make clear that the best way to comply with the discovery obligation to certify interrogatories is to hire a qualified translator to provide your non-native English-speaking client with an accurate translation of the responses in their native language before they sign them. All Language Alliance, Inc. provides competent interpreters and translators fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Mongolian, French, Hebrew, Romanian, Arabic, Turkish, and many other languages for deposition prep meetings, depositions, and for interpreting discovery interrogatory responses into your client’s native language.
Brill v. Queens Lumber Yard, Inc., Case No. 10-CV-1975, was decided February 10, 2012, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Bui v. Mid-Century Insurance Company, Case No. 19-20053, was decided on January 15, 2021, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
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