Deposition length in California is regulated by statute, but Courts retain power to modify the limits


Class action practitioners often handle a smaller portfolio of cases than, say, a firm specializing in personal injury matters.  As a result, that practice group is sometimes slower to experience procedural changes first hand.  This is particularly true when the changes do not generally apply to class actions.  One such example of this is the change last year regarding the length of depositions in California  Superior Court.  Code of Civil Procedure § 2025.290 limits the length of depositions to seven hours, absent specific exceptions: "Except as provided in subdivision (b), or by any court order, including a case management order, a deposition examination of the witness by all counsel, other than the witness' counsel of record, shall be limited to seven hours of total testimony."  One exception applies to any case deemed complex under Rule 3.400.  That exception has an extra twist to it:

(3) To any case designated as complex by the court pursuant to Rule 3.400 of the California Rules of Court, unless a licensed physician attests in a declaration served on the parties that the deponent suffers from an illness or condition that raises substantial medical doubt of survival of the deponent beyond six months, in which case the deposition examination of the witness by all counsel, other than the witness' counsel of record, shall be limited to two days of no more than seven hours of total testimony each day, or 14 hours of total testimony.

Code Civ. Proc. § 2025.290(b)(3).

In Certainteed Corporation v. Superior Court (January 8, 2014), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Three) was called upon to determine whether the discretion provided to the trial court generally in section 2025.290 applied to the 14-hour limit on depositions in complex actions involving a deponent suffering from a potentially terminal illness or condition.

Examining the statute, the Court found the language of (b)(3) to be ambiguous as to whether the trial court could modify the 14-hour limit imposed on depositions of deponents with the aforementioned health limitations.  Nevertheless, the Court found that a clear enough indication existed in the statute to conclude that the trial court had discretion to alter the limits in all circumstances:

The second sentence of section 2025.290, subdivision (a) includes language requiring the court to allow additional time to examine a deponent “beyond any limits imposed by this section” if additional time is “needed to fairly examine the deponent . . . . ”  (Italics added.) We hold that this exception applies not only to the seven-hour limit, but also expressly applies to “any limits imposed by this section,” which necessarily includes the 14-hour limit set out in subdivision (b)(3). The Legislature’s use of the words “this section,” rather than “this subdivision,” and “any limits,” rather than “the limit,” establishes that the exception applies not only to the seven-hour limit in subdivision (a), but also to the 14-hour limit in subdivision (b)(3).

Slip op., at 11.

So, a trial court can alter the presumptive limits on deposition length in section 2025.290, but, since you class action is probably complex, it doesn't really matter unless the deponent is not likely to live more than six months.

For appellate procedure wonks, the Court granted the petitions for a writ and issues an accelerated Palma notice, given the plaintiff's health and his right to a trial preference.