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West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. v. Rendell

October 20, 2006

WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
EDWARD G. RENDELL, GOVERNOR OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo

MEMORANDUM

This cases arises out of a dispute over whether Plaintiff is entitled to receive certain payments under the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Stabilization Act (hereinafter "the Trauma Act").*fn1 Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that its exclusion from classes authorized to receive trauma disproportionate share payments under the Trauma Act violates the Constitution's Equal Protection and Commerce Clauses, Title XIX of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1396 et seq. (hereinafter "the Medicaid Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and this court's October 18, 1990 order in West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. v. Casey, No. 1:86-cv-0955, slip. op. (M.D. Pa. Oct. 18, 1990) (hereinafter "the October 18, 1990 order").

Presently before the court is Defendants' Amended Rule 56(f) Motion (Doc. 39), in which Defendants seek to stay Plaintiff's summary judgment motion (Doc. 22) in order to conduct discovery relevant to the Equal Protection and Commerce Clause issues. The issue before the court is whether Defendants have satisfied the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) by providing an affidavit, identifying the information they seek, and explaining how the desired information would prevent summary judgment and why they have not previously obtained it. The parties have briefed the issue, and the matter is ripe for disposition. Because Defendants fail to sufficiently explain how the requested information would prevent summary judgment, the court will deny the motion.

I. History

On January 11, 2006, Plaintiff filed the complaint, seeking declaratory relief and monetary damages for its Equal Protection, Commerce Clause, Medicaid Act, § 1983, and judgment enforcement claims.*fn2 Five months later, on May 12, 2006, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 22) and a motion to enforce judgment (Doc. 25); the brief in support of both motions was filed on May 15, 2006 (Doc. 28). On June 15, 2006, Defendants filed a motion for discovery pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) (Doc. 33), stating that discovery was required before they could adequately respond to Plaintiff's summary judgment arguments on the Equal Protection and Commerce Clause issues. On June 16, 2006, Defendants also filed a brief opposing Plaintiff's motions (Doc. 34) that addressed only the issues pertaining to the Medicaid Act and judgment enforcement claims.*fn3

Defendants' brief in support of their Rule 56(f) motion argued that because Plaintiff's summary judgment motion was filed so early in the litigation, prior to any opportunity for discovery, the court should grant the Rule 56(f) discovery request "fairly freely." (See Doc. 33 at 1) (relying upon Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. The Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation, 323 F.3d 767, 773 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 n.5 (1986)). Otherwise, Defendants stated only that "they did not have sufficient information to permit them to submit opposing affidavits or otherwise respond to the averments in [P]laintiff's statement of undisputed material facts which support its claims premised upon the Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause." (Doc. 33 at 2.)

On June 23, 2006, the court held a telephonic conference call with the parties to try to clarify the nature and scope of Defendants' discovery request, during which Defendants' counsel maintained that general discovery was necessary in order to properly respond to the Commerce Clause and Equal Protection Clause issues raised in Plaintiff's summary judgment motion. On June 27, 2006, Plaintiff filed a motion to stay briefing pending the resolution of the Rule 56(f) motion (Doc. 36). On June 29, 2006, the court issued a Memorandum and Order granting Plaintiff's motion to stay further briefing until the resolution of the present motion (Doc. 38). In addition, the court found that Defendants' Rule 56(f) motion did not adhere to the requirements of Rule 56(f) as interpreted by the Third Circuit and ordered the Defendants to submit an amended Rule 56(f) motion that complied with those requirements. (Id.)

On July 10, 2006, Defendants filed an amended Rule 56(f) motion, a supporting brief and a declaration from James Hardy, the Deputy Secretary for the Office of Medical Assistance Programs at the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (Doc. 39). On August 3, 2006, Plaintiff filed its brief in opposition to Defendants' motion (Doc. 41), and on August 22, 2006, Defendants submitted their reply brief (Doc. 42).*fn4 Thus, the matter is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule 56(f) gives the district court discretion to delay action on a summary judgment motion in appropriate circumstances. St. Surin v. V.I. Daily News, Inc. 21 F.3d 1309, 1313 (3d Cir. 1994). Rule 56(f) provides:

Should it appear from the affidavits of a party opposing the [summary judgment] motion that the party cannot for reasons stated present by affidavit facts essential to justify the party's opposition, the court may refuse the application for judgment or may order a continuance to permit affidavits to be obtained or depositions to be taken or discovery to be had or may make such other order as is just.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f). In the Third Circuit, the rule has been interpreted as requiring an affidavit, identification of the information sought, and explanations of how the desired information would prevent summary judgment and why it had not already been obtained. Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co., 24 F.3d 508, 510-11 (3d Cir. 1994); Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 139-40 (3d Cir. 1988).

The Ninth Circuit has noted that where "a summary judgment motion is filed so early in the litigation, before a party has had any realistic opportunity to pursue discovery related to its theory of the case, district courts should grant any Rule 56(f) motion fairly freely." Assiniboine, 323 F.3d at 773. The Ninth Circuit's "fairly freely" touchstone does not entitle every non-moving party to discovery under Rule 56(f) when a summary judgment motion has been filed prior to discovery, but it does suggest a less stringent standard than when the parties have already engaged in discovery. See id. at 774 ("[W]here . . . no discovery whatsoever has taken place the party making a Rule 56(f) motion cannot be ...


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