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Duchesneau v. Cornell University

October 19, 2010

RANDALL DUCHESNEAU PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORNELL UNIVERSITY, ET AL. DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lynne A. Sitarski United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM

Presently before this Court is Defendant Cornell University's Motion to Overrule Plaintiff's Objections and Compel Discrete Responses to Defendant's Requests for Admission Nos. 2-5, 7, 9, and 19-22 (Doc. No. 32). Plaintiff has opposed this motion (Doc. No. 35). By Order dated September 8, 2010, Judge C. Darnell Jones referred this discovery motion to the undersigned for disposition. I heard Oral Argument on this motion on October 5, 2010.

As more fully set forth herein, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

"It is well-established that the scope and conduct of discovery are within the sound discretion of the trial court." Guinan v. A.I. duPont Hosp. for Children, No. 08-228, 2008 WL 938874, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 7, 2008) (quoting Marroquin-Manriquez v. INS, 699 F.2d 129, 134 (3d Cir. 1983)). As long as the information is relevant to the pending subject matter and not privileged, parties may utilize various discovery tools, even if the requested information would not be admissible at trial. Id. (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 26(b)(1)).

A party may serve requests for admission upon the opposing party concerning "statements or opinions of fact or of the application of law to fact, including the genuineness of any documents described in the request." Creely v. Genesis Health Ventures, Inc., No. 04-0679, 2005 WL 44526, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 10, 2005) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 36(a)). "The purpose of Requests for Admission is to expedite the trial by establishing certain material facts as true, thus reducing the number of issues for trial." Guinan, 2008 WL 938874, at *1 (citing Creely, 2005 WL 44526, at * 2)). The requests should seek to establish facts already known by the party. Creely, 2005 WL 44526, at *2 (quoting Ghazerian v. United States, No. 89-900, 1991 WL 30746, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 5, 1991) (citation omitted)). Parties should limit requests to simple and concise statements of fact that "can be denied or admitted with an absolute minimum of explanation or qualification." Anthony v. Cabot Corp., No. 06-4419, 2008 WL 2645152, at *1 (E.D. Pa. July 3, 2008) (quoting United Coal Cos. v. Powell Constr. Co., 839 F.2d 958, 968-69 (3d Cir. 1988)).

If the opposing party objects to the request for admission, the requesting party can seek a judicial determination of the objection's sufficiency. Guinan, 2008 WL 938874, at *1 (citing United States v. Lorenzo, No. 89-6933, 1990 WL 83388, at *1 (E.D. Pa. June 14, 1990)). "In evaluating the sufficiency of the answers/objections, court should consider: (1) whether the denial fairly meets the substance of the Request; (2) whether good faith requires that the denial be qualified; and (3) whether any 'qualification' which has been supplied is a good faith qualification." McCarthy v. Darman, No. 07-3968, 2008 WL 2468694, at *2 (E.D. Pa. June 17, 2008) (citing Guinan, 2008 WL 938874, at *1) (citation omitted). Essentially, the court should compel an answer unless the objection is justifiable. Creely, 2005 WL 44526, at *2.

An objection merely stating that the request is "overly broad, burdensome, oppressive, vague or irrelevant is 'not adequate to voice a successful objection.'" Id. (quoting Josephs v. Harris Corp., 677 F.2d 985, 992 (E.D. Pa. 1982)). Rather, the objecting party must state specific reasons supporting such grounds. Id. Courts should not tolerate objections or denials based upon "hair-splitting distinctions that frustrate the purpose of the Request." Anthony, 2008 WL 2645152, at *1. A party may not object merely because of an unwarranted inference created by a request for admission taken out of context. See id. (citing McCarthy, 2008 WL 2468694, at *4); see also Caruso v. Coleman Co., No. 93-6733, 1995 WL 347003, at *1 (E.D. Pa. June 7, 2005) (citing Diederich v. Dept. of Army, 132 F.R.D. 614, 619 (S.D.N.Y. 1990)). Instead, the proper response is an admission or denial with sufficient qualification. Anthony, 2008 WL 2645152, at *1.

On the other hand, a request for admission that calls for a legal conclusion that is one of the ultimate issues of the case is properly objectionable. McCarthy, 2008 WL 2468694, at *1 (quoting First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Wallenstein, No. 92-5770, 1996 WL 729816, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 17, 1996)). However, the mere presence of legal conclusions in a request for admission does not create a proper objection. Id. A request for admission that applies law to the facts is also not objectionable. Penzak v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 07-1052, 2007 WL 1166087, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 16, 2007) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 36); see also First Options of Chicago, 1996 WL 729816, at *3. "Answers that appear to be non-specific, evasive, ambiguous, or that appear to go to the accuracy of the requested admissions rather than the essential truth contained therein are impermissible and must be amended." McCarthy, 2008 WL 2468694, at *2 (quoting Guinan, 2008 WL 938874, at *1) (citation omitted). Therefore, such requests must be admitted or denied. Id.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendant has moved to compel answers to Requests for Admission Numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 19, 20, 21 and 22. Applying the general legal standards set forth above, we address the sufficiency of Plaintiff's response to these requests herein.

A. Request Numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5

Requests 2, 3, 4, and 5 ask Plaintiff to admit that he never advised any representative of either Cornell University or the Cornell Gymnastics Club that he either did not understand or did not intend to be bound by the "Waiver and Assumption of Risk Agreement" ("Agreement") signed by Plaintiff prior to the accident at issue. Plaintiff objects to these Requests, arguing that the Requests pertain to "irrelevant information," constitute conclusions of law, and create unwarranted inferences.

Plaintiff's "relevancy" argument is based upon Plaintiff's contention that the Agreement is unenforceable under applicable law, and/or because the Agreement was signed the semester before the accident at issue.*fn1 Plaintiff's relevancy argument is unavailing. Requests 2, 3, 4, and 5 ask Plaintiff to admit that he never communicated to the University or to the Gymnastics Club that he did not understand and/or agree to be bound by the Agreement. Whether Plaintiff had any obligation to do so, or whether the Agreement might ultimately be determined unenforceable for any reason, are questions for another day. The enforceability and timing of the Agreement are inadequate bases for objection during discovery, ...


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