United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
LORI MOECK, et al., Plaintiffs.
PLEASANT VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.
KAROLINE MEHALCHICK, Magistrate Judge.
Pending before this Court is a Motion to Determine the Sufficiency of Plaintiffs' Responses and/or Objections filed by the School District Defendants with respect to one-hundred and fifty-six (156) Requests for Admissions (Doc. 69) filed by Defendants. Specifically, Defendants request this Court to deem these requests as admitted. (Doc. 69). The Defendants additionally request the Court to compel Plaintiff to pay the School District Defendants' costs for bringing this motion. (Doc. 69). Plaintiffs contend that their responses to the requests for admissions satisfy the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(a). (Doc. 70). For the reasons provided below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Defendants' motion to impose sanctions is deferred.
I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Defendants served Requests for Admissions on Plaintiff on February 19, 2014, (Doc. 69) and Plaintiffs responded to those requests on April 4, 2014, two weeks after the thirty (30) day deadline. (Doc. 69). Defendants then allowed Plaintiffs numerous opportunities to file an amended response. (Doc. 69). Plaintiffs refused to amend the responses in a letter dated May 16, 2014. (Doc. 69). Subsequently, Defendants filed a Motion to Determine the Sufficiency of Responses and/or Objections to Requests for Admissions, and now seeks to have this Court deem the requests for admission as admitted. (Doc. 69).
A. LEGAL STANDARD
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(a) governs requests for admissions and specifically addresses the procedure for denying requests or qualifying partial admissions or denials. It provides, in relevant part:
The answer shall specifically deny the matter or set forth in detail the reasons why the answering party cannot truthfully admit or deny the matter. A denial shall fairly meet the substance of the requested admission, and when good faith requires that a party qualify an answer or deny only a part of the matter of which an admission is requested, the party shall specify so much of it as is true and qualify or deny the remainder. An answering party may not give lack of information or knowledge as a reason for failure to admit or deny unless the party states that the party has made reasonable inquiry and that the information known or readily obtainable by the party is insufficient to enable the party to admit or deny.
Fed.R.Civ.P.36(a). The purpose of the Rule is to "narrow the issues for trial to those which are genuinely contested." United Coal Cos. v. Powell Const. Co., 839 F.2d 958, 967 (3d. 1988) (citations omitted). Once a party has submitted answers or objections to a request, the requesting party may seek a judicial determination of the sufficiency of the answers. If the court concludes the party failed to comply with Rule 36, the Court has discretion to "order the matter admitted or... compel the party to amend its answer to the admission." Philadelphia Gear Corp. v. Techniweld, Inc., Civ.A.No.90-5671, 1992 WL 99622, at * 2 (E.D. Pa. May 1, 1992). The responses at issue here have been grouped into three categories. Each category is discussed in turn.
B. RESPONSES THAT REFUSE TO ADMIT OR DENY REQUESTS WITH ATTACHED EXHIBITS.
This category pertains to requests for admission that specifically ask about information included in attached exhibits. Responses to requests with attached exhibits that fall within this category include the following: 1, 2, 21, 22, 23, 35, 56, 131, 134, 135, 136, 137, 144, 149, 250, 151, 152, 154, 155, and 156. (Doc. 69). These responses neither admit nor deny the request, but rather include the following statement: "Plaintiff has made a reasonable inquiry into the information readily available to it and that information is insufficient to enable the Plaintiff to admit or deny." (Doc. 69).
At issue is whether Plaintiffs improperly claimed that they lacked sufficient information after "reasonable inquiry" to enable them to admit or deny a request. Pursuant to Rule 36, an answering party may not give lack of information as a reason for failure to admit or deny unless the party states that a reasonable inquiry has been made and that the "information known or readily obtainable to the party is insufficient to enable the party to admit or deny." Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a). However, mere superficial inclusion of that statement does not excuse the answering party from actually conducting a reasonable inquiry. In particular, "a party may not refuse to admit or deny a request for admission based upon a lack of personal knowledge if the information relevant to the request is reasonably available to him." 8 c. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, 2262 at 731 (1970). "Reasonably available, " in the context of requests for admission, includes "investigation and inquiry of any of [plaintiff's]... personnel, who conceivably, but in realistic terms, may have information which may lead to or furnish the necessary and appropriate response. In this connection, relevant documents and regulations must be reviewed as well." Kutner Buick, Inc. v. Crum & Foster Corp., Civ.A.No. 95-1268, 1995 WL 508175, at *3 n. 2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 24, 1995). Thus, "at the conclusion of discovery, [plaintiff] reasonably should possess the information necessary unambiguously to admit or deny these statements... [If plaintiff is unable to, plaintiff] must elaborate on the specific unknown facts which prevent it from admitting or denying the statement at this time." Philadelphia Gear Corp., Inc., 1992 WL 99622, at *2. Accordingly, the Court can order admitted matters which the Plaintiffs have failed to admit or deny, where the information known or readily obtainable after reasonable inquiry was sufficient to enable the answering party to admit or deny.
1. Requests that will be deemed admitted.
Here, the Court has reviewed this category of responses and finds responses to requests 1, 2, 21, 35, 40, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 144, 149, 150, 152, 153, 154, 155 and 156 to be insufficient due to the availability of the information provided to Plaintiffs in the form of attached exhibits. These requests explicitly call for an unequivocal answer. For example, the first request asks Plaintiffs to admit that "Arnold was Superintendent of the School District from July 3, 2007 until his retirement on July 31, 2013" and includes as an attachment, Arnold's curriculum vitae. (Doc. 69). The curriculum vitae contains the information necessary to admit or deny ...