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Richard v. Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

July 10, 2013

RONELL RICHARD, as Special Administrator of the Estate of EDGAR RICHARD, JR., DECEASED, Plaintiff,
SEDGWICK COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, et al., Defendants. Consolidated with No. 10-1042-MLB.


KAREN M. HUMPHREYS, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the court on plaintiff's motion for a determination concerning the sufficiency of responses and objections by defendant Paul Murphy, M.D. to plaintiff's requests for admission. (Doc. 383.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion shall be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


This is a civil rights case in which plaintiff claims defendants used excessive force and provided substandard medical care to an inmate in the Sedgwick County Detention Facility. Plaintiff alleges that on February 15, 2008, Edgar Richard, Jr., who had a history of serious mental illness, was severely beaten by Deputy Manuel Diaz, a Sedgwick County jail employee. Plaintiff seeks to recover damages for personal injuries which Richard suffered as a result of that beating.[1] Because the parties are familiar with the nature of this case and the details giving rise to the plaintiff's pending motion(s), the court's discussion is limited to the issues pertinent to the rulings which follow.

Richard's Motion for Determination Concerning the Sufficiency of Murphy's Responses and Objections to Richard's December 21, 2012 Requests for Admission (Doc. 383)

Richard served Murphy with Requests for Admission on December 21, 2012. Murphy timely responded on January 18, 2013. Richard objected to a number of Murphy's responses by letter to counsel dated January 30, 2013. On February 7, counsel for all parties participated in a conference to discuss discovery issues. Following that conference, Murphy provided amended responses. Richard requests a finding that Murphy's responses violate Fed.R.Civ.P. 36 and are therefore admitted, or that the court order Murphy to prepare amended responses. Murphy opposes the motion, arguing that he has adequately responded to Requests Nos. 1-4 and properly objected to Richard's Requests Nos. 5-9, 11-14, and 16-17.[2]


This discovery dispute is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 36 which sets forth the standards for requests for admissions. The rule provides that parties "may serve on any other party a written request to admit... the truth of any matter within the scope of Rule 26(b)(1) relating to: (A) facts, the application of law to fact, or opinions about either; and (B) the genuineness of any described documents." Requests for admission serve "two vital purposes, both of which are designed to reduce trial time. Admissions are sought, first to facilitate proof with respect to issues that cannot be eliminated from the case, and secondly, to narrow the issues by eliminating those than can be."[3] Admissions are "not to discover additional information concerning the subject of the request, but to force the opposing party to formally admit the truth of certain facts, thus allowing the requesting party to avoid potential problems of proof."[4]

Rule 36 further instructs parties on the proper procedure for answering requests for admission. The responding party may answer under Rule 36(a)(4), object under Rule 36(a)(5), or both. An answer must admit the truth, "specifically deny, " or if a party cannot admit or deny, the party must "state in detail why [it] cannot truthfully admit or deny" the request.[5] Any denial must "fairly respond to the substance of the matter and, when good faith requires that a party qualify an answer or deny only part of a matter, the answer must specify the part admitted and qualify or deny the rest."[6] When making an objection, the party must state the specific grounds for objecting.[7] If the party objects, it bears the burden of persuasion to justify its objection.[8]

Under Rule 36(a)(6), the party requesting admissions may ask that the court decide the sufficiency of any answers. The determination of sufficiency ultimately rests within the court's discretion.[9] When presented with a question of sufficiency, the court follows the process set forth by Rule 36(a)(6). First, the court must determine the validity of any objections. If the court determines that an objection is justified, no answer is required. If the objection is found to be improper or invalid, an answer must be provided.[10] When evaluating the sufficiency of an answer, the court considers the phrasing of the request itself.[11] If the court finds an answer to be insufficient, the matter is either deemed admitted or the court may order that an amended answer be served.[12]

With these standards in mind, the court next analyzes the requests and objections in question.

Requests for Admission at Issue

Richard seeks an order regarding the sufficiency of Murphy's responses to Requests for Admission Nos. 1-4, 5-9, 11-14, and 16-17. Murphy answered a portion of the requests and objected to others. For ease of discussion, the court analyzes the answers in the same segments identified in the parties' briefing.

Request for Admission No. 1

Request No. 1 asked whether Edgar Richard, Jr. had a "clearly established constitutional right to mental health care." In his initial response to Request No. 1, Murphy answered "denied as phrased, " and provided a discussion of the legal standards applicable to an alleged violation of the Eighth Amendment by jail officials. Murphy also stated that this "constitutional right", as qualified by his explanation "is clearly established and applied to Edgar Richard, Jr." In his supplemental response to Request No. 1, Murphy amended his answer to read: "Denied. Paul Murphy, M.D. can and does admit that Edgar Richard, Jr., possessed the Eighth Amendment constitutional right described in the initial response... and can and does admit that right was clearly established." (emphasis added).

Richard argues that Murphy's answer is non-responsive and is instead a lecture on how jail officials may violate the Eighth Amendment. Murphy contends that he has properly qualified his response as permitted by Rule 36. Murphy ...

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