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
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
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 the Sedgwick County defendants to plaintiff's December 21, 2012 requests for admission. (Doc. 381.) 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. 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 Sedgwick County's Responses and Objections to Richard's December 21, 2012 Requests for Admission (Doc. 381)
Richard served Sedgwick County with Requests for Admission on December 21, 2012. Sedgwick County timely responded on January 18, 2013. Richard objected to a number of Sedgwick County's responses by letter to counsel dated January 30, 2013. On February 4, counsel for Richard and Sedgwick County conferred at length and, on February 7, counsel for all parties participated in a conference to discuss discovery issues. Following that conference, Sedgwick County provided amended responses. Richard requests a finding that Sedgwick County's responses violate Fed.R.Civ.P. 36, and are therefore admitted, or that the court order Sedgwick County to prepare amended responses. Sedgwick County opposes the motion, arguing that it has properly responded to Requests Nos. 1, 4 and 5 and objected to Richard's Requests Nos. 10 through 17 on the basis that the requests inappropriately seek legal admissions regarding other defendants.
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." 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."
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. 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." When making an objection, the party must state the specific grounds for objecting. If the party objects, it bears the burden of persuasion to justify its objection.
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. 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. When evaluating the sufficiency of an answer, the court considers the phrasing of the request itself. 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.
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 Sedgwick County's responses to Requests for Admission Nos. 1, 4-5 and 10-17. Sedgwick County provided answers to a portion of the requests and objected to others. For ease of discussion, the court analyzes the answers in the same segments used by the parties. Requests for Admission Nos. 1, 4 and 5
Sedgwick County answered Requests Nos. 1, 4 and 5. These Requests ask whether Edgar Richard, Jr. had a "clearly established constitutional right" to mental health care (Req. No. 1) and to "not be subject to deliberate indifference to his clearly established right to mental health care" (Req. No. 4) and "to not be subject to excessive force from a law enforcement officer." (Req. No. 5.) In its initial responses to Requests Nos. 1 and 5, Sedgwick County answered "denied as phrased, " and provided a discussion of the legal standards applicable to an alleged violation of the Eighth Amendment by jail officials. Sedgwick County stated that the "constitutional right" as qualified by its ...