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Harte v. Johnson County

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 4, 2015

ADLYNN K. HARTE and ROBERT W. HARTE, Individually and as next friends of minor J. H. and minor L. H., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHNSON COUNTY, KANSAS BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, et. al, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

GERALD L. RUSHFELT, Magistrate Judge.

The Court addresses several motions: Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Discovery (ECF 129); Johnson County Defendants' Motion for Leave to File Surreply to Plaintiffs' Reply in Support of Their Motion to Compel Discovery (ECF 158); Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Sur-Surreply to Defendants' Surreply (Doc. 158-1) (ECF 174). The Court will grant the latter two motions, because there is no objection to either of them.

The first motion invokes Fed.R.Civ.P. 37 and D. Kan. Rule 37.2 for an order to compel Defendants "to provide proper discovery responses without objection...." (ECF 129 at 1). More specifically it addresses the adequacy or inadequacy of the responses of Defendant Frank Denning to interrogatories and requests for production. Plaintiffs fault him generally for failing to personally sign his answers to interrogatories and for providing allegedly incomplete and false information in his responses to requests for production. Subject to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the motion generally addresses the discretion of the Court. After thoroughly reviewing it and the memoranda of the parties, the Court grants it in part and denies it in part, as follows.

I. Duty to Sign Answers to Interrogatories.

Plaintiffs have sued The Board of Commissioners of Johnson County, Kansas, and eight other persons. The defendants include Frank Denning "in his individual and official capacities" as Sheriff of Johnson County, Kansas. (ECF 1 at 7). The complaint alleges the following claims against Denning and the co-defendants: Counts I, II, and III assert claims under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution for an allegedly improper search of the home of Plaintiffs, for related violations of their constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, and for use of excessive force. Counts V through X allege claims under state law against all defendants for trespass, assault, false arrest and imprisonment, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and for false light/invasion of privacy.

The memoranda of the parties, together with accompanying exhibits, suggest that Plaintiffs served interrogatories on Defendant Denning on October 14, 2014. ( See ECF 102). On November 17, 2014, he served his responses to them. ( See ECF 113). They include both answers with substantive information and objections. Defendant Denning did not personally sign the responses. The verification instead bears the following signature: "Capt. M. Pfannenstiel, Deputy Sheriff for Frank Denning, Sheriff of Johnson County, Kansas." (ECF 129-1 at 7).[1]

Plaintiffs argue the signature is inadequate and that Frank Denning as Defendant must himself sign his answers to the interrogatories. To the contrary, Sheriff Denning contends the signature of his deputy Michael Pfannenstiel satisfies the duty to sign. In support of this contention, Defendant raises a single argument, i.e. that Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(1)(B) authorizes him to designate his deputy to sign the answers.

The rule reads as follows:

(b) Answers and Objections.
(1) Responding Party. The interrogatories must be answered:
(A) by the party to whom they are directed; or
(B) if that party is a public or private corporation, a partnership, an association, or a government agency, by any officer or agent, who must furnish the information available to the party.

Defendant Denning argues that the interrogatories seek only information that arises from his official duties as Sheriff. He contends that, as an elected, governmental official of the county, Rule 33(b)(1)(B) includes him as someone who can delegate the duty to sign answers to interrogatories.

Plaintiffs disagree. They emphasize that the discovery seeks personal, as well as official, knowledge. They have sued Defendant Denning both in his personal and in his official capacity as Sheriff.

None of the parties has cited any authority for their respective interpretations of Rule 33 itself. In their reply memorandum Plaintiffs refer to "an absolute absence of precedent from this or any other federal court." The Court otherwise knows of none.

Rule 33(b)(1)(B) addresses a simple, basic, procedural question, i.e. who should sign responses under oath on behalf of a corporate or governmental entity. It anticipates and answers any suggestion that such an entity has no duty to sign them, because it lacks the human capacity to do so. And, consequently, it clearly states that some authorized person must indeed do the signing. As a practical matter the rule also recognizes that a corporate or governmental party may lack personal knowledge of the responses, yet requiring that someone must sign them upon his or her best knowledge and belief. The rule thus facilitates the discovery process, when a corporate or governmental ...


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