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N.U. v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

April 5, 2017

N.U., a minor, by and through her father and next friend, HERIBERTO UNZUETA, and her mother and next friend, ELBA UNZUETA, Plaintiffs,


          K. Gary Sebelius U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         This matter comes before the court upon Plaintiffs' Motion Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 36(a)(4) and 37(c)(2) Arising Out of Defendant's Failure to Comply with Request for Admissions (ECF No. 113). Plaintiffs ask the court to determine the sufficiency of defendant's denials of several requests for admissions, which plaintiffs characterize as improper “unexplained denials.” Plaintiffs also seek sanctions for what they contend are two denials that have been proven true. Defendant opposes the motion. For the reasons stated below, plaintiffs' motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs, the Unzuetas, bring this action on behalf of N.U., their minor daughter who was injured after the dress she was wearing caught fire, causing severe burns to her body. The Unzuetas assert negligence and strict products liability claims against Defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which plaintiffs allege sold the Faded Glory dress N.U. was wearing and which plaintiffs allege participated in the design and development process of the Faded Glory brand of apparel.

         On December 19, 2016, Wal-Mart served its responses to the Unzuetas' requests for admission. Wal-Mart denied several of the requests for admission, including Request Nos. 16 and 17. Request No. 16 asks Wal-Mart to admit that a Children's Mercy Hospital invoice is reasonable in amount.[1] Request No. 17 asks Wal-Mart to admit that the invoice reflects medically necessary services rendered to the minor plaintiff.[2] During the deposition of Dr. Richard Korentager, one of Wal-Mart's expert witnesses, Dr. Korentager testified that the Children's Mercy Hospital charges of $365, 503.31 “sounds what-reasonable for the charges that would be-” and that he believed that Children's Mercy Hospital was “billing a fair amount for the services.”[3]

         The Unzuetas contend that Wal-Mart's denials to their requests for admission require an explanation and are therefore improper. They also argue that Dr. Korentager's deposition testimony is contradictory to Wal-Mart's denials of Request Nos. 16 and 17 and that Wal-Mart should be subjected to sanctions for these allegedly improper denials. Wal-Mart argues that Rule 36 does not require an explanation of a denial. Wal-Mart also contends that the Unzuetas bear the burden of establishing the reasonableness of the minor plaintiff's medical charges and medical services and that these matters have not been established. Therefore, Wal-Mart contends that it has not improperly denied Request Nos. 16 and 17. Wal-Mart seeks fees incurred in responding to the Unzuetas' motion.

         II. Discussion

         Rule 36 governs requests for admission. Rule 36(b)(6) allows the requesting party to move for a determination regarding the sufficiency of a response or objection to a request for admission. In this case, the Unzuetas argue that Wal-Mart's responses are deficient because Wal- Mart did not explain its denials. Rule 36(a)(4) addresses answering a request for admission. It provides,

If a matter is not admitted, the answer must specifically deny it or state in detail why the answering party cannot truthfully admit or deny it. A denial must fairly respond to the substance of the matter; and when good faith requires that a party qualify an answer or deny only a part of a matter, the answer must specify the part admitted and qualify or deny the rest.

         The plain language of the rule does not require a party denying in full a request to admit to explain its denial. “[T]he use of only the word ‘denied' is often sufficient under the rule.”[4]Typically, a party qualifies or explains its answer only when it is denying part of the request and admitting or objecting to the remainder.[5] The Unzuetas cite no authority other than Rule 36(a)(4) for their position that Wal-Mart is required to explain its denials. The rule clearly does not support this interpretation. Although the Unzuetas' own instructions section in the requests for admission directed Wal-Mart to explain its denials, the court will not compel a responding party to do more than what is required by the Federal Rules when an opposing party unilaterally directs that the responding party do so.

         In their reply brief, the Unzuetas attempt to recast the argument-stating that Wal-Mart has made partial admissions in response to Request Nos. 16 and 17 “as reflected in the Motion, ” presumably meaning either Wal-Mart's response brief or the briefing on the pending motion for summary judgment. In either case, Wal-Mart provides no legal authority for these positions, and they do not appear to be supported by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or case law construing the requirements for responding to a request for admission. For these reasons, the court determines that Wal-Mart's denials are sufficient responses.

         The Unzuetas also seek costs and fees pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(2) for what they contend are improper denials of Request Nos. 16 and 17. Rule 37(c)(2) governs failing to admit. It provides,

If a party fails to admit what is requested under Rule 36 and if the requesting party later proves a document to be genuine or the matter true, the requesting party may move that the party who failed to admit pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees, incurred in making that proof.

         But the court must not order reasonable expenses if the request was held objectionable, the admission sought was not of substantial importance, the party failing to admit had a reasonable basis to believe it might prevail on the ...

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