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Loudermilk v. Best Pallet Co.

October 8, 2009

LOUDERMILK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BEST PALLET COMPANY, LLC, AND DAN LYONS, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge P. Michael Mahoney

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff was a general laborer until he was terminated in April 2006. He filed this lawsuit on December 2, 2006, alleging violations under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Before the court is Defendants' motion to determine the sufficiency of Plaintiff's second amended objections and answers to Defendants' first set of requests to admit. (Crt. Doc. 61.) Defendants challenge the sufficiency of Plaintiff's Responses to Request Numbers 21, 38, 55, 56, and 58--65.

II. Discussion

Requests to admit serve to narrow the issues at trial and can help parties limit the need for extensive discovery as to issues that can be addressed through Rule 36 admissions. Lambert v. Owens et al., 2002 WL 1838163, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14789, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 9, 2002) (Mahoney, M.J.). Under Rule 36, "A party may serve on any other party a written request to admit . . . the truth of any matters within the scope of Rule 26(b)(1) relating to facts, the application of law to fact, or opinions about either[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(a)(1)(A). The party upon whom a request for admission is served must either object or answer the request. Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(a)(4). A party may not object merely on the grounds that the request presents a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(a)(5).

If the party does not object, its answer must either admit the matter, deny the matter, or "state in detail why the answering party cannot truthfully admit or deny it." Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(a)(4). "The answering party may assert lack of knowledge or information as a reason for failing to admit or deny only if the party states that it has made reasonable inquiry and that the information it knows or can readily obtain is insufficient to enable it to admit or deny." Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(a)(4). A party may not "merely rely on his lack of personal knowledge when responding to requests to admit." Lambert, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14789, at *2. In some circumstances, Rule 36 requires a party to describe the specific reasons why, after its reasonable inquiry, the party still lacked knowledge sufficient to admit or deny the matter. See Cada v. Costa Line, Inc., 95 F.R.D. 346, 347--48 (N.D. Ill. 1982) ("Statements of inability to admit or deny are of course permitted by Rule 36, but they must be supported by specific reasons."); United States v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 83 F.R.D. 323, 333 (D.C.C. 1979).

Whether an inquiry is reasonable depends on the facts of the case. Hanley v. Como Inn, Inc., 2003 WL 1989607, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7130, at *4, 6--7 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 28, 2003). Generally, a responding party complies with Rule 36(a)(4) by consulting persons under its control. Id. at *5. "'Reasonable inquiry includes investigation and inquiry of any of [a responding party's] officers, administrators, agents, employees, servants, enlisted or other personnel, who conceivably, but in realistic terms, may have information which may lead to or furnish the necessary and appropriate response.'" Taborn v. Unknown Officers, 2001 WL 138908, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1932, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 16, 2001) (quoting T. Rowe Price Small-Cap Fund, Inc. v. Oppenheimer & Co., 174 F.R.D. 38, 42 (S.D.N.Y. 1997)). A "reasonable inquiry" may also require the responding party to consult third parties. Brown et al. v. Overhead Door Corp., 2008 WL 4614299, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82522, at *5--7 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 16, 2008) (Mahoney, M.J.); Lambert, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14789, at *2.

A responding party that cannot admit or deny a request outright may make an admission with a qualification or deny only part of a request. Climco Coils Co. v. Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc., 2006 WL 850969, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19796, at *2--3 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 28, 2006) (Mahoney, M.J.). Qualifying an admission may be necessary where improper inferences may be drawn from the admission. Id. at *4. Qualifications must be made in good faith, and the responding party must specifically state what part of the request is true. Id. "Likewise, if a respondent seeks to deny only part of a request, the respondent must state specifically what part of the request is true, and deny only the remainder." Id. When qualifying an admission or denying only part of a request, the party's responses must still "fairly meet[] the substance of the requested admission." Id. at *3--4.

If the requesting party believes the responding party to have answered insufficiently, it may move for the court to rule on the answer's sufficiency. Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(a)(6). If the court finds the answer insufficient, it may order the responding party to amend the answer. Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(a)(6). The court may also simply order the matter admitted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(a)(6).

If a party fails to admit an assertion set forth in a Rule 36 request to admit and the requesting party later proves a document to be genuine or an assertion to be true, the responding party may have to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees, incurred in making that proof. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(2). The court must order payment of the reasonable expenses unless one of the following is true: "(A) the request was held objectionable under Rule 36(a); (B) the admission sought was of no substantial importance; (C) the party failing to admit had a reasonable ground to believe that it might prevail on the matter; or (D) there was other good reason for the failure to admit." Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(2)(A)--(D).

III. Requests to Admit Numbers 21, 38, 55, and 59

Request Numbers 21, 38, 55, and 59 asked Plaintiff to verify the genuineness of documents. Request Number 21 sought the following admission: "The 'Employee Disciplinary Action Notices' dated April 26, 2006 and produced by Defendants as document BP477, is a copy of the Employee Disciplinary Action Notice regarding Plaintiff prepared by Juan Campos on April 26, 2006 ('Plaintiffs [sic] 4/26/06 Disciplinary Action Notice')." (Defs.' Mot. Ex. H.) Plaintiff responded,

Plaintiff admits that Defendants produced document BP477 during discovery, and that BP477 purports to be an Employee Disciplinary Action Notice regarding Plaintiff allegedly prepared by Juan Campos on April 26, 2006. Plaintiff denies ever being shown the alleged 'Employee Disciplinary Action Notice' dated April 26, 2006 and produced by Defendants as documents BP477, prior to his filing the instant lawsuit, or that any such Notice was issued. Plaintiff is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the remaining allegations in Request No. 21. (Id.)

Request Number 38 sought the following admission: "The documents produced by Defendants as BP288 through BP333 are copies of employment disciplinary and termination notices and related correspondence and records from Best Pallet's files." (Id.) Plaintiff responded, Plaintiff admits that Defendants produced documents BP288 through BP333 during discovery, and that BP288 through BP333 appear to be copies of employment disciplinary and termination notices and related correspondence and records from Best Pallet's files. Plaintiff is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth whether ...


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