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LLC v. Biothane, LLC

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

August 29, 2013

E3 BIOFUELS, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
BIOTHANE, LLC, successor in interest and liability to, PERENNIAL ENERGY, INC., MARVIN ENTERPRISES, INC. F/K/A, AMERICAN BOILER COMPANY, and KATZEN INTERNATIONAL, INC., Defendants.

ORDER

F.A. GOSSETT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff served responses to Defendant Perennial Energy, Inc.'s ("PEI") Requests for Admissions ("RFA") on May 31, 2013. PEI claims that Plaintiff's responses to certain requests contain improper objections. PEI has filed a motion requesting that the Court declare the requests admitted or order Plaintiff to supplement its responses. (Filing 246.) PEI's motion will be granted, in part.

DISCUSSION

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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. The purpose of Rule 36 is "to expedite trial by eliminating the necessity of proving undisputed issues and thus narrowing the range of issues for trial." Fisher v. Baltimore Life Ins. Co. , 235 F.R.D. 617, 623 (N.D. W.Va. 2006) (quotation and citation omitted).

"The court has substantial discretion to determine the propriety of such requests and the sufficiency of responses." National Independent Truckers Ins. Co. v. Gadway , No. 8:10CV253, 2011 WL 5554802, *2 (D. Neb. Nov. 15, 2011). "When passing on a motion to determine the sufficiency of answers or objections, the court obviously must consider the phraseology of the requests as carefully as that of the answers or objections." Id. (quotation and citation omitted). "The requesting party bears the burden of setting forth in necessary, but succinct, detail, the facts, events or communications to which admission is sought..." Id.

PEI makes multiple complaints about Plaintiff's RFA responses. First, PEI asserts that several of Plaintiff's responses are improper because they pose objections based on a distinction between an electronic version of exhibits that PEI sent to Plaintiff in connection with the RFA and the hard copy of those materials. For instance, in response to RFA No. 28, Plaintiff stated:

As a preliminary matter, plaintiff notes that the PDF file identified as Exhibit E' that was emailed to plaintiff's counsel by [PEI's] counsel is different than the paper copy of Exhibit E' appended to [PEI's] requests for admission.
To the extent this RFA is directed at the PDF version of Exhibit E, ' this request is denied.
To the extent this RFA is directed at the paper copy of Exhibit E, ' plaintiff admits that this document is a true and accurate copy...

(Filing 248-1.) PEI argues that because the electronic version was sent merely as a courtesy, Plaintiff should not have referenced it when responding to the requests.

The Court finds PEI's arguments in this regard unconvincing. Given the large amount of discovery disputes that have arisen over the course of this litigation, Plaintiff can hardly be blamed for inserting these objections and/or explanations. PEI is responsible for the inconsistencies between the two sets of materials and Plaintiff dealt with these inconsistencies in a reasonable manner, especially considering the history of this case. Plaintiff's inclusion of the complained-of statements does not render its responses unclear or otherwise inappropriate.

PEI next maintains that Plaintiff's objection to RFA No. 43 on the basis that the request seeks a legal conclusion is improper. PEI claims that this request seeks an admission pertaining to the application of law to fact and/or Plaintiff's opinions regarding the same, particularly, that Dennis Langley had an "obligation to ensure" the project's success as a result of "guarantees" he provided for the construction of the Ethanol Plant. (Filing 248-1.)

It is true that a party may serve requests for admission that seek the application of law to fact. However, "[r]equests for admission are properly objectionable when they call for a conclusion of one of the ultimate issues in the case... Where issues in dispute are requested to be admitted, a denial is a perfectly reasonable response." Williamson v. Correctional Med. Serv., No. 06-379, 2009 WL 1364350, *2 (D. Del. May 14, 2009) (citations omitted). Moreover, "[e]ven though a request may be phrased to appear factual, if it encroaches on legal turf, or reaches the ultimate decision of the court, the request will be seen as seeking a legal conclusion and cannot be compelled." Phillip N. Adams & Assoc, LLC v. Dell, Inc., No. L05-CV-64, 2007 WL 128962, *2 (D. Utah Jan. 11, 2007).

RFA No. 43 encroaches upon a legal question. (Filing 248-1.) As pointed out by Plaintiff, this request seeks an admission by Plaintiff that legal duties or obligations arose purely as a result of certain "guarantees" made by Mr. Langley in connection with the construction of the Ethanol Plant. In any event, despite Plaintiff's objection, it nonetheless partially admitted the request, providing a detailed explanation regarding its response. ( Id. ) In particular, Plaintiff stated that Mr. Langley provided guarantees for various reasons pertaining to the Plant and that Mr. Langley would not have provided guarantees if he did ...


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