United States District Court, E.D. California
ALLISON CLAIRE, Magistrate Judge.
On September 10, 2014, the court heard oral argument on defendant Pacific Commercial Services, LLC's ("Pacific") motion to compel. David Tate appeared for plaintiff Carolina Casualty Insurance Company's ("plaintiff"); Page Perry appeared for defendant Oahu Air Conditioning Service, Inc. ("Oahu"); and Christopher Johnson appeared for Pacific. After carefully considering the parties' papers and arguments, Pacific's motion to compel is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The court's prior order on Pacific's motion to dismiss provides the relevant factual background giving of this action:
In October 2010, plaintiff issued an insurance policy to Smith, a transportation company that specializes in transporting hazardous waste to disposal sites. (FAC ¶ 9.) In July 2011, Smith transported a trailer loaded with hazardous material from San Jose, California to a waste disposal site in Sacramento, California. (Id. ¶ 11.) After Smith delivered the trailer, the Sacramento Police Department was called to the disposal site because the trailer was observed emitting white smoke. (Id. ¶ 12.) After several hours, an active fire broke out and completely engulfed the trailer. (Id.) A subsequent investigation revealed that the trailer contained refrigerator waste oil that Oahu had shipped to California for disposal, and that the fire resulted in the release of hazardous vapors and contaminated water runoff into the environment. (Id. ¶ 13.)
As a result of this incident, a number of claimants issued Smith notices of violation and demanded that it pay for the cleanup of the hazardous waste spill from the trailer. (Id. ¶ 22.) Pursuant to Smith's insurance policy, which required plaintiff to provide a defense and indemnify Smith from any claims resulting from a hazardous waste spill, plaintiff settled and paid upon numerous claims brought against plaintiff by several claimants, including the City of Sacramento, the County of Sacramento, and Clean Harbor Environmental Services. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) In addition, plaintiff reimbursed Smith for its cleanup expenses and indemnified it against additional personal injury damages. (Id. ¶ 25.)
Plaintiff alleges that defendants were involved in the supply, packing, and transportation of the refrigerator waste oil that Smith transported to Sacramento. (Id. ¶¶ 17-21.) As a result, plaintiff and Smith issued a claim and demand to defendants for reimbursement of the payments plaintiff incurred as a result of the hazardous waste spill. (Id. ¶ 26.) Defendants did not pay. (Id.)
Plaintiff then brought this action seeking: (1) subrogation pursuant to Section 112(c) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act ("CERCLA"), 42 U.S.C. § 9612(c); (2) contribution pursuant to Section 113(f) of CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. § 9613(f); (3) contribution and/or indemnity pursuant to the Hazardous Substance Account Act ("HSAA"), Cal. Health & Safety Code § 25363; (4) equitable indemnity under California common law; (5) allocation and apportionment of fault under California common law; (6) contribution under California common law; and (7) subrogation under California common law. (Docket No. 7.)
ECF No. 22 at 2-3.
II. LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Requests for Admissions
Rule 36(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides:
A party may serve on any other party a written request to admit, for purposes of the pending action only, the truth of any matters 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.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 36(a)(1). The purpose of requests for admission is to narrow the issues for trial by identifying and eliminating those matters on which the parties agree. Safeco of Am. v. Rawstron , 181 F.R.D. 441, 443 (C.D. Cal. 1998). A matter is deemed admitted unless the responding party serves a written answer or objection within thirty days of service of the request. Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(3). If an objection is made in place of an admission or denial, the responding party must state the reasons for the objection. Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(5). If the court finds an objection is not justified, "it must order that an answer be served." Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(6). "On a finding that an answer does not comply with [Rule 36], the court may order either that the matter is admitted or that an amended answer be served." Id.
"Parties may not view requests for admission as a mere procedural exercise requiring minimally acceptable conduct. They should focus on the goal of the Rules, full and efficient discovery, not evasion and word play." Marchand v. Mercy Med. Ctr. , 22 F.3d 933, 938 (9th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). "[A] party who is unable to agree with the exact wording of the request for admission should agree to an alternate wording or stipulation." U.S. ex rel. Englund v. L.A. Cnty. , 235 F.R.D. 675, 684 (E.D. Cal. 2006) (citing Marchand , 22 F.3d at 938). "Instead of admitting or denying the request for admission, a party may respond by claiming inability (lack of sufficient information) to admit or deny the matter stated in the request... [b]ut a party responding in this manner must also state that he or she has made reasonable inquiry and that the information known or readily obtainable by the party is insufficient to enable the party to admit or deny.'" Englund , 235 F.R.D. at 684 (quoting Fed. R. Div. P. 36(a)).
Finally, it is not ground for objection that the request is "ambiguous" unless so ambiguous that the responding party cannot, in good faith, frame an intelligent reply. Parties should "admit to the fullest extent possible, and explain in detail why other portions of a request may not be admitted." Failure to do so may result in sanctions.
Id. at 685 (citing Marchand , 22 F.3d at 938).
Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, interrogatories must be "answered separately and fully in writing under oath." Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(3). A party is obligated to respond to the fullest extent possible and state any objections with specificity. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(3), (b)(4). While extensive research is not required, a reasonable effort to respond must be made. L.H. v. Schwarzenegger, No. S-06-2042 LKK GGH , 2007 WL 2781132, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Sep. 21, 2007). In a motion to compel, the moving party bears the burden of showing why the other party's responses are inadequate or their objections unjustified. See Williams v. Cate, No. 1:09-cv-00468 LJO JLT PC , 2011 WL 6217378, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Dec.14, 2011) (citing Ellis v. Cambra, No. 1:02-cv-05646-AWI-SMS PC , 2008 WL 860523, at *4 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 27, 2008)). A district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to require answers to interrogatories. See 8A WRIGHT, MILLER & MARCUS, FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 2176 at 311 & n. 1 (Civil 2d ed. 1994).
As a threshold matter, the court notes that the parties' joint statement does not fully comply with Local Rule 251(c) because it fails to reproduce in full each specific request objected to and the objection thereto; or to include "respective arguments and supporting authorities of the parties... set forth immediately following each such objection." L.R. 251(c). Nevertheless, objections and the parties' respective arguments and supporting authorities are summarized to the extent the court can understand which requests and interrogatory responses Pacific seeks to put in issue.
On June 6, 2014, Pacific served the requests for admissions and interrogatories at issue on plaintiff. Johnson Decl. Exs. A-B, ECF No. 69-1. On July 18, 2014, plaintiff served its responses. Id . Exs. C-D.
The parties exchanged correspondence regarding the discovery dispute beginning on August 4, 2014. See id. Ex. E. On August 8, 2014, plaintiff's counsel indicated it would provide amended responses to the disputed requests. Id . Ex. F; see also id. Exs. G-H (subsequent correspondence between the parties).
On August 15, 2014, Pacific filed the instant motion to compel. ECF No. 68. On August 22, 2014, plaintiff amended its responses to the request for admissions and interrogatories. Tate Decl. Exs. A-B, ECF No. 71. On September 3, 2014, the parties filed their joint statement regarding the discovery dispute. ECF No. 69.
A. Requests for Admissions Numbers 7-15
Pacific asks the court to deem request numbers 7-15 admitted because plaintiff failed to answer each request and offered no facts to support its claims. ECF No. 69 at 15. Pacific argues under Rule 36(a)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "[i]f 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" and plaintiff "refused to respond" to each of the requests at issue. Id. at 15-16. Pacific argues "[p]laintiff's response[s] reflect an unwillingness to take a position on any factual issues, unnecessarily prolonging the litigation and violating the purpose of" Rule 36. Id. at 16. Further, Pacific argues plaintiff waived any objection to the term "drum" as used in some of the requests because plaintiff failed to object to the term as vague or ambiguous. Id. at 17.
In opposition, plaintiff argues it amended its responses to request numbers 7-15 on August 22, 2014 during the parties' meet and confer. ECF No. 69 at 27, 30-34; see also Tate Decl. Ex. A. Plaintiff further argues there is "no legal authority or factual justification for" the court to deem its responses to request numbers 7-15 admitted. Id. at 34.
With regard to whether the court should deem the responses admitted, Pacific further argues plaintiff cannot withdraw or amend its "deemed" admissions. ECF No. 69 at 17. Pacific posits that "[a]lthough [p]laintiff did not raise the issue during the meet and confer, it may attempt to argue that it would be entitled to amend or withdraw the deemed' admissions, upon a showing that the admissions would subserve the presentation of the merits, and that withdrawal would not prejudice" defendant." Id. at 17-19.
The court questioned Pacific during the hearing on whether some of the issues in its motion to compel are moot in light of plaintiff's August 22, 2014 amended discovery responses. Pacific conceded request for admission numbers 10 and 15 are mooted by plaintiff's amended responses. Accordingly, the court DENIES Pacific's motion to compel responses to request numbers 10 and 15 as moot and will not deem the responses admitted or order a further response. Each remaining request will be addressed in turn below.
1. Request For Admission Nos. 7-8
Request No. 7: Admit that PCS is not the "owner and operator" of the ELDER CREEK YARD, as those terms are used in CERCLA §107(a)(1), 42 U.S.C. §9607(a)(1).
Request No. 8: Admit that PCS is not a person who "arranged for disposal or treatment" or any waste at the ELDER CREEK YARD, as those terms are used in CERCLA §107(a)(1), 42 U.S.C. §9607(a)(1).
Johnson Decl. Ex. C.
Response to Request Nos. 7 and 8: Objection: compound; misleading and misstates the law; and exceeds the scope of discovery and seeks an admission that is not relevant to a claim or defense of any party and not relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Further, discovery is continuing, there have not been full document productions and depositions have not been taken. The INCIDENT occurred at the Elder Creek yard location as the materials were in transport or transit from Oahu Air Conditioning and PCS in Hawaii to Utah for disposal.
Here, Pacific argues request numbers 7 and 8 are relevant to the action because they address Pacific's "potential exposure under three of the four categories of CERCLA liability, by establishing that [Pacific] is not the owner or operator of the holding yard where the fire occurred, and that [Pacific] ...