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San Diego Unified Port District v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburg PA

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 5, 2017

SAN DIEGO UNIFIED PORT DISTRICT, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURG, PA, Defendant.

          ORDER ON JOINT MOTION FOR DETERMINATION OF DISCOVERY DISPUTE REGARDING REQUESTS FOR ADMISSIONS SET THREE ECF NO. 53]

          HON. MITCHELL D. DEMBIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before this Court is the parties' Joint Motion for Determination of Discovery Dispute filed on August 9, 2017. (ECF No. 53). The Joint Motion presents Defendant's challenges to Plaintiff's responses to six requests for admission (“RFAs”). In this case, Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief and damages for bad faith against Defendant. (ECF No. 14). In essence, the case presents a dispute in which Plaintiff challenges Defendant's determination that two insurance policies are exhausted and that an umbrella policy does not cover certain continuing obligations from a total of four exhausted policies. The manner in which Defendant determined to allocate payments such that two of the policies are exhausted is in issue as well as the extent to which the umbrella policy steps into the shoes of the underlying policies. It is against this backdrop that the discovery dispute must be decided.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 26(b)(1), Fed. R. Civ. P., provides that parties may obtain discovery of “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1) (emphasis added). The Rule also provides that “[i]nformation within the scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Id.

         Counsel for Defendant, the venerable Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP appears unaware that the Federal of Rules of Civil Procedure, including Rule 26(b)(1), were amended effective December 1, 2015. With more than 1100 lawyers in 41 offices in the United States, the firm should have received news of the amendments by now. But, at page 3 of Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities filed in support of this Motion, Defendant misstates the Rule by referring to an earlier version stating:

The parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter that is (1) “not privileged” and (2) “relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action.” FRCP 26(b)(1). The scope of discovery under the FRCP is extremely broad.

(ECF No. 53-1 at 3).

         Defendant also relies upon Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 427 U.S. 340, 351 (1978), in which the Supreme Court determined that discovery could be obtained of information “bear[ing] on, or that reasonably could lead to other matters that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.” In light of the fact that Rule 26(b)(1) now limits discovery to information relevant to “claims and defenses and proportional to the needs of the case, ” the Oppenheimer Fund definition, like the version of Rule 26(b)(1) that preceded the 2015 amendments, is now relegated only to historical significance. The instant discovery requests having been served in July 2017, the Court will apply the current version of the Federal Rules to this dispute.

         Rule 36 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs requests for admission. The rule allows for a party to serve on another party a written request to admit the truth of matters relating to facts, the application of law to fact or opinions about either and genuineness of described documents. Rule 36(a)(1)(A), (B), Fed.R.Civ.P. The answering party must admit the matter, or “specifically deny it or state in detail why the answering party cannot truthfully admit or deny it.” Rule 36(a)(4). “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 the matter, the answer must specify the part admitted and qualify or deny the rest.” Id. If an answer does not comply with this rule, the court “may order either that the matter is admitted or that an amended answer be served.” Rule 36(a)(6).

         Requests for admission “may not contain compound, conjunctive, or disjunctive (e.g., “and/or”) statements.” U.S. ex rel. Englund v. Los Angeles Cty., 235 F.R.D. 675, 684 (E.D. Cal. 2006) (citing Herrera v. Scully, 143 F.R.D. 545, 549 (S.D.N.Y. 1992)). However, “[a] party may not avoid responding based on technicalities. For example, a party who is unable to agree with the exact wording of the request for admission should agree to an alternate wording or stipulation.” Id. (internal citations omitted) (citing Marchand v. Mercy Med. Ctr., 22 F.3d 933, 938 (9th Cir. 1994), citing Milgram Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 558 F.Supp. 629, 636 (W.D. Mo. 1983)). When the purpose and significance of a request are reasonably clear, courts do not permit denials based on an overly-technical reading of the request. Id. “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.' ” Id. at 685 (quoting Marchand, 22 F.3d at 938).

         DISCUSSION

         1. RFA 20 (ECF 53 at 3)

         Defendant requests that Plaintiff admit “that the policy limits of the primary layer insurance policies issued to [Plaintiff], effective for the policy periods January 3, 1963, to June 1, 1979, have not been exhausted.”

         Plaintiff objects on the basis that the requests are irrelevant, call for a legal conclusion, compound, overbroad, unduly burdensome, vague, ambiguous, and calls for privileged or work-product protected information. These boilerplate objections do nothing to assist the Court in deciding the dispute - if anything, these mostly meaningless and frivolous objections hurt Plaintiff's cause. Nonetheless, Plaintiff responded by admitting “that some of the primary policies are not exhausted.” (ECF No. 53 at 4). ...


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