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United States v. PAT USA, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

July 14, 2017

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA For the use and benefit of VT MILCOM, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
PAT USA, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED MOTION TO SHOW CAUSE AND TO HAVE DEFENDANT DINKINS FOUND IN DEFAULT

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         Before the court is VT Milcom's amended motion to show cause as to all defendants and for a default judgment against Dinkins (Dkt. No. 43, as amended by Dkt. No. 46), which stems from VT Milcom's August 5, 2016 motion to compel discovery responses (Dkt. No. 37).[1] By order dated August 11, 2016, the magistrate judge granted VT Milcom's motion to compel, finding that defendants had failed to respond at all to VT Milcom's discovery requests despite an extension and notice from plaintiff's counsel that it intended to file such a motion. (Dkt. No. 41.) The magistrate judge ordered that defendants' objections to VT Milcom's discovery requests were deemed waived; instructed defendants to deliver “full and complete responses” to VT Milcom's requests for admissions, interrogatories, and requests for production of documents by 5:00 p.m. on August 15, 2016; and ordered defendants to appear for depositions. (Id.) The order specifically allowed VT Milcom to proceed with its argument that the requests for admission had already been admitted. (Id.)

         On August 15, 2016, VT Milcom received responses to its requests for admission from all defendants and to its interrogatories and requests for production from PAT USA. In many of its requests for admission, VT Milcom asked defendants to admit that PAT USA had taken certain actions, or instructed VT Milcom to take certain actions, via email. Across the board, defendants refused to admit to VT Milcom's characterizations of these emails, asserting instead that the emails “speak for themselves.” The court will not recite all of them, but defendants objected in this manner to 34 requests for admission: Nos. 11, 12, 15, 18, 20, 22, 24-26, 28, 30- 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 43, 46, 50, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59-61, 64, 65, 68, 71, 79, and 82.[2] Examples of defendants' use of this response include the following:

18. Admit that by e-mail dated March 23, 2014 (the “March 23, 2014 E-mail”), PAT asked VT Milcom to provide the delivery schedule for materials on site.
RESPONSE: The E-mail dated March 23, 2014 speaks for itself as the best evidence of its contents. Therefore, PAT USA, Inc. neither admits nor denies the paraphrase of this document.
. . . .
20. Admit that by e-mail dated March 24, 2014 from Mansoor Ali (the “Ali March 24, 2014 E-mail”), PAT provided to VT Milcom a construction schedule.
RESPONSE: The E-mail dated March 24, 2014 speaks for itself as the best evidence of its contents. Therefore, PAT USA, Inc. neither admits nor denies the paraphrase of this document.

(Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 18, 20, Dkt. No. 43-1.) VT Milcom also asserts that defendants failed to unequivocally admit or deny Nos. 70, 75, 77, 82, 83-89, 93 and 94. For example, in response to Nos. 84-89 and 93, the responses stated that “PAT USA, Inc. has been unable to communicate with Mr. Dinkins [or First Mountain Bancorp] since this action was initiated.” (Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 84-89, 93.)

         VT Milcom subsequently filed its amended motion requesting that all requests be deemed admitted for failure to timely respond, an order to show cause why all defendants should not be held in contempt, an award of sanctions including attorneys' fees and costs, and a default judgment against defendants Dinkins and First Mountain Bancorp (FMB). (Dkt. No. 43.) However, on August 26, 2016, all of the parties entered into a joint stipulation whereby defendants agreed to a number of facts pertinent to summary judgment, and VT Milcom agreed to withdraw (1) its claims that PAT USA had failed to respond to certain requests for production and interrogatories, and (2) its request that FMB be found in default. (See generally Stipulation, Dkt. No. 45, and Notice of Partial Withdrawal of Am. Mot. to Show Cause, Dkt. No. 46.) That stipulation and subsequent motion left in place VT Milcom's request (1) that all requests for admission be deemed admitted, (2) for an order to show cause, (3) for sanctions based on defendants' responses to its requests for admission, and (4) that Dinkins be found in default.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Sufficiency of the Responses to Requests for Admission

         Under Rule 36, “[a] party may serve on any other party a written request to admit, for purposes of the pending action, the truth of matters within the scope of” discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a). The matter is deemed admitted unless the party denies it, specifically and in detail, or objects to it within 30 days. Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(3)-(5); see also Foxworth v. World Book Encyclopedia, Inc., 838 F.2d 466, 1988 WL 6814, at *1 (4th Cir. 1988) (unpublished table decision) (holding that unanswered requests for admission are deemed true under Rule 36). If a matter is admitted under Rule 36, that admission can only be withdrawn or amended as permitted by the court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(b). Defendants filed no timely response to the requests for admission, so by operation of Rule 36, the requests were deemed admitted. However, the court's August 11 order, which granted plaintiff's motion to compel and waived any objections, required responses to be filed by August 15, and defendants met that deadline. Thus, the magistrate judge allowed the admissions to be amended while reserving VT Milcom's right to argue that the admissions were deemed admitted.

         Because amendment was permitted, the court will look to whether the responses constituted objections, which the court specifically disallowed and which, therefore, should be deemed admitted, or constituted sufficient answers. The moving party may challenge the sufficiency of an answer or objection by motion and, if the court finds that an answer does not comply with the rule, it may deem the matter admitted or require the responding party to serve an amended answer. Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(6). Rule 36 specifically states that “[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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(4). If the response must be qualified or only denies the request in part, then “the answer must specify the part admitted and qualify or deny the rest.” Id. Additionally, a lack of knowledge or information can be asserted as the basis for not admitting or denying a request “only if the party states that it has made reasonable inquiry and that the ...


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