United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY and STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, Plaintiffs,
PETER J. HANSON, P.C. D/B/A HANSON CHIROPRACTIC and PETER J. HANSON, Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO
Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on plaintiffs' motion to
compel better answers to their requests for admission (Dkt.
#29) under Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(6). For the reasons set forth
below, the Court grants the motion and plaintiffs'
request for related costs.
2016, plaintiffs filed a complaint in federal court alleging
defendants had submitted false, misleading, and/or fraudulent
insurance claims. Dkt. #1 at 1-2, ¶1. In essence,
plaintiffs contend defendants' care of insured patients
amounted to predetermined courses of treatment without regard
for the patients' actual needs. Dkt. #1 at 2-3,
¶¶2-4. Plaintiffs allege these practices resulted
in $300, 000 in wrongful billings. Dkt. #1 at 3, ¶5.
September 2016, plaintiffs served defendants with twenty-five
requests for admission. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 36. One
month later, defendants served responses in which they made
no admissions and objected to each request. The parties
conferred over the phone and via written
correspondence. This motion followed.
allows a party to ask another party to admit the truth of
facts or the authenticity of any described documents.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(1). If the receiving party elects not to
admit, they must “specifically deny it, or state in
detail why the answering party cannot truthfully admit or
deny it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(4). The denial “must
fairly respond to the matter.” Id. If a
response “does not comply with [the] rule, the court
may order either that the matter is admitted or that an
amended answer be served.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 36 (6).
requests for admission relate to a series of exhibits
attached to their complaint. Exhibits A, D, E, and L are
tables identifying certain of defendants' patients and
providing information relevant to plaintiffs' legal
claims. Each row represents a patient and claim number while
each column relates to a particular identifier, like date of
treatment, age, or diagnosis. Each request for admission asks
defendants to admit that a particular column properly
includes the relevant patients and insurance claims. Dkt.
#30. If admitted, defendants would effectively acknowledge
that a particular set of patients received a particular
treatment, were billed pursuant to a particular code, or the
have objected to plaintiffs' requests on several grounds.
Their answers to the requests, Dkt. #30-1, articulate nine
general objections and, for each request, reproduce a
functionally identical boilerplate specific objection. The
general objections preserve various privileges, qualify
answers as the best available to defendant as discovery and
investigation continue, insist the patients in question are
inadequately identified by the exhibits in the complaint, and
argue that federal and state health privacy laws require
additional steps before additional disclosure. Dkt. #30-1 at
3-5. The boilerplate objection argues that the exhibits do
not “identify patients by name or any other reasonably
recognizable identifier to . . . permit Defendant to render a
sufficient or accurate response, ” that
“defendant has not been afforded sufficient opportunity
to review said production in the context of responding to
these requests for admission, ” and that the particular
column's title “is undefined and Plaintiff has
provided no context, explanation, basis or underlying
assessment for the contents of the column.” Dkt. #30-1
at 6-29. The boilerplate objection to the requests regarding
Exhibit E includes a sentence indicating
“confidentiality concerns are heightened to the fact
the discovery request involves minors, who may not have
sufficient capacity to consent to release and disclosure of
Protect [sic] Health Information under HIPPA
[sic].” Id. at 19-27.
opposition to plaintiffs' motion, defendants again argue
that the requests are “entirely objectionable and
unduly burdensome.” Dkt. #31 at 2. Defendants argue
that plaintiffs' requests “do not seek to, nor
would they if either admitted or denied, narrow the issues at
trial.” Dkt. #31 at 3. By way of example, defendants
highlight a request seeking an admission that 138 patients
were diagnosed with “fixation, spasm, tenderness, and
inflammation at six spinal levels.” Dkt. #31 at 4.
Defendants point to one of those 138 patients who, at least
on one visit, had a treatment “objective” of
“fixation, spasm, and tenderness” but not
inflammation. Defendants argue that they cannot truthfully
admit or deny whether patients like this one meet the
request's criteria, and that even if they could, it would
require a burdensome review of all treatment notes for each
patient. Dkt. #31 at 4-5. Even then, defendants contend the
answers would leave plaintiffs “right where [they]
started, still having to prove that the treatment provided to
[patients] on each visit was unreasonable and unnecessary and
‘non-individualized.'” Dkt. #31 at 5.
Defendants also characterize plaintiffs' requests
regarding the amount of plaintiffs' payments to
defendants as requiring a burdensome review of both approved
and declined bills. Dkt. #31 at 6-7.
argue their requests for admission “were tailored for a
simple purpose: to confirm the parties' agreement or
identify any dispute . . . regarding the factual accuracy of
the medical and billing summaries” in plaintiffs'
complaint. Dkt. #34 at 2. Plaintiffs indicate they have
offered to extend the time for defendants to respond and
offered to clarify the wording of their requests to simplify
the process of responding. Dkt. #30-2 at 8; Dkt. #30-5 at 2.
Defendants apparently refused these offers and reiterated
that responding to reworded requests would be equally
burdensome. Dkt. #30-3 at 2-3; Dkt. #30-4 at 2; Dkt. #30-5 at
briefing sheds some additional light on the nature of their
requests. In reply to the defendants' concern about the
burdensome scope of medical records required to truthfully
answer their request, plaintiffs insist they seek only the
“initial examination report” for each patient.
Dkt. #34 at 4. In fairness, this is not obvious from the
plain language of the request for admission. See
Dkt. #30-1 at 6. Likewise, many of plaintiffs' requests
seek admission that a particular column “identifies
those patients that Hanson Chiropractic”
identified, diagnosed, or treated in a certain way. See,
e.g., Dkt. #30-1 at 6 (emphasis added). A technical
reading of this wording could make that request ambiguous as
to the universe of patients about which plaintiffs seek an
admission. Last, some of the requests about x-ray imaging are
also ambiguous. Dkt. #30-1 at 19-23. For example, one request
asks defendants to admit dates on which “Hanson
Chiropractic performed the patient's first set of
X-ray(s).” Based on the plain language, it is not clear
whether plaintiffs are seeking information about
defendants' first set of x-rays of a particular patient
or about whether defendants performed the first x-rays a
patient had ever received. However, “[w]hen
the purpose and significance of a request are reasonably
clear, courts do not permit denials based on an
overly-technical reading of the request.” U.S. ex
rel. Englund v. Los Angeles County, 235 F.R.D. 675, 684
(E.D. Cal. 2006). Regardless of whether defendants adopted a
technical reading, their objection is not persuasive in light
of their declining plaintiffs' counsel's offer to
clarify the requests. Dkt. #30-3 at 2-3; Dkt. #30-4 at 2.
courts have broad discretion in controlling discovery.
Little v. City of Seattle, 863 F.2d 681, 685 (9th
Cir. 1988). Defendants do not seem to have complied with
Local Civil Rule 26(f)'s instruction to “promote
the just, efficient, speedy, and economical
determination” of the action. The shortcomings of
plaintiffs' requests could have and should have been
remedied between the parties. Defendants' abandonment of
certain objections likewise fails to engender a perception of
good faith. Last, defendants have not explained why reviewing
their own medical and accounting records is overly
burdensome. See Watkins v. Infosys, C14-247JCC, 2015
WL 1424107 (W.D. Wash. March 27, 2015) (holding a party
resisting a request for admission has a “‘heavy
burden' of establishing that written discovery should be
denied”). Neither the parties nor the Court benefits
from protracted discovery litigation. While the ...