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Booth Oil Site Admin. Group v. Safety-Kleen Corp.

Citation: 30 ELR 20675
No. No. 98-CV-696AF, 194 F.R.D. 76/(W.D.N.Y., 06/09/2000)

The court grants a Superfund site administrative group's motion to compel two alleged potentially responsible parties (PRPs) to serve responses to the group's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(a) requests for admission concerning the text of purchase agreements that reportedly address the liabilities and obligations of the parties. The court first holds that the PRPs' objections to the requests based on their view that they improperly called for an opinion, a conclusion of law, or an admission to the interpretation of the document, are without merit. Rule 36(a) authorizes a request for the admission or denial of an opinion of fact or the application of law to fact. Further, a request calling on a party to admit or deny that quoted material is the actual text of an identified document may not be ignored on the ground that the request seeks an interpretation of the text. Moreover, questions of contractual meaning or intent are questions of fact at trial, and Rule 36 authorizes questions relating to a party's admissions or denials regarding a document's meaning. Likewise, the requests are not objectionable because they may call for an admission or an interpretation of a contractual provision that could otherwise require judicial determination. Also, the fact that an admission may prove decisive to the case is no ground for refusal to respond. Here, the range of interpretive possibilities is limited and the requests are straightforward.

The court also overrules the PRPs' objection to a request on the ground that the request involved improper hearsay, Rule 36 authorizes requests seeking admission of fact or application of law to fact, even if the response may be based on hearsay. If the request cannot be answered because it contains a speculative element, an objection may be interposed on that basis. In this case, however, the request asks for pointed responses as to particular text within an uncomplicated and straightforward business letter. Therefore, there is no speculation that would render the request incapable of response. Last, the court rejects the PRPs' claim that the majority of requests seek irrelevant information. The documents at issue appear to concern the PRPs' relationship with the site's business operations and facilities.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (6 pp., ELR Order No. L-240).

Counsel for Plaintiff
R. William Stephens
Raichle, Banning, Weiss & Stephens
410 Main St., Buffalo NY 14202
(716) 852-7587

Counsel for Defendants
Robert R. Radel
Blair & Roach
2645 Sheridan Dr., Tonawanda NY 14150
(716) 834-9181