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Blemaster v. Sabo

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 25, 2017

Michael Blemaster, Plaintiff,
v.
Horatiu Cornelius Sabo, Rare Cornel Sabo, ., Defendants. Horatiu Cornelius Sabo & Rare Cornel Sabo, Counterclaimants,
v.
Michael Blemaster, Counterdefendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION [RE: MOTIONS AT DOCKETS 53 & 56]

          JOHN W. SEDWICK SENIOR JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         I. MOTIONS PRESENTED

         At docket 53 plaintiff and counterdefendant Michael Blemaster (“Blemaster”) moves to compel defendants and counterclaimants Horatiu Cornelius Sabo and Rare Cornel Sabo (collectively, “the Sabos”) to provide further responses to his discovery requests pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a) and moves for an order extending his discovery deadline pursuant to Rule 16(b). The Sabos oppose at docket 54. Blemaster replies at docket 55.

         At docket 56 Blemaster moves for an order extending the deadline for filing a motion for leave to amend his complaint pursuant to Rule 16(b). The Sabos oppose at docket 61. Blemaster replies at docket 62.

         Oral argument was not requested and would not assist the court.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This action presents a dispute regarding the ownership of real property in Phoenix formerly owned by Ana Viorica Tataru (“Tataru”). Tataru executed a beneficiary deed in 2014 under which the property would be conveyed to her sons, the Sabos, upon her death.[1] Tataru died on May 18, 2016.

         Blemaster asserts that approximately two weeks before Tataru's death a company called RCU, Inc. (“RCU”) entered into a $420, 000 purchase option contract with Tataru.[2] RCU describes itself as a “licensed Arizona Real Estate agent who buys and sells property for a profit.”[3] On May 3 an “affidavit and memorandum of agreement concerning real estate” executed by RCU and Tataru was recorded with Maricopa County Recorder's office.[4] Blemaster alleges that on May 15 he entered into a real estate purchase contract with RCU under which he acquired RCU's interest in Tataru's property for $490, 000.[5]

         Before these real estate transactions closed, Blemaster alleges that he “was informed that Horatiu was going back to Romania, and intended to wait a year before coming back to Arizona to decide whether to sell the Property to Blemaster.”[6]Blemaster filed this two-count action in the Arizona Superior Court seeking (1) specific performance of the purchase contract and (2) breach-of-contract damages.[7] The Sabos removed the case to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332[8] and have asserted quiet title counterclaims against Blemaster.[9]

         Blemaster served the Sabos with 17 requests for admission (“RFAs”), 9 interrogatories, and 6 requests for production of documents (“RFPs”).[10] Blemaster's present motion challenges the Sabos' responses to all of these discovery requests except for RFA No. 2.

         III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Rule 37

         If a party fails to cooperate in discovery, the requesting party may move to compel.[11] “The party who resists discovery has the burden to show that discovery should not be allowed, and has the burden of clarifying, explaining, and supporting its objections.”[12] “Broad discretion is vested in the trial court to permit or deny discovery[.]”[13]

         B. Rule 16(b)(4)

         Rule 16(b)(4) provides that a scheduling order “may be modified only for good cause and with the judge's consent.” District courts are “given broad discretion in supervising the pretrial phase of litigation, and [their] decisions regarding the preclusive effect of a pretrial order . . . will not be disturbed unless they evidence a clear abuse of discretion.”[14] “Unlike Rule 15(a)'s liberal amendment policy which focuses on the bad faith of the party seeking to interpose an amendment and the prejudice to the opposing party, Rule 16(b)'s ‘good cause' standard primarily considers the diligence of the party seeking the amendment.”[15] “Courts within this Circuit ‘have articulated and undertaken [a] three-step inquiry in resolving the question of “diligence” in the context of determining good cause under Rule 16[.]'”[16] Under that inquiry the movant may be required to show (1) that “he was diligent in assisting the court in creating a workable Rule 16 order”; (2) that “his noncompliance with a Rule 16 deadline occurred or will occur, notwithstanding his diligent efforts to comply, because of the development of matters which could not have been reasonably foreseen or anticipated at the time of the Rule 16 scheduling conference”; and (3) that “he was diligent in seeking amendment of the Rule 16 order, once it became apparent that he could not comply with the order.”[17]“While a court may take into account any prejudice to the party opposing modification of the scheduling order, ‘the focus of the [Rule 16(b)] inquiry is upon the moving party's reasons for seeking modification . . . [i]f that party was not diligent, the inquiry should end.'”[18]

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Requests for Admission

Rule 36(a)(4) prescribes the following standards for RFA answers:
If 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. 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 a matter, the answer must specify the part admitted and qualify or deny the rest. The answering party may assert lack of knowledge or information as a reason for failing to admit or deny only if the party states that it has made reasonable inquiry and that the information it knows or can readily obtain is insufficient to enable it to admit or deny.”[19]

         If a party believes that another party's answers or objections fail to satisfy these standards, it “may move to determine the sufficiency of an answer or objection.”[20] A party does not comply with Rule 36 by offering evasive denials, which do “not ‘specifically deny the matter, '” or responses that do “not set forth ‘in detail' the reasons why the answering party cannot truthfully admit or deny the matter.”[21] If the court finds that an answer does not comply with Rule 36, it “may order either that the matter is admitted or that an amended answer be served.”[22] Generally speaking, “[p]arties 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.”[23]

         Blemaster challenges the Sabos' responses to 16 RFAs.[24] In response, the Sabos only specifically address their response to RFA No. 12.

         1. RFA Nos. 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 15, 16, and 17

         Blemaster argues that the Sabos' denials to RFA Nos. 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 15, 16, and 17 are deficient because Interrogatory No. 1 requires them to identify the factual basis of their denials and they did not do so. This deficiency relates to Interrogatory No. 1, not these RFAs. The Sabos' answers to these RFAs are sufficient.

         2. RFA Nos. 3, 6, and 9

         RFA Nos. 3, 6, and 9 ask the Sabos to admit that Tataru signed various documents. For each, the Sabos admit that the documents speak for themselves and deny “any other matter not specifically and expressly admitted.”[25] Rule 36 requires answering parties to “specifically deny” all matters not admitted. The Sabos turn this requirement on its head, specifically admitting a non-responsive matter and then generally denying all other matters. The Sabos shall amend their answers to these RFAs.

         3. RFA Nos. 12, 13

         RFA No. 12 asks the Sabos to admit that “no probate proceedings had been commenced with respect to [Tataru] or her property as of April 25, 2017.”[26] The Sabos respond by objecting that “probate proceedings” is vague and ambiguous. RFA No. 13 asks the Sabos to admit that they “are the sole members of Ana's Assisted Living, LLC.”[27] The Sabos respond by objecting that the question is irrelevant and vague and ambiguous.[28]

         These objections are not justified. With regard to RFA No. 12, the Sabos argue that “probate proceedings” is vague and ambiguous because that phrase can refer to either formal or informal probate proceedings.[29] Maybe so, but this objection misses the mark because the Sabos do not assert that this distinction would make any difference to their answer. With regard to RFA No. 13, Blemaster argues that the request is relevant because the members of Ana's Assisted Living, LLC likely possess knowledge of facts relevant to the claims at issue in this case.[30] Because the Sabos fail to respond to this explanation, their relevancy objection is overruled. Further, their “vague and ambiguous” objection is also overruled, as they offer no explanation as to how the request is vague or ambiguous. The Sabos shall amend their answers to these RFAs.

         4. ...


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