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Campos v. HMK Mortgage, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

December 26, 2019

JULIAN CAMPOS, ROBERTO BARAHONA, and MARTIN MORALES, Plaintiff,
v.
HMK MORTGAGE, LLC and HMK, LTD., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO COMPEL DEFENDANTS TO PROPERLY RESPOND TO DISCOVERY REQUESTS [1]

          DAVID L. HORAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Julian Campos, Roberto Barahona, and Martin Morales have a filed a Motion to Compel Defendants to Properly Respond to Discovery Requests, see Dkt. No. 48 (the “MTC”), under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37(a)(3)(B)(iii) and 37(a)(3)(B)(iv), “requesting the Court to compel Defendants HMK Mortgage, LLC and HMK, Ltd. [(together, “HMK”)] to properly respond to Plaintiffs' discovery requests” and, “[s]pecifically, ... [to] strike Defendants' objections and compel complete and appropriate responses to specifically enumerated Interrogatories, Requests for Production, and Requests for Admission, ” id. at 1; see also Id. at 12 (“Pursuant to Rule 37(a)(3)(B)(iii) and (iv), Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court strike Defendants' objections and order them to properly respond to the above discovery requests and produce documents that are responsive.”).

         Plaintiffs assert that “Defendants have proffered evasive and incomplete discovery responses and are admittedly withholding relevant documents based on improper and unnecessary objections.” Id. at 1. “Further, Plaintiffs ask that the Court to impose sanctions on Defendants to cover the costs and attorney's fees associated with preparing this motion for their refusal to comply with discovery requests pursuant to [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 37(a)(5)(A).” Id. at 12-13.

         United States District Judge Brantley Starr has referred the MTC to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for a hearing, if necessary, and determination under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). See Dkt. No. 50. HMK has not filed a response, and its deadline to do so has passed. See Dkt. No. 51 & 53.

         The Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the MTC to the extent and for the reasons explained below.

         The Court has laid out the standards that govern a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a) motion to compel as to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34 requests for production and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33 interrogatories and a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(a)(6) motion to determine the sufficiency of answers and objections to Rule 36 requests for admission, and the Court incorporates and will apply - but will not repeat - those standards here. See Lopez v. Don Herring Ltd., 327 F.R.D. 567, 573-86 (N.D. Tex. 2018); Longoria v. County of Dallas, Tex., No. 3:14-cv-3111-L, 2016 WL 6893625, at *4-*6 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 22, 2016).

         I. Martin Morales's First Requests for Admission Nos. 24 & 25 and First Requests for Production (“RFP”) Nos. 24 & 25

Plaintiffs lay out these requests and responses and explain:
Martin Morales's First Requests for Admission No. 24: Please admit that Defendant's office was renovated, altered, or modified after March 15, 2012.
Admit:___ Deny:___ x___
Martin Morales's First Requests for Production No. 24: If you denied Martin Morales's Request for Admission No. 24, please produce all documents that support or explain this denial. For each document produced responsive to this request, please identify that document by Bates Number.
RESPONSE: HMK Mortgage, LLC has no such documents.
Martin Morales's First Requests for Admission No. 25: Please admit that the parking lot outside of Defendant's office was renovated, altered, or modified after March 15, 2012.
Admit:___ Deny:___ x___
Julian Campos's First Requests for Admission No. 5: Please admit that Defendant renovated, altered, or modified its parking lot after 2011.
Admit:___ Deny:___ x___
Julian Campos's Second Requests for Production No. 5: If you denied Julian Campos's Request for Admission No. 5, please produce all documents that support or explain this denial. For each document produced responsive to this request, please identify that document by Bates Number.
RESPONSE: All responsive documents have been previously provided, see objection and response to RFP #`1 incorporated herein, as if set forth fully hereby.
Date-stamped satellite images indicate that Defendants falsely denied these Requests for Admission and failed to produce any documents responsive to Request for Production No. 5. Defendants should either admit or produce responsive documentation.

Dkt. No. 1 at 4-5.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 does not provide for a motion to compel answers to Rule 36 requests for admission. And, while the Court will treat the MTC as appropriate as a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(a)(6) motion to determine the sufficiency of answers and objections to Rule 36 requests for admission, Rules 36(a)(6) and 37(a)(3)(B)(iv) do not authorize the Court to strike objections or order a party to provide a different answer to a request for admission or response to a request for production because the requesting party believes - or even proves - that the proffered answer or response is false.

         Rather, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(c)(2) makes sanction available as to Rule 36 requests where “a party fails to admit what is requested under Rule 36 and [] the requesting party later proves a document to be genuine or the matter true.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(2); see also Vantage Trailers, Inc. v. Beall Corp., No. Civ. A. H-06-3008, 2008 WL 4093691, at *2 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 28, 2008) (“Rule 37(c)(2) provides for sanctions against a party for improperly denying a request for admissions that is later proven to be true.”); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 36 advisory committee's note (1970) (“Rule 36 does not lack a sanction for false answers; Rule 37(c) furnishes an appropriate deterrent.”).

         In those circumstances, “the requesting party may move that the party who failed to admit pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees, incurred in making that proof, ” and Rule 37(c)(2) directs that “[t]he court must so order unless: (A) the request was held objectionable under Rule 36(a); (B) the admission sought was of no substantial importance; (C) the party failing to admit had a reasonable ground to believe that it might prevail on the matter; or (D) there was other good reason for the failure to admit.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(2); see also Richard v. Inland Dredging Co., LLC, No. 6:15-0654, 2016 WL 5477750, at *3 (W.D. La. Sept. 29, 2016) (“One commentator has stated that the ‘reasonable grounds' exception is the most important consideration that justifies the refusal to make an award under Rule 37(c).” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); Sparks v. Reneau Pub. Inc., 245 F.R.D. 583, 588 (E.D. Tex. 2007) (“Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(c)(2) provides that if a party fails to admit the genuineness of any document or the truth of any matter as requested under Rule 36, upon motion the Court ‘shall' award the requesting party reasonable fees and expenses incurred in proving up those matters ‘unless it finds that (A) the request was held objectionable pursuant to Rule 36(a), or (B) the admission sought was of no substantial importance, or (C) the party failing to admit had reasonable ground to believe that the party might prevail on the matter, or (D) there was other good reason for the failure to admit.' This rule leaves the Court with no discretion.” (citation omitted; emphasis removed)).

         Rule 36(a)(6) does not authorize the relief that Plaintiffs seek, and Plaintiffs have not explained how or why they believe HMK is improperly withholding documents responsive to RFP No. 25.

         The Court DENIES without prejudice the MTC as to Martin Morales's First Requests for Admission Nos. 24 & 25 and First Requests for Production Nos. 24 & 25.

         II. Roberto Barahona's First Requests for Admission Nos. 4, 7, & 14

Plaintiffs lay out these requests and HMK's answers and explain:
Roberto Barahona's First Requests for Admission No. 4: Please admit that HMK Mortgage, LLC, extended consumer credit which is payable by agreement in more than four installments more than once in a 12-month period.
Admit:___ Deny:___ x___
This Request for Admission seeks to establish a threshold matter under the Truth in Lending Act, under which the Plaintiffs have brought multiple claims. Under the Truth in Lending Act, the term “creditor” refers “only to a person who both (1) regularly extends, whether in connection with loans, sales of property or services, or otherwise, consumer credit which is payable by agreement in more than four installments or for which the payment of a finance charge is or may be required, and (2) is the person to whom the debt arising from the consumer credit transaction is initially payable on the face of the evidence of indebtedness or, if there is no such evidence of indebtedness, by agreement.” 15 U.S.C.A § 1602 (g). Defendants raised no objection and are unreasonable in denying this admission when they know full and well that the Plaintiffs signed mortgage loans with HMK Mortgage, LLC, a creditor under the Truth in Lending Act to which they are required to make monthly payments for 20 years.
Roberto Barahona's First Requests for Admission No. 7: Please admit that HMK Mortgage, LLC did not conduct a credit check on Roberto Barahona prior to October 12, 2017.
Admit:____ Deny:___ x___
Defendants' staff have testified in depositions that no credit check was conducted for any of the Plaintiffs at any time. See Exhibit C. If Defendants refuse to admit this request, they should be sanctioned for providing false information in response to a request for admission and compelled to respond truthfully.
Roberto Barahona's First Requests for Admission No. 14: Please admit that HMK Ltd. opened the office for the first time after 1992.
Admit:___ Deny:___ x___
The head of HMK testified in depositions that the HMK Ltd. opened the office for the first time in 2003. See Exhibit C. If Defendants refuse to admit this request, they should be sanctioned for providing false information in response to a request for admission and compelled to respond truthfully.

Dkt. No. 1 at 5-6.

         Rule 36(a)(6) does not authorize the Court to strike objections or order a party to provide a different answer or response to a request for admission or production because the requesting party believes - or even proves - that the proffered response or answer is false.

         The Court DENIES without prejudice the MTC as to Roberto Barahona's First Requests for Admission Nos. 4, 7, and 14.

         III. Roberto Barahona's First Requests for ...


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