Appeal from the St. Joseph Superior Court The Honorable Jeanne J. Swartz, Judge Cause No. K-766
Hoffman, J., Staton, J., Robertson, J., Concur.
The Georgetown Steel Corporation (Georgetown) brings this interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court's award of expenses incurred as a result of Lee and Carla Chaffees' motion to compel discovery. On appeal the sole issue raised is whether the trial court properly made the award.
The facts underlying the Chaffees' claim against Georgetown are not pertinent here, and are fully discussed in this case's previous appellate incarnations. See Chaffee v. Clark Equipment Co. (1985), Ind.App., 480 N.E.2d 236, transfer granted (1986), Ind., 496 N.E.2d 84. Simply stated, the present appeal involves Georgetown's response to the Chaffees' requests for admission filed on May 21, 1987. In this filing the Chaffees requested admission of 43 separate factual statements. Each of these statements was accompanied by citation to the transcript of the first trial.
On June 5, 1987, Georgetown filed its responses. Of the 43 requests, Georgetown unreservedly admitted 8 and denied 1. Georgetown gave qualified admissions of 10 and qualified denials of 5. Georgetown then claimed insufficient information to answer 5 requests and objected to 14. The Chaffees responded, on June 8, 1987, with a combined motion to compel discovery and for sanctions.
After a hearing held on June 10, 1987, the court issued an order in which it struck as superfluous all language besides "admit" or "deny" in Georgetown's previously qualified admissions or denials. The court overruled Georgetown's objections to all but one request and ordered amended answers to be filed. Finally the court awarded the Chaffees $1,000.00 as compensation for their expenses in pursuing the motion to compel.
Requests for admission are governed by Ind. Rules of Procedure, Trial Rule 36. Unlike other discovery techniques, the essential purpose of a request for admission is to obviate the need for time consuming proof at trial by establishing undisputed facts, instead of attempting to "discover" essentially unknown facts by deposition or interrogatory. F. W. Means & Co. v. Carstens (1981), Ind.App., 428 N.E.2d 251. As stated further in Means:
"The essential characteristic of this 'nondiscovery' mechanism is that the request for admission is a 'close-ended' inquiry. That is, the request for admission requires by either admission or denial, an answer which is unambiguous, unequivocal and without the evasion often characteristic of answers to depositions and interrogatories." (Footnote omitted.)
Consequently, the request for admission plays a valuable role in the discovery phase of the ligitation.
As contemplated by the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure, the discovery process is intended to be largely self-actuating, with minimal court supervision. Chrysler Corp. v. Reeves (1980), Ind.App., 404 N.E.2d 1147. This intent was made especially clear by the 1982 amendment of Trial Rule 37. Trial Rule 37 outlines the procedure for a motion to compel and provides for a variety of sanctions. As specifically pertinent here, T.R. 37(A)(4) provides:
"Award of expenses of motion. If the motion is granted, the court shall, after opportunity for hearing, require the party or deponent whose conduct necessitated the motion or the party or attorney advising such conduct or both of them to pay to the moving party the reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining the order, including attorney's fees, unless the court finds that the opposition to the motion was substantially justified or that other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust."
The Supreme Court Committee Note regarding the 1982 changes in T.R. 37 incorporates, by reference, the Federal Advisory Committee Note following FRCP, Rule 37. See 3 W. Harvey, Indiana Practice § 37 at 16 (1987 Supp.). The Federal Advisory Committee Note states that, "the change requires that expenses be awarded unless the conduct of the losing party or person is found to be substantially justified." 48 FRD 487, 539. Thus, on granting a motion to compel discovery, the presumption is that the trial court will also order reimbursement of the prevailing party's expenses. This award is mandatory, subject only to a showing that the losing party's conduct was "substantially justified", or ...