Civil Litigation 101: What are Requests for Admissions?

In this Civil Litigation 101 blog series, I’ve discussed two important discovery tools: Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents. Another — often underutilized — tool undertaken in the discovery phase of a lawsuit are Requests for Admissions. However, unlike Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents, Requests for Admissions are not designed to seek unknown information. Rather, Requests for Admissions are designed to confirm the truth of information already known and available to the parties.

Requests for Admissions are a set of statements issued from one party to the opposing party for the purposes of having the opposing party admit or deny the statement or allegations raised therein. Each Request for Admission requires the answering party either to admit, deny, or state in detail why he or she can neither admit nor deny the truthfulness of the statement (e.g. for lack of knowledge, etc.). Requests for Admissions can also be used to have a party admit that certain documents or other pieces of evidence are genuine (thereby resolving any issues of authenticity which may be raised at trial). The answering party must serve his/her responses to Requests for Admissions in writing within the statutory time prescribed by each jurisdiction’s rules (Maryland Rule 2-424 requires a party’s responses to Requests for Admissions to be served within thirty (30) days).

Unlike Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents, the penalties for not responding to Requests for Admissions in a timely manner — that is, within the time limits imposed by law — are SEVERE. If a party fails to respond within the applicable time limits, then each statement within the Request for Admissions automatically will be deemed admitted as true!

In Maryland, the rules permit Requests for Admissions to be used only in Circuit Court proceedings. Requests for Admissions are also permitted in cases filed in the United States District Court (federal cases). Maryland Rule 2-424 establishes the procedure by which a party serves Requests for Admissions upon an opposing party and by which those admissions are obtained:

Rule 2-424. Admission of facts and genuineness of documents

(a) Request for admission. A party may serve one or more written requests to any other party for the admission of (1) the genuineness of any relevant documents or electronically stored information described in or exhibited with the request, or (2) the truth of any relevant matters of fact set forth in the request. Copies of documents shall be served with the request unless they have been or are otherwise furnished or made available for inspection and copying. Each matter of which an admission is requested shall be separately set forth.

(b) Response. Each matter of which an admission is requested shall be deemed admitted unless, within 30 days after service of the request or within 15 days after the date on which that party’s initial pleading or motion is required, whichever is later, the party to whom the request is directed serves a response signed by the party or the party’s attorney. As to each matter of which an admission is requested, the response shall set forth each request for admission and shall specify an objection, or shall admit or deny the matter, or shall set forth in detail the reason why the respondent cannot truthfully admit or deny it. The reasons for any objection shall be stated. A denial shall fairly meet the substance of the requested admission, and when good faith requires that a party qualify an answer or deny only a part of the matter of which an admission is requested, the party shall specify so much of it as is true and deny or qualify the remainder. A respondent may not give lack of information or knowledge as a reason for failure to admit or deny unless the respondent states that after reasonable inquiry the information known or readily obtainable by the respondent is insufficient to enable the respondent to admit or deny. A party who considers that a matter of which an admission is requested presents a genuine issue for trial may not, on that ground alone, object to the request but the party may, subject to the provisions of section (e) of this Rule, deny the matter or set forth reasons for not being able to admit or deny it.

(c) Determination of sufficiency of response. The party who has requested the admission may file a motion challenging the timeliness of the response or the sufficiency of any answer or objection. A motion challenging the sufficiency of an answer or objection shall set forth (1) the request, (2) the answer or objection, and (3) the reasons why the answer or objection is insufficient. Unless the court determines that an objection is justified, it shall order that an answer be served. If the court determines that an answer does not comply with the requirements of this Rule, it may order either that the matter is admitted or that an amended answer be served. If the court determines that the response was served late, it may order the response stricken. The court may, in place of these orders, determine that final disposition of the request be made at a pretrial conference or at a designated time prior to trial.

(d) Effect of admission. Any matter admitted under this Rule is conclusively established unless the court on motion permits withdrawal or amendment. The court may permit withdrawal or amendment if the court finds that it would assist the presentation of the merits of the action and the party who obtained the admission fails to satisfy the court that withdrawal or amendment will prejudice that party in maintaining the action or defense on the merits. Any admission made by a party under this Rule is for the purpose of the pending action only and is not an admission for any other purpose, nor may it be used against that party in any other proceeding.

(e) Expenses of failure to admit. If a party fails to admit the genuineness of any document or the truth of any matter as requested under this Rule and if the party requesting the admissions later proves the genuineness of the document or the truth of the matter, the party may move for an order requiring the other party to pay the reasonable expenses incurred in making the proof, including reasonable attorney’s fees. The court shall enter the order unless it finds that (1) an objection to the request was sustained pursuant to section (c) of this Rule, or (2) the admission sought was of no substantial importance, or (3) the party failing to admit had reasonable ground to expect to prevail on the matter, or (4) there was other good reason for the failure to admit.

In Federal Courts, Requests for Admissions are governed by F.R.C.P. 36:

RULE 36. REQUESTS FOR ADMISSION

(a) Scope and Procedure.

(1) Scope. A party may serve on any other party a written request to admit, for purposes of the pending action only, the truth of any matters within the scope of Rule 26(b)(1) relating to:

(A) facts, the application of law to fact, or opinions about either; and

(B) the genuineness of any described documents.

(2) Form; Copy of a Document. Each matter must be separately stated. A request to admit the genuineness of a document must be accompanied by a copy of the document unless it is, or has been, otherwise furnished or made available for inspection and copying.

(3) Time to Respond; Effect of Not Responding. A matter is admitted unless, within 30 days after being served, the party to whom the request is directed serves on the requesting party a written answer or objection addressed to the matter and signed by the party or its attorney. A shorter or longer time for responding may be stipulated to under Rule 29 or be ordered by the court.

(4) Answer. 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.

(5) Objections. The grounds for objecting to a request must be stated. A party must not object solely on the ground that the request presents a genuine issue for trial.

(6) Motion Regarding the Sufficiency of an Answer or Objection. The requesting party may move to determine the sufficiency of an answer or objection. Unless the court finds an objection justified, it must order that an answer be served. On finding that an answer does not comply with this rule, the court may order either that the matter is admitted or that an amended answer be served. The court may defer its final decision until a pretrial conference or a specified time before trial. Rule 37(a)(5) applies to an award of expenses.

(b) Effect of an Admission; Withdrawing or Amending It. A matter admitted under this rule is conclusively established unless the court, on motion, permits the admission to be withdrawn or amended. Subject to Rule 16(e), the court may permit withdrawal or amendment if it would promote the presentation of the merits of the action and if the court is not persuaded that it would prejudice the requesting party in maintaining or defending the action on the merits. An admission under this rule is not an admission for any other purpose and cannot be used against the party in any other proceeding.

Keep in mind, a party can object to any Request for Admission (just as it can to other discovery requests) if there is a legal basis to do so. For example, if a Request for Admission seeks information protected by the attorney-client privilege, a party can object to answering that specific request.

In closing, when used properly Requests for Admissions are effective because they can streamline a case by eliminating issues that are not in dispute. Requests for Admissions can also be used to reveal the strengths and/or weaknesses of a particular party’s case.

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