Get More Out of Your Requests for Admissions
Alison K. Adelman, Esq.
Schwartz Semerdjian Cauley & Moot LLP
Once a case is filed, the first obvious step is to send out discovery. Form Interrogatories, Special Interrogatories, and Requests for Production are valuable tools to learn your opponent’s initial theories and contentions. Some parties include Requests for Admission, but these become significantly more useful once important case-specific facts are discovered, and can be more valuable than you may think.
Requests for Admission
California Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) section 2033.010 permits parties to request that other parties admit the genuineness of documents or the truth of specified matters of fact, opinion, or application of law to fact. The only time constraint for either party to propound Requests for Admission is that the Plaintiff must wait until 10 days after service of the summons, or appearance by the responding party, whichever is first. CCP 2033.020. The requests must be full and complete in and of themselves, and cannot be compound or contain subparts. See CCP 2033.060.
Although many parties object to RFAs, the Code is strict when it comes to the required responses. The responding party must answer in writing separately to each request, and the response must answer the “substance of the requested admission,” or set forth an objection. CCP 2033.210. If an answer is provided, it must be “as complete and straightforward as the information reasonably available to the responding party permits.” CCP 2033.220. And there are not many options in what to respond: “Each answer shall . . . Admit so much of the matter involved in the request is true . . .. Deny so much of the matter involved in the request as is untrue . . . [and] Specify so much of the matter involved in the request as to the truth of which the responding party lacks sufficient information or knowledge.” Id. If the answer is lack of information, the party must first make a reasonable inquiry and make sure that the information that is obtainable is insufficient to enable the party to admit the matter, and state the same in the response. Id.
A propounding party has a few different options to address insufficient responses to Requests for Admission. There is your typical Motion to Compel Further Responses, which is appropriate if the answers you do receive are evasive, incomplete, or contain meritless or general objections. See CCP 2033.290. If you get no responses, a compelling next step is to file a Motion to Deem Matters Admitted.
Motion to Deem Matters Admitted
This motion is one practitioners should keep in their arsenal and seriously contemplate when the responding party fails to serve timely answers to RFAs. The benefits of bringing a motion under CCP section 2033(b) are multi-faceted. Depending on the RFAs served, you could walk away from the motion with very important facts deemed admitted and critical documents deemed genuine. This could change your client’s stance and supply you leverage moving forward with the case.
Code of Civil Procedure section 2033.280 provides that the failure to respond serves as a waiver of any objection to the requests, even one based on privilege. If no response is received, without having to first meet and confer, the “requesting party may move for an order that the genuineness of any documents and the truth of any matters specified in the requests be deemed admitted, as well as for a monetary sanction . . ..” Id.
Once this motion is made, “[t]he court shall make this order, unless it finds that the party to whom the requests for admission have been directed has served, before the hearing on the motion, a proposed response to the requests for admission that is in substantial compliance with section 2033.220” [see above for requirements of response]. CCP 2033.280. This means that if your opposing counsel is wise, there is a very high likelihood that he or she will provide you competent responses to the subject RFAs before the hearing.
Not only does this section ensure you will either head into the motion with responses or leave the courthouse with important matters deemed admitted, but it guarantees you will be awarded sanctions for your efforts: “It is mandatory that the court impose a monetary sanction . . . on the party or attorney, or both, whose failure to serve a timely response to requests for admission necessitated [the] motion.” CCP 2033.230(c). To sum it up, you will either leave the hearing with what the Judge thinks are code-compliant responses and an award of sanctions, or you will walk away with a Court order deeming matters admitted and an award of sanctions. A win-win.
Strategy in RFA Motion Practice
Due to the somewhat severe consequences of Motions to Deem Matters Admitted, before filing you may want to consider your relationship with your opponent and the status of the case and parties. If the matter is one where your opposing counsel has previously abused the discovery process, the motion may be a good tool to force the attorney to provide compliant responses, and the lack of meet and confer requirement means no time will be wasted trying to come to a resolution. The motion is fast and effective way to move the case along, and even guarantees your reimbursement for doing so.
If you have a positive relationship with opposing counsel, or the case posture is such that you want to avoid confrontation or harsh results, consider meeting and conferring (although not required when no RFA responses are received) and filing a standard motion to compel. Although some would argue there is no authority for a motion to compel RFA responses when no answers are at all received (compare CCP 2033.280 and 2033.290 with CCP 2030.290 and 2030.300), the required meet and confer process may be just enough to calmly cure the issue. Moreover, unlike Motions to Deem Matters Admitted, the Code of Civil Procedure does not guarantee sanctions in typical motions to compel, since the “substantial justification” language provides the losing party a way out. This wiggle-room could also help maintain goodwill between the parties.
Whichever path you choose, having the Motion to Deem Matters Admitted in your tool box will only help your case. If you use it as a threat, it will undoubtedly cause opposing counsel to provide you legitimate responses. And if that effort does not succeed, filing the motion guarantees you sanctions + responses to the RFAs the Judge believes are legally sufficient, or sanctions + a court order deeming matters admitted.
When considering your discovery plan and drafting Requests for Admissions, think twice about the potential results you could reap from a Motion to Deem Matters Admitted. The potential outcomes of this motion make propounding effective RFAs worthwhile.