DODGING THE MRCP 36 BULLET

November 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

What do you do when you discover that you received requests for admission 45 days ago, and you just simply overlooked them?
 
In the case of Martin v. Simmons, 571 So.2d 254, 256 (Miss. 1990), the Mississippi Supreme Court pointed a way out of the dilemma.  It requires prompt action on your part, and the matter is in the discretion of the trial court, but there is a way to avoid your case becoming a fatality due to your negligence.  I could not sum it up any better than the court itself did:  
 
“While a number of jurisdictions with rules analogous to our Rule 36(a) FN1 allow trial courts discretion to allow a shorter or longer time for a party to respond to a request for admissions, see 8 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure, § 2257 at 718 (1972); see e.g., Thomson v. Bank, 506 So.2d 1012, 1014 (Ala.Civ.App.1987), cert. den. 526 So.2d 40 (Ala.1987); Farmers Elevator Co. of Horace v. Nagel, 307 N.W.2d 580, 586 (N.D.1981), we have stated that “[c]ourts cannot give or withhold at pleasure; Rule 36 is to be enforced according to its terms.” Sawyer v. Hannan, 556 So.2d 696, 698 (Miss.1990) [quoting Educational Placement Services v. Wilson, 487 So.2d 1316, 1318 (Miss.1986) ].

FN1. “Each matter of which an admission is requested shall be separately set forth. The matter is admitted unless, within thirty days after service of the request, or within such shorter or longer time as the court may allow….  Miss.R.Civ.P. 36(a).

“Such admissions, however, are not necessarily irrevocable. Sawyer, 556 So.2d at 697-698 (citing Educational Placement Services, 487 So.2d at 1318). Rule 36(b) provides the procedure to revoke admissions:

“Any matter admitted under this rule is conclusively established unless the court on motion permits withdrawal or amendment of the admission …. [T]he court may permit withdrawal or amendment when the presentation of the merits of the action will be subserved thereby and the party who obtained the admission fails to satisfy the court that withdrawal or amendment will prejudice him in maintaining his action or defense on the merits.  Miss.R.Civ.P., Rule 36(b).

“The Martins made no attempt to withdraw or amend the Requests for Admissions under Rule 36(b); they merely untimely filed the Answers to the Simmons’ Request for Admissions. Essentially, the Martins argue that the filing of a late response to Request for Admissions is the equivalent of requesting withdrawal or amendment of the admissions. The Simmons respond that even if this were true, they have been prejudiced due to the death of Wesley Simmons, a material witness. Cf. Brook Village North Asso. v. General Electric Co., 686 F.2d 66, 70 (1st Cir.1982).

“A number of courts do allow untimely Answers to Requests for Admissions, when to do so would aid in the presentation of the merits of the action and no prejudice would ensue to the party who made the request. See e.g., Aldrich & Co. v. Donovan, 778 P.2d 397, 399 (Mont.1989); Herrin v. Blackman, 89 F.R.D. 622, 624 (W.D.Tenn.1981); *257 Bittner v. State for Use & Benefit of Alaska Laborers, 627 P.2d 648, 649 (Alaska 1981); Farmers Elevator Co. of Horace v. Nagel, 307 N.W.2d 580, 586 (N.D.1981); Latendresse v. Latendresse, 294 N.W.2d 742, 747-48 (N.D.1980); Marshall v. Dist. of Columbia, 391 A.2d 1374, 1379 (D.C.Ct.App.1978); Hadra v. Herman Blum Consulting Engineers, 74 F.R.D. 113 (D.C.Tex.1977); See also, 8 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2257 at 719-720 (1972); 4A Moore’s Federal Practice 2d ed., Admission of Facts-Procedure § 36.05(4). Other courts allow untimely answers to a request for admissions when there has been excusable neglect or compelling circumstances. See e.g., Dukes & Barber v. S.C. Ins. Co., 770 F.2d 545, 548-49 (5th Cir.1985); Moosman v. Joseph P. Blitz, Inc., 358 F.2d 686, 688 (2d Cir.1966).

“The problems encountered by the Martins in this case could easily have been eliminated if a motion to withdraw or amend the answers had been filed pursuant to Rule 36(b) and if there were justifiable excuse. See Sawyer, 556 So.2d at 698; Educational Placement Services, 487 So.2d at 1318. However, we need not reach the issue whether withdrawal or amendment may be allowed when there is no excusable neglect but a party is not prejudiced because the chancellor was not called upon to exercise his discretion to allow the withdrawal of the amendment of the answers to the admissions under Rule 36(b). See Diversified Communications v. Godard, 549 A.2d 362, 363 (Maine 1988). Since the lower court was never asked to exercise its discretion under Rule 36(b), the trial court properly followed our holding in Educational Placement Services v. Wilson, 487 So.2d 1316 (Miss.1986). We therefore are not called upon to determine if an abuse of discretion occurred and we find the chancellor properly applied Mississippi law to this issue.”

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