Answers to RFA’s
May 22, 2018 § 6 Comments
MRCP 36 Requests for Admission are quite useful in domestic litigation. Following is the language of the rule dealing with answers, annotated with my comments:
“(a) … 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, the party to whom the request is directed serves upon the party requesting the admission a written answer or objection addressed to the matter, signed by the party or by his attorney, but, unless the court shortens the time, a defendant shall not be required to serve answers or objections before the expiration of forty-five days after service of the summons upon him. If objection is made, the reasons therefor shall be stated.”
Comment: Subject to the language below in Paragraph b, you have to get your response filed within 30 days. The rule says that the attorney can sign for the client, but I don’t recommend that because often the answering party is literally stuck with and by the response. When the client signs it’s hard for him to maintain later that he never intended to admit that fact. Note that the reasons for an objection must be stated; remember that you and your client are bound by what you state. If you don’t assign a particular reason, you likely have waived it, subject to Paragraph b.
“The answer shall specifically deny the matter or set forth in detail the reasons why the answering party cannot truthfully admit or deny the matter.”
Comment: I suggest that you repeat the language of the request in the denial so that there is no doubt as to what is admitted (e.g., “Defendant admits that he was at the home of Francine Jones at 3 a.m. on June 9, 2017” rather than “Admitted.” This may sound fussy, but unless you can give me a persuasive reason not to do it my way, I stand my ground.
“A denial shall fairly meet the substance of the requested admission, and when good faith requires that a party qualify his answer or deny only a part of the matter of which an admission is requested, he shall specify so much of it as is true and qualify or deny the remainder.”
Comment: Here is where the advice immediately above becomes clear. By saying only “denied,” in the above example, you are denying every word. But the answer, “Defendant denies that he was at the home of Francine Jones at 3 a.m. on June 9, 2017” leaves no doubt whatsoever what exactly he is denying. And that is what the rule requires. The rule also clearly requires that if you are admitting in part and denying in part you have to specify (e.g., “Defendant admits that he was at the home of Francine Jones, but denies that he was at the home of Francine Jones at 3 a.m. on June 9, 2017”).
“An answering party may not give lack of information or knowledge as a reason for failure to admit or deny unless he states that he has made reasonable inquiry and that the information known or readily obtainable by him is insufficient to enable him to admit or deny.”
Comment: This requirement is seldom met, in my experience. If you are going to seek refuge behind lack of information, you are going to have to take a further step and make reasonable inquiry to obtain that information. Only after making “reasonable inquiry” may you then state that the information known or readily obtainable is insufficient to enable an admission or denial complying with the rule. The requirement of reasonable inquiry is a good reason always to require your client to sign the responses. Oh, and keep in mind that your failure to answer with the reasonable inquiry language may provoke a motion to take the matter as admitted, which means that you will have an uphill climb to convince the judge to let you amend, as provided in Paragraph b.
“A party who considers that a matter of which an admission has been requested presents a genuine issue for trial may not, on that ground alone, object to the request; he may, subject to Rule 37(c), deny the matter or set forth reasons why he cannot admit or deny it.”
Comment: No matter how inane the request, you have to answer the substance of the request. It’s never adequate to respond like “This is a modification action, after all, and adverse effect on the child has been pled.”
“The party who has requested the admissions may move to determine the sufficiency of the answers or objections. Unless the court determines that an objection is justified, it shall order that an answer be served.”
Comment: If the court determines that an objection is unjustified, then it must order than an answer be served. You get another shot at an answer. This is why an objection is better than an unresponsive answer.
“If the court determines that an answer does not comply with the requirements of this section, it may order either that the matter is admitted or that an amended answer be served.”
Comment: Here is where your chickens come home to roost if you don’t properly answer with “reasonable inquiry” or make some kind of unresponsive answer. You run the risk that the judge will merely order that the matter be taken as admitted. There are no factors for the judge to apply; it’s within the judge’s discretion whether to order that it be taken as admitted or that you may file an amended answer.
“The court may, in lieu of these orders, determine that final disposition of the request be made at a pre-trial conference or at a designated time prior to trial. Rule 37(a)(4) applies to the award of expenses incurred in relation to the motion.”
“(b) Effect of Admission. Any matter admitted under this rule is conclusively established unless the court on motion permits withdrawal or amendment of the admission.”
Comment: Conclusively established means exactly that. “Any admission that is not amended or withdrawn cannot be rebutted by contrary testimony or ignored by the court even if the party against whom it is directed offers more credible evidence.” DeBlanc v. Stancil, 814 So. 2d 796, 801 (Miss. 2002).
“Subject to the provisions governing amendment of a pre-trial order, the 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.”
Comment: Although the rule appears to provide that you will be allowed to amend or withdraw a response if you can show (a) that presentation of the merits will be subserved, and (b) the other side can not show prejudice, the MSSC has held that the trial court “may,” but is not required, to consider the two prongs of the rule in denying a motion to withdraw or amend. Young v. Smith, 67 So. 3d 732, 740 (Miss. 2011).
“Any admission made by a party under this rule is for the purpose of the pending action only and is not an admission by him for any other purpose nor may it be used against him in any other proceeding.”
Comment: Don’t expect to use those old admissions from your opposing party’s first divorce in this second one.
A problem arises when the admissions are merely his “spin” counsel opposite imposes on the case and you face a motion to compel being asked to admit – not the facts – but the ultimate conclusions the other attorney draws from the underlying facts or his version of the facts. Of course, the threat of having the judge decide the case solely based upon the rule that gives the court wide discretion is a concern. As a result the motion to compel a response or that the request be deemed admitted can lead to an unnecessary hearing with a judge wondering why he had to deal with semantics instead of evidence.
I recently encountered this issue at a trial: If no response is made, must the proponent move to have the requests deemed admitted or are the unanswered requests admitted solely by operation of the rule?
I haven’t researched this to see what the cases say, but I don’t know of any requirement that you do it before trial.
Scoggins v. Baptist Memorial, 2006-CA-02004-SCT
¶13. In this case, the trial court determined that “the requests were deemed admitted by operation of law” after thirty days, which is in accord with Rule 36(a). We cannot say this was an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. As we noted in Earwood, “[w]e are compelled to acknowledge the adage that rules are promulgated for a purpose, this being precisely an instance in which that principle applies.” Id. As in that case, counsel for Scoggins “knew or should have known the severe consequences of failing to timely respond.” Id. at 516.
By operation of the rule. The best way to announce the admissions’ having taken effect is via Rule 56 motion.