Answering Requests for Admissions is very similar to answering interrogatories–you have an obligation to respond in good faith and you have to be careful about your garbage objections. However, the code makes it clear that the requirements in responding to Requests for Admissions are higher.
Code of Civil Procedure §2033.220 titled Completeness of Responses; Reasonable Inquiry requires:
(a) Each answer in a response to requests for admission shall be as complete and straightforward as the information reasonably available to the responding party permits.
(b) Each answer shall:
(1) Admit so much of the matter involved in the request as is true, either as expressed in the request itself or as reasonably and clearly qualified by the responding party.
(2) Deny so much of the matter involved in the request as is untrue.
(3) Specify so much of the matter involved in the request as to the truth of which the responding party lacks sufficient information or knowledge.
(c) If a responding party gives lack of information or knowledge as a reason for a failure to admit all or part of a request for admission, that party shall state in the answer that a reasonable inquiry concerning the matter in the particular request has been made, and that the information known or readily obtainable is insufficient to enable that party to admit the matter.
The Discovery Act does not have such strident language for responding to interrogatories or an inspection demand.
Although requests for admissions are included in the Code of Civil Procedure among discovery procedures (Code Civ. Proc., § 2019.010, subd. (e)), they differ fundamentally from other forms of discovery. Rather than seeking to uncover information, they seek to eliminate the need for proof . . . They also serve a function similar to the pleadings in a lawsuit in that they are aimed primarily at setting at rest a triable issue so it will not have to be tried” Murillo v. Sup. Ct. (2006) 143 CA4th 730, 735-736
When responding to Requests for Admissions, remember to answer as follows:
Admit: If any portion of the Request for Admission is true then you must admit to that portion of the request. You are also allowed to have a hybrid response– admit the part of the request that is true while denying another part. See C.C.P. §2033.220(b)(1) and Valero v. Andrew Younquist Construction (2002) 103 CA 4th 1264, 1273. It is unclear whether or not you need to supply facts to make the request true. However, it is a good idea if it puts the issue to rest.
Deny: The responding party should not deny based solely on quibbles of with the wording of the request. It may be improper to deny a Request for Admission outright if the request is at least partially true. A denial of all or any portion of the request must be unequivocal. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees v. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (2005) 126 CA4th, 247, 268 However, reasonable qualifications and explanations are not improper. See St. Mary v. Sup. Ct. (2014) 233 CA4th 762, 780-781
Cal. Prac. Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2020), ¶8:1333-1334.1 give these helpful hints on what is unequivocal:
- Denial “on advice of counsel” is unequivocal “in spite of the rather weaseling qualification.” Hoguin v. Sup. Ct. (1972) 22 CA 3d 812, 820
- “As framed, denied” is also unequivocal. Smith v. Circle P Ranch Co., Inc. (1978) 87 CA3d 267, 275
- Denials following a “boilerplate” statement “without waiving these objections” was unequivocal. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees v. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (2005) 126 CA4th, 247, 268.
Denials on “Information and Belief”: This is not a proper objection as it is neither “straight forward” nor complete and is not one of the options listed in C.C.P. §2033.220. Also, this is in essence a response claiming “inability to admit or deny” for lack of sufficient information which has additional requirements as discussed above.
Unlike interrogatories and or inspection demands, failure to properly respond to Request for Admissions in a timely matter can have great repercussions for you and your client.
FAILURE TO RESPOND
All objections are waived. However, responding party may seek relief from the waiver similar to the way you can do it for interrogatories and inspection demands. C.C.P. §2030.280(a).
Motion for Admissions to be Deemed Admitted may be filed pursuant to C.C.P. §2030.280(a). The statute states “the court shall make this order unless “proposed responses are in substantial compliance with C.C.P §2030.210, C.C.P. §2033.220 and C.C.P. §2033.230” are filed before the hearing. However, even though you filed delayed responses, you will be sanctioned because sanctions are MANDATORY, pursuant to the code if your tardy responses came after the motion was filed. See C.C.P. §2030.280(c).
RESPONSE EITHER UNTIMELY OR NOT VERIFIED.
Untimely or unsworn responses to request for admissions are tantamount to no response at all. Zorro, Inc. Co. v. Great Pacific Securities Corp. (1977) 69 CA3d 90 7
Motion for Admissions to be Deemed Admitted can be brought. See C.C.P. §2030.280(b).
FAILURE TO MAKE A REASONABLE INVESTIGATION
The propounding party may bring a Motion to Compel Further Responses or bring a Motion for Admissions to be Deemed Admitted if the answering party has not made a reasonable inquiry or has access to “readily available” information that would enable to admit or deny the matter. Cal. Prac. Guide: Civil Procedure Before Trial (TRG 2020), ¶8:1348
Alternatively, costs may be awarded after trial against a party for failure to inform oneself before answering the Requests for Admission. C.C.P. §2033.420(a). The court may find there was no “good reason” for the failure to admit [Smith v. Circle P. Ranch Co., Inc. (1978) 87 CA3d 267–-proof showing that responding party failed to investigate, when the means of obtaining the information were at hand, supports finding there were no “good reasons” for its denial; hence cost of proof sanctions were justified.]
FAILURE TO ADMIT
If it is found that you have unreasonably denied a Request for Admission, you may be ordered to pay attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the propounding party in proving the matter. C.C.P. §2033.420(b) This can occur either after a motion for summary judgment or trial. See California Civil Discovery Practice (CEB 4th Ed. 2020), §9.89 citing Barnett v. Penske Truck Leasing (2001) 90 CA4th 494, 497-499
“Unlike sanctions imposed as a penalty for the nine types of discovery misconduct itemized in Code of Civil Procedure section 2023.010, an award of costs of proof for a denial of a request for admission involves the weighing of a number of factors, such as whether the matter denied was of “substantial importance”; whether there was a “reasonable basis” for the denial; whether the party making the denial knew or should have known at the time that the requested matter was of “substantial importance” and was true; whether there were “other good reasons for the denial”; and whether and to what extent the responding party made a good faith effort otherwise to resolve the matter. City of Glendale v. Marcus Cable Associates, LLC. (2015) 235 Cal. App. 4th 344
BEWARE! Denying a matter that should have been admitted in a sworn response might also subject you to a criminal prosecution for perjury. See CEB Section 9:53 citing Hoguin v. Sup. Ct. (1972) 22 CA 3d 812, 820.
Take the time and make the effort in responding to requests for admissions as your answers may come back and bite you if you don’t.