Before I dive into this info, let me give props to Noah Moss of our office. He’s a talent filled with great approaches and ideas, and this research spawned from him discussing drafting requests for admissions in a way to hold Defendants accountable in a structured way. It’s an honor to be around so much talent at Casey Gerry to do the important work we do. Thanks Noah!
With that, let’s geek on RFAs, shall we?
In civil law, lawyers have the ability to serve “requests for admissions” on other parties. The purpose is to gain information to understand the case, and to hopefully decide what issues need to be litigated and what issues parties may agree.
Many lawyers reply to RFAs with objections: seeks an expert opinion, calls for legal conclusion, we don’t have enough information to admit nor deny to this admission at this point, etc.
It can be a tactic by Defense to not admit any kind of fault for years…to then try to “admit” “liability” at trial, just before picking a jury. I put both “admit” and “liability in quotes, as many Defendants (for example) admit they caused the car crash or vehicle accident, but they do not admit to causing the injuries that resulted from the crash. “Admitting” “liability” this way can be a tactic to try and keep the Jurors from hearing about how the crash happened, and how horrid the crash was.
Below is some case law of general approaches to serving and using RFAs in California that may help head off Defense practices like this. I hope you find this helpful. Happy lawyering y’all.
“[T]he fact that the request is for the admission of a controversial matter, or one involving complex facts, or calls for an opinion, is of no moment. If the litigant is able to make the admission, the time for making it is during discovery procedures, and not at the trial.’” Grace v. Mansourian (2015), 240 Cal.App.4th 523, 528 – 529 (distinguished by Viasat, Inc. v. Acacia Communications, Inc., Cal.App. 4, which as of 6/14/22 is not published and nonciteable), citing Bloxham v. Saldinger (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 729, 752.
“A request for admission may relate to a matter that is in controversy between the parties.” Bloxham v. Saldinger (2014), 228 Cal.App.4th 729, 751 (distinguished by Viasat, Inc. v. Acacia Communications, Inc., Cal.App. 4, which as of 6/14/22 is not published and nonciteable).
RFAs may seek legal conclusions:
“[A] request may ask a party for a legal conclusion.” Grace, supra, at 529, citing CCP § 2033.010 and Garcia v. Hyster Co. (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 724, 733, 735 [request may seek admission party was negligent and negligence was legal cause of damages].)
Responding Party holds a duty to investigate and are not bound by Responding Party’s personal knowledge:
“[S]ince requests for admissions are not limited to matters within personal knowledge of the responding party, that party has a duty to make a reasonable investigation of the facts before answering items which do not fall within his personal knowledge.” Wimberly v. Derby Cycle Corp. (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 618, 634.
Requests may include an expert opinion:
“A party to an action may not necessarily avoid responding to a request for admission on the ground that the request calls for expert opinion and the party does not know the answer.” Bloxham, supra, at 751, referring to Chodos v. Superior Court for Los Angeles County (1963) 215 Cal.App.2d 318, 322–323 [defendants claimed request for admission “call[ed] for an expert opinion as to engineering practice” and, “as lay property owners,” they could not express an opinion].)
Also, as stated above: “[S]ince requests for admissions are not limited to matters within personal knowledge of the responding party, that party has a duty to make a reasonable investigation of the facts before answering items which do not fall within his personal knowledge.” Wimberly v. Derby Cycle Corp. (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 618, 634.
When denying an RFA:
“When a party denies an RFA, ‘[t]he question is not whether a reasonable litigant would have denied the RFAs. Nor is the question simply whether the litigant had some minimum quantum of evidence to support its denial (i.e., ‘probable cause’). The ‘relevant question is whether the litigant had a reasonable, good faith belief he or she would prevail on the issue at trial.’” Samsky v. State Farm (2019) 37 Cal.App.5th 517, 526, citing Orange County Water Dist. v. The Arnold Engineering Co. (2018) 31 Cal.App.5th 96, 119. “Consideration of this question requires not only an assessment of the substantiality of the evidence for and against the issue known or available to the party, but also the credibility of that evidence, the likelihood that it would be admissible at trial and persuasive to the trier of fact, the relationship of the issue to other issues anticipated to be part of trial (including the issue’s importance), the party’s efforts to investigate the issue and obtain further evidence, and the overall state of discovery at the time of the denials and thereafter.” Id.