A Request for Admission ("RFA") is a discovery device that seems to be gaining popularity. Under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure, 198.1, "a party may serve on another party ... written requests that the other party admit the truth of any matter within the scope of discovery, including statements of opinion or of fact or of the application of law to fact...." Assuming the responding party does not have a valid objection, the responding party must either admit or deny the request or explain in detail the reasons that the responding party cannot admit or deny the request. Part I of this blog-below- examines the proper scope of RFAs. Part II will examine proper responses and objections to RFAs.
Proper Scope of a Request for Admission
The natural result of Rule 198's broad language is that RFAs commonly range from the very reasonable to plainly absurd; therefore, it is important to understand the proper scope of the request.
According to the Texas Supreme Court, the primary purpose of Requests for Admission is to simplify litigation by eliminating noncontroversial matters.1 In other words, the purpose of RFAs is to dispense with issues about which the parties agree so the litigation can focus only on the issues in dispute. For example, in a case concerning a car accident, Plaintiff might send an RFA requesting the Defendant to "admit or deny Defendant legally owned the car." The purpose of the request is to establish ownership without the need for the Plaintiff to waste time obtaining a copy of the vehicle title or conduct title research on the vehicle. This request is perfectly reasonable. It expedites litigation and saves unnecessary legal fees by allowing the parties to dispense with the side issue of vehicle ownership. Frequently, however, RFAs are much less innocuous and can have far reaching effects.
Significantly, RFAs can also ask a party to apply law to the facts of the case.2 Exactly what the rule means by apply "law to fact" can be unclear and may vary depending on the court, so just be aware that valid RFAs can address complex issues at the heart of a case.3
Sometimes attorneys attempt to use RFAs as weapons or traps and end up sending improper requests. One type of improper RFA is one that, if admitted, would preclude the Court from deciding the merits of a case.4 For example, requesting a Plaintiff to, "admit or deny that Plaintiff suffered $10 million in damages," may be an improper "merit-preclusive" request in certain situations since an admission would eliminate a Defendant's ability to defend against a damage claim.5 Similarly, a RFA requesting a party to a negligence suit to admit that it was 100% the proximate cause of an accident is an improper RFA.6 The popularity of these types of improper RFAs is due to the dramatic effect of missing the statutory deadline to respond to a request for admission.
When a Defendant is served with requests for admission along with the initial petition or before his answer to the Plaintiff's petition is due, the Defendant has 50 days to respond to the admissions (if he receives the requests at a later time, he had 30 days to respond). See Tex. R. Civ. P 198.2(a). If the Defendant fails to respond in the allotted timeframe, all of the requests are automatically considered admitted. See Tex. R. Civ. P 198.2(a).
Although it's possible to withdraw a deemed admission if good cause is shown,7 it is much safer and easier to understand and respect both the deadlines and the rules governing proper and timely responses to RFAs.
Takeaways & Practical Tips
· Requests for Admission are powerful discovery tools being used more frequently.
· Attempts to weaponized RFAs or use them as traps can result in frequent improper discovery requests.
· While a deemed admission might be struck by a Court or withdrawn after a showing of good cause, the best practice is to respond to RFAs in a timely and proper manner.
Be sure to read our next blog, Back to Basics: Requests for Admission-Part II, in which we discuss proper responses and objections to RFAs.
1. See Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. v. Commercial Standard Ins. Co., 490 S.W.2d 818 (Tex. 1972).
2. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 198.1.
3. See Hanh H. Duong v. Bank one, N.A., 169 S.W.3d 246 (Tex. App. Fort Worth 2005) (a trial court properly allowed the use of an admission concerning the scope of an employee's authority as summary judgment evidence).
4. See Lucas v. Clark, 347 S.W.3d 800 (Tex. App. Austin 2011), reh', overruled, (Aug. 25, 2011) and review denied 9Dec. 2, 2011).
5. See Id (determining that a similar RFA was merits-preclusive because the only element of the Plaintiff's claim at issue was unliquidated damages).
6. See Petree v. Southern Farm Bureau Cas. Inc. Co,. 315 S.W.3d 254, 260 (Tex. App. 2010).
7. See Stelly v. Papania, 927 S.W.2d 620, 622 (Tex. 1996).