Trials can be complicated. There are often a variety of factual issues that will require extensive evidence in the form of documents and testimony. What if there was a way to narrow the facts and, in turn, simplify the issues for the judge and all parties’ sake? Behold, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 216 and your request for admissions of fact.
Of course, you know the facts better than anyone. The question is how much time and money do you have to spend to prove those facts to the judge. In many cases, there may be some facts which both sides agree upon. They may still draw different conclusions from those facts, or argue that certain facts are more important than others. The ultimate outcome will still be determined by the court. But both parties may benefit from the clarity that can be provided by the proper use of Rule 216.
As the Illinois Supreme Court has stated in the case of P.R.S. International, Inc. v. Shred Pax Corp., the purpose of a request to admit is not to discover facts but to establish some of the material facts in the case without the necessity of formal proof at trial. Establishing those facts will result in potentially substantial savings of both time and expense for both parties and the court. See, Szczeblewski v. Gossett.
Procedurally, under Rule 216, a party may serve on any other party a written request for the admission of any specified relevant fact set forth in the request. Under Rule 216, emphasis is added on “any specified relevant fact” because relevant facts are not distinguishable from ultimate facts. This is to say that whether a fact is an ultimate fact, or a fact that weighs heavily on the outcome of the case, does not matter, as the court will not distinguish certain facts from others, only whether they are relevant to the subject matter of the case or not.
The key question is whether a requested admission deals with a question of fact. Accordingly, the Supreme Court has stated that requests for legal conclusions are improper. However, requests for admissions of factual questions which might give rise to legal conclusions are not improper. As the Appellate Court said in the case of Hubeny v. Chairse, analysis of whether a request for an admission of fact is actually a request for an admission of a legal conclusion is determined when the court takes some analytical step, no matter how small, from the contents of the admission to the final conclusion that the party seeks to establish. As such, questions of fact include the court determining whether an action was taken, an event occurred, or a consequence resulted.
The party responding to a Rule 216 request for admission should be cautious when it comes to admitting or denying requests, as well as making a claim of insufficient knowledge to admit or deny a request to admit. First, a failure to respond to a request for admissions may be deemed an admission if the request relates to any contested facts needed to establish one’s case or defense. A failure to respond can be utilized offensively by the requesting party if the responding party fails to respond and has no good excuse for his or her failure.
Secondly, the responding party has an obligation to make reasonable efforts to secure answers to requests to admit from persons and documents within the responding party’s reasonable control. To understand this further, the the court in Singer v. Treat looked to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213, which has been interpreted to require a party to answer fully and in good faith to the extent of his actual knowledge and the information available to him or to his attorney. Illinois courts have also looked to Rule 36 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to understand the responding party’s obligation, as persuasive authority. Under Federal Rule 36, an answering party may not give lack of information or knowledge as a reason for failure to admit or deny unless the party states that the party has made reasonable inquiry and that the information known or readily obtainable by the party is insufficient to enable the party to admit or deny.
Thus, a request to admit facts can be a powerful tool by the requesting party to utilize to not only clarify relevant material facts within the litigation, but also to save both time and expense for all parties and the court. Should a responding party fail to properly respond in good-faith or fail to respond in a timely manner, the consequences could be severe.