Requests for Admission: One of the More Powerful Tool in a Civil Litigators Toolbox

Requests for Admission (RFAs) are a type of discovery tool used in California civil litigation to narrow the scope of controversy in a case. RFAs are written requests asking the opposing party to admit or deny certain facts or the authenticity of certain documents. If the opposing party admits to a fact or document, it is considered true and does not need to be proven at trial. This can save time and money by taking issues off the table. This is particularly true for requests for admission regarding the genuineness of documents in civil litigation, where parties can avoid wasting time and effort proving the authenticity of large volumes of documents at trial while the jury falls asleep.

However, if the opposing party denies a fact or document, it can give rise to a number of benefits. For instance, parties typically serve “form” interrogatories (written questions approved by the Judicial Council of California) together with a request for admission in California. Form Interrogatory Number 17.1 is a set of questions that can be used to obtain information about the opposing party’s denial of an RFA, asking them to provide all facts, documents, and witnesses that support their denial. The responses to these questions can provide valuable information that can be used to build a case, or break down a defense.

In addition, if a party denies an RFA and the requesting party later proves that the fact or document was true, the requesting party may be entitled to “cost of proof” sanctions. Cost of proof sanctions are monetary sanctions that can be awarded to a party who incurred expenses in proving a matter that was denied by the opposing party without substantial justification. You can recover these whether or not you are the ultimate winner at trial.

Cost of proof sanctions can be critical in cases where there is no other basis for recovering attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party. For example, in California, each party is generally responsible for their own attorneys’ fees unless a contract or statute says otherwise. So, cost of proof sanctions can be an important tool for recovering litigation expenses in cases where fee-shifting is not available.

However, it is important to note that the wording of RFAs can have a significant impact on their effectiveness. Poorly worded RFAs can lead to: (1) evasive responses; (2) disputes over what exactly was admitted; or (3) the opposing party avoiding cost of proof sanctions. More specifically, if an RFA is too broad or vague, the opposing party may be able to give evasive responses that do not fully admit or deny the requested fact, or let them argue at trial that they admitted to something less than you thought they had. This can make it difficult to obtain the information needed to build a case, or result in extra work at trial. On the other hand, if an RFA is too narrow or specific, it may not provide enough information to be useful. A skilled lawyer putting in the right amount of thought can help strike the right balance and draft RFAs that are tailored to the specific needs of your case.

In summary, while RFAs can be an effective tool for narrowing the scope of controversy in California civil litigation, their effectiveness depends on a variety of factors including their wording and compliance with legal requirements. Therefore, it is important to have a skilled lawyer draft your RFAs to ensure that they have the desired effect.