Consequences for Late Responses to Requests for Admission

Michele Trausch
February 19, 2014

St. Mary v. Superior Court (Schellenberg) 14 CDOS 1242 (1/31/14)

Lisa St. Mary gave her life savings to a company based on a radio ad she had heard; the company promised to invest in renovating real property. St. Mary lost her investment, the company went bankrupt, and she sued its principals for fraud.

Defendants served 119 requests for admission. Plaintiff’s attorney requested an extension which was granted but he then failed to meet the deadline. Responses were served 4 days late.

Without an attempt to meet and confer, defendants moved the trial court for an order that the requests were deemed admitted. The trial court granted the motion as to 41 of the requests and awarded sanctions against plaintiff.

Plaintiff petitioned for a writ of mandate which was granted. Despite the high standard of review (abuse of discretion), the Court of Appeal for the 6th District reversed.

Requests for admissions are different from the other types of discovery vehicles in that depositions, interrogatories, etc. are geared to investigate and discover evidence whereas requests for admission are designed to eliminate the need for proof at trial.

A party propounding requests has three types of motions available to it:

(1) move for an order compelling responses when there is no response at all [CCP 2033.280(b)];

(2) move to compel further responses [CCP 2033.290(a)]; or

(3) move to have the requests deemed admitted for failure to comply with a court order to provide responses or further responses [CCP 2033.290(e)].

The problem in this case was that plaintiff HAD responded, albeit late, which would defeat a deemed admitted motion [CCP 2033.280(c)] and that defendants’ proper motion here was either option 1 or 2 above, but not 3.

Thus, the trial court abused its discretion by misapplying CCP 2033.280 and effectively granting a motion under 2033.290 that was never made.

The case is lengthy but thoroughly explores the ins-and-outs of this commonly used discovery vehicle. It is definitely recommended reading for anyone thinking of making a motion based on inadequate or untimely responses.