Requests for admission, also known as RFAs, are a discovery tool that can be used during litigation to establish facts or authenticate evidence. Civil litigants in Arizona may propound or issue up to twenty five (25) RFAs pursuant to ARCP Rule 36 or ARFLP Rule 64, depending on the type of case. Once issued, the responding party has forty days to respond, though an additional five days may be added depending on the method by which the RFAs were issued. Requests that are not answered may be deemed admitted and used against the responding party.
How to use requests for admission
Attorneys primarily use requests for admission in two ways. First, and most reliably, RFAs can be used to authenticate documents or evidence. In cases involving hundreds of potential trial exhibits, it may be critical to authenticate certain documents or evidence in advance to ensure admissibility and to reduce the precious trial time devoted to evidentiary objections.
Requests for admission also may be used to effectively establish uncontested facts in a case, though this takes considerably more thought and skill. You cannot simply ask the opposing party to admit that your case is meritorious, though some attorneys actually try this. In fact, it is fairly common for attorneys to misuse RFAs to try to entrap litigants or induce admission of outcome-determinative facts.
While understandable, it is mostly a waste of time (and client money) because, as you might imagine, it is highly unusual for a litigant to admit to any fact critical to his or her case. When confronted with this type of RFA, the responding party will almost invariably deny, even when denial is perjurious.
Regardless of your objective, it is good practice to include a special interrogatory that asks the responding party to provide more information for each request denied.
If you denied any of the foregoing Requests for Admission, please state with particularity all facts upon which you based your denial and identify all evidence you intend to introduce to either prove or support each fact.
How to Answer RFAs
A responding party has five options when answering requests for admission: (1) admit; (2) deny; (3) admit/deny in part; (4) object; and (5) explain why the question cannot be answered. For the latter, a litigant must explain what reasonable efforts were made to obtain the information before answering this way.
Case law states clearly that the responding party responds at his or her own peril. Gamesmanship and semantic gymnastics can result in adverse consequences, including admission of the requests and financial sanctions. Ordinarily, it is safest practice to adhere to the applicable rules and answer the question to the best of your ability. Even when great attorneys object to a particular request, they still may provide an answer, “Objection notwithstanding, Defendant conditionally admits …” This is because it is almost always more efficient to satisfactorily answer discovery requests than to quibble over their propriety.
Objections to RFAs
Like other discovery requests, the responding party can object to requests for admission. There are dozens of possible objections, but many are also misused and can expose the responding party to sanctions, including being ordered to pay the attorney’s fees the asking party incurs to file a motion to compel.
“Calls for a legal conclusion” — While it is true that RFAs (and interrogatories) cannot ask for merit-preclusive conclusions of law that would end the case, they certainly can ask the responding party to apply controlling law to facts at issue in the case. This is specifically provided in the applicable rules.
“Fifth Amendment privilege” — Litigants may invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, even in a civil case. However, doing so requires the judge to draw negative inferences, almost as if you admitted to the objectionable question. The responding party can extinguish the inferences by proffering testimony, but then he or she must relinquish the privilege.
“Vague or ambiguous” — This is a legitimate objection when the question is worded in a certain way that could be susceptible to multiple interpretations or when it asks for an admission with far too little specificity. However, when the point of contention is semantic, it may be more prudent to confer with the asker to stipulate to a particular meaning, rather than risk a potential motion to compel.
“Irrelevant” — This one is often used if the answer to the discovery request is perceived to be irrelevant to the contested issues in the case. But the applicable standard is whether this answer is likely to lead to the discovery of relevant evidence, not whether the answer itself is relevant.
Consequences of not answering RFAs
As briefly mentioned before, requests for admission may be deemed admitted and used against the responding party if the requests are not timely answered.
Objections may constitute answers, but can create a different type of controversy. When there is any type of discovery dispute during litigation, the parties or their attorneys are required to personally confer to attempt in good faith to resolve the dispute without judicial intervention. This personal consultation requires more effort than an e-mail or a letter but, when it is unsuccessful, a litigant may file a motion to compel or a similar pleading to resolve the discovery dispute. When granting these motions, courts frequently impose financial sanctions against the party whose conduct obstructed discovery, pursuant to ARCP Rule 37 or ARFLP Rule 65. Similarly, a party who files a motion to compel prematurely may be ordered to pay the responding party’s attorney’s fees. The risk inherent in discovery disputes may exceed the benefit.