Generally, requests for admissions (RFAs) are used to save time, effort and resources on sub-issues of a legal case. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure Section 1.370(a) addresses these requests. Most simply, a request for admission is a discovery tool, in which one party, or both parties, attempt to establish issues that do not go to the “heart of the case.” This document requests that the other party admit or deny certain issues pertaining to the matter at hand. Any matter admitted in a response to the RFA is conclusively established. Most RFAs are served immediately after the service of the process and initial pleadings are served. The defendant need not serve “answers or objections before the expiration of 45 days after the service of process and initial pleading upon the defendant.”
The party who receives the RFAs must either admit or deny the questions presented in the document. If the party fails to respond or indicates that they admit to the matter at hand, per Florida R. Civ. Pro 1.370(a), “the matter is admitted unless the party to whom the request is directed serves upon the party requesting the admission a written answer or objection addressed to the matter within 30 days after service of the request.” Thus, generally, the party that receives the RFA has 30 days to admit, deny or object to the questions presented. If that receiving party fails to act, the matter will then be admitted, and at the time of trial, it will become a stipulated fact.
Practitioners have leeway when it comes to the language contained in Section 1.370(a). Most courts in Florida will allow a “late submission” of responses to RFAs if that party files a motion requesting leave to file a response or requests an enlarged time to respond. In most cases, both attorneys will file an agreed order to enlarge time for the tardy lawyer to file a response to the other party’s discovery requests. However, most parties will specify that the responses to the RFAs are due 20 days from the date of the agreed order. If the non-compliant party fails to respond to the request for admissions within the allotted time, the response to the RFA should be deemed admitted.
Liberal standard is generally used by most district courts in Florida
In Florida, there is a liberal standard when it comes to discovery and the discovery process. Florida courts favor allowing amendments to permit a disposition on the merits, rather than on technical admissions. Florida courts prefer allowing the “tardy party” to serve responses rather than deem all of their answers admitted despite their inaction. This standard is understandable, yet frustrating. It encourages violating parties to remain lazy, and file their answers or responses to discovery when they “see fit.”
4TH DCA cases do have strict interpretations
However, despite Florida courts reluctance to deem responses to RFAs admitted, there is supporting case law for a stricter interpretation or application of Florida Rules of Civil Procedure Section 1.370(a). Below are two cases that deem answers admitted for failure to either serve responses to RFAs or attempts at serving responses months after the initial request. The judges mainly focused on prejudice to the requesting party, the length of time and whether there was excusable neglect.
- Asset Management Consultants of Virginia, Inc. v. City of Tamarac, 913 So. 2d 1179 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005)
RFAs were sent to the Asset Management Corporation on September 2, 2003. The corporation attempted to request an enlargement of time to respond to the RFAs on April 28, 2004. The 4th DCA Court held that the above-mentioned liberal standard has its limits. The corporation practiced no diligence in moving forward to file belated answers. Thus, absent inadvertence or excusable neglect, there becomes a point in this 6-month matter in which the opposing party is prejudiced by a tardy response. The court held that the answers were to be deemed admitted.
In this case, the defendant failed to seek relief from admissions and didn’t file a response to the plaintiff’s requests for admissions, although they were six months overdue. The 4th DCA emphasized the length of time that the insurance company relied on the admissions. The court held that unless there are facts to support inadvertence or excusable neglect, responses to RFAs are to be admitted.
Applying an RFA in a current case
I have recently encountered a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance benefits case in which opposing counsel has failed to respond to our RFAs. We served our initial RFAs to opposing counsel on October 1, 2013. Per Florida Rules of Civil Procedure Section 1.370(a), opposing counsel had 30 days to respond to our request (prior to or on October 31, 2013). Fast forward seven months, and the defense counsel still hasn’t filed a response! The lack of response to our RFAs has prejudiced us, in that, we have yet to receive the information we need regarding certain insurance policy questions and other important issues. Thus, by operation of Florida Rules of Civil Procedure Section 1.370(a), the matters we addressed in the RFAs should be deemed “admitted.”
We are set for a hearing on this important issue. If the county court judge agrees with our position, an appeal is most likely to follow. It will be interesting to see how the 4th DCA rules given their history of inconsistent rulings. The main impediment to a favorable ruling is based on the presiding judge’s interpretation of whether a strict versus a liberal interpretation standard should be followed.
If you are a medical provider, and you have unpaid medical charges, bills, etc., it is imperative to contact an experienced PIP litigation attorney to ensure that you receive all of your benefits, by aggressively pursuing all discovery requests. This will ensure that your unpaid bills will be collected in an expedited manner.