Board Determines the Court's Discretion with Requests for Admissions
The Appeals Board released an opinion last week determining the scope of a trial court's discretion when applying Rule 36 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, which governs requests for admissions.
Quality Floor Coverings initially served Holt with requests for admissions on December 7, 2021, but Holt didn't provide timely responses. Quality Floor Coverings moved the Court on February 7, 2022, to deem its requests for admissions admitted.
Almost three weeks later, Holt filed responses to Quality Floor Coverings' requests for admissions in response to its motion. However, Holt didn't file a motion seeking additional time to respond to the requests, and the trial court denied Quality Floor Coverings' motion. Quality Floor Coverings appealed.
Rule 36 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure states that a party “may serve upon any other party a written request for the admission … of the truth of any matters … that relate to facts, the application of law to facts, or opinions about either.” The statements in the requests for admissions will be admitted “unless, within 30 days … the party to whom the request is directed serves a written answer or objection[.]” The Court is permitted to use its discretion and allow a party's written answer or objection within or after the allotted thirty days.
Additionally, any matter admitted under Rule 36 is determined to be “conclusively established” unless the Court allows “withdrawal or amendment of the admission” by motion.
Quality Floor Coverings served requests for admissions on Holt on December 7, 2021. However, Holt didn't timely respond but did eventually respond after Quality Floor Coverings filed a Motion to Deem Requests Admitted.
The trial court denied Quality Floor Coverings' motion because it didn't comply with Rule 0800-02-21-.17(5)(c), which states that in the event of a “discovery dispute,” the moving party must certify that it made a “good faith effort” to resolve the dispute before filing a motion.
The Board reversed in part. It found that Rule 36 is “self-executing” and determined that written requests for admissions will be “automatically deemed admitted thirty days after the requests are served[.]” However, the requests for admissions won't be automatically admitted if (1) a party “timely serves a response denying the request or objecting to the request;” (2) a party “timely asks the trial court to lengthen the time within which a response can be served;” or (3) a party “timely serves a response or objection and the other party files a motion asking the trial court to determine the sufficiency of the answers or objections.” If a party can't satisfy one of these three carveouts, then the requests for admissions will be conclusively established.
Further, the Board concluded that the trial court has the “express authority” under its discretion to change the allotted thirty days within which the party may respond. The trial court may also allow a party to “withdraw or amend any admissions” under its authority.
Additionally, the trial court considered Tenn. Comp. R. and Regs. 0800-02-21-.17(5)(c), which is the regulation governing the discovery process in the Court of Workers' Compensation Claims. This rule allows either party to file a motion “at any time after a petition for benefit determination is filed” when a discovery dispute arises, and it requires the moving party to attempt to resolve the dispute before filing a motion.
The Board agreed with Quality Flooring Coverings that the good-faith certification required by the rule was inapplicable “in the context of requests for admissions under Rule 36 to which no timely response is served because no dispute has yet arisen.”
Lastly, the Board concluded that Holt admitted eleven of the fourteen requests filed by Quality Floor Coverings. These admissions are “conclusively established, unless the trial court later allows a withdrawal or amendment one or more of the admissions pursuant to Rule 36.02.”
The Board remanded the case to determine the status of the remaining three admissions.
This is the first time the Appeals Board has reviewed a case involving requests for admissions, so it offers valuable guidance for practitioners and judges alike.
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