What makes a good request for admission?

Posted Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Family Court Procedure, Litigation Strategy, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

Other than requests for admissions on the authenticity of documents–which can be issued in unlimited numbers–South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 36(c) limits a party to twenty requests for admissions absent “good cause shown.”  How to employ those twenty requests is an important strategic concern.

There’s really only two ways one can utilize a request for admission that does not involve authenticating documents: 1) get a useful admission from the opposing party; 2) get a denial that potentially challenges the opposing party’s credibility.  Requests to admit that cannot conceivably do either are a waste of one’s twenty allowed requests.

Thus a request to admit something that is trivial is (probably) a wasted request.  A request to admit something that is already acknowledged by the opposing party (typically in a pleading or affidavit) is generally redundant as one can “prove” that fact at trial through the opposing party’s acknowledgment.  See SCRE 801(d)(2), which makes the use of a party opponent’s statements an exception to the hearsay rule.

A request to admit something broad or vague is also a wasteful request.  Asking an opposing party to “admit or deny that you are an unfit parent,” “admit or deny that you are a horrible spouse” or “admit or deny that you regularly consume alcohol to excess” is almost certainly going to be met with a denial.  When it is, there is little ability to impeach the opposing party on his or her denial.  Anyone can give a reasonably explanation as to why they are not an unfit parent, a horrible spouse, or a habitual drunk.  And, when faced with the denial and explanation, how can one prove the opposing party is a liar?

Thus, the ideal request to admit is: 1) not trivial; 2) not already acknowledged; and 3) narrow enough that an admission is useful but a denial is subject to impeachment.  A request to admit that one in an unfit parent might better be reframed as “admit or deny that your untreated mental health disorder placed the minor child in danger on [date].”  A request to admit that one is a horrible spouse is better reframed as a request to admit some horrible behavior or action.  A request to admit that one consumes alcohol to excess might be better narrowed as “admit or deny that you were too intoxicated on [date] to safely drive a motor vehicle [or to safely care for the parties’ minor child].”  Such requests are helpful if admitted and subject to impeaching evidence if denied.

The craft–and it is clearly a craft–of developing good requests to admit is so case specific that it’s impossible to create useful go-bys for such requests.  However trivial, redundant or unimpeachable requests are rarely useful and should be avoided.

5 thoughts on What makes a good request for admission?

  1. Greg: Good blog but I have one small picky point. The prefix “Admit or deny” to each request is redundant. The request should be a simple statement. Such as “You were at Sleaze Bag Motel in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on June 1, 2012” rather than “Admit or deny that you were at Sleaze Bag Motel in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on June 1, 2012.”

  2. Good blog. I enjoy receiving responses in which opposing party will admit something and then give me a paragraph of qualifications – so what, it’s already admitted.

    1. Plus you can use the qualifications for impeachment purposes.

  3. Scott Morgan says:

    I wish Texas had a limitation on the number of requests for admission. Here it is unlimited. Surprisingly few divorce lawyers here do requests for admission so it is not too much of a problem. However, when they do the requests are often voluminous and a waste of paper, asking for multi-part admissions on highly subjective issues like “Admit or Deny that your spouse is the better parent because he is the more bonded to the child, icooks better meals for the child, and attends more extracurricular activities and cheers more vigorously at said events than you do.” Obviously the respondent would simply respond by denying, no explanation required. When I see requests like these I know that the other side either a) doesn’t understand the proper use of request for admissions, or b) is simply trying to run up fees.

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