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Admit it, Rule 216 is Confusing

The case law interpreting Rule 216 is always evolving, with most of the emphasis on the issue that terrifies litigators, which is blowing the 28-day deadline to answer, and thereby having requests deemed admitted. A second hot topic is the extent to which requests to admit are discovery. Although the Illinois Supreme Court has held in Vision Point of Sale, Inc. v. Haas, 226 Ill.2d 334 (2007), that requests to admit are discovery, there is still some gray area within that holding. The narrow focus of this article is to alert readers to one such gray area.

Imagine you are handling a case in which opposing counsel serves requests to admit. Many of the requests are not relevant so you objected to them. Rule 216(c)(2) specifically refers to objections on the ground that requested admissions are “irrelevant.” It therefore never occurs to you that your objections were even arguably improper. In response, opposing counsel replies in her 201(k) letter that discovery requests may be broader than that which is “relevant” for purposes of admissible evidence, and that you are therefore obligated to answer the objected to requests. The dispute becomes whether the definition of “relevant” for purposes of Rule 216 is narrower than the “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” definition for other discovery tools.

On the one hand, the reference to relevance in Rule 216 itself is clear. On the other hand, there is no case law directly on point. The case law does reflect that requests to admit are discovery, but the analysis is much more nuanced on the specific issue of whether the standard of “relevance” for discovery applies to requests to admit. It appears to be an open issue.

As noted above, the Illinois Supreme Court held in Vision Point that requests to admit are indeed discovery. A careful reading of Vision Point, however, along with subsequent case law, supports only the argument that requests to admit are subject to some discovery rules. Vision Point dealt with the narrow issue of whether requests to admit are discovery for purposes of the court’s discretion to grant an extension under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 183. Vision Point did not deal in any way with the scope of requests to admit for purposes of “relevance,” nor whether the scope might differ from interrogatories, production requests or other discovery tools.

In further support of the position that, despite Vision Point’s holding, requests to admit are at least different than other discovery tools, both federal and state courts have repeatedly recognized that requests to admit are distinct from other discovery because they are generally not designed to elicit evidence but instead to narrow issues for trial. See, e.g., Kelly v. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2012 WL 386324 (N.D. Ill.); Z Financial, LLC v. ALSJ, Inc., 977 N.E.2d 189 (1st Dist. 2012).

If you are still reading this article with the hope of a clear conclusion and answer, you will be disappointed. Instead, the purpose of this article is simply to make readers aware of the issue, along with the case law supporting each side of the argument.

This article was featured in the September 2015, vol. 61, no. 2 issue of Trial Briefs, the newsletter of the ISBA’s Section on Civil Practice & Procedure.