Illinois Supreme Court Rule 216: A Double-Edged Sword

The discovery phase of litigation can make or break a case. It is your opportunity to learn as much as possible about what the opposing party knows about the case and what evidence they have in their possession and it is their opportunity to do the same. Fortunately, the Illinois Supreme Court Rules provide us with various tools that can allow us to accomplish these goals, as well as narrow down the relevant issues. One such tool is Illinois Supreme Court Rule 216’s (“Rule 216) Requests to Admit Facts and Genuineness of Documents (“Requests to Admit”).

Rule 216 provides that a party may serve on any other party “a written request for the admission by the latter of the truth of any specified relevant fact set forth in the request” and “a written request for admission of the genuineness of any relevant documents described in the request.” Ill. Sup. Ct., R 216(b)-(c). It is important to make sure that your requests do not contain legal conclusions. See P.R.S. Int'l v. Shred Pax Corp., 184 Ill. 2d 224, 236 (1998) (“Accordingly, requests for legal conclusions are improper[.}”) If your Requests to Admit include requests to admit the genuineness of documents, copies of those documents must be served with the request unless they have already been furnished. Ill. Sup. Ct., R 216(b). A maximum of 30 requests can be served. Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 216(f).

Additionally, Rule 216 requires that Requests to Admit be prepared as a separate document, served separately, and include the following warning on the first page in 12-point font or larger in boldface type: “WARNING: If you fail to serve the response required by Rule 216 within 28 days after you are served with this document, all the facts set forth in the requests will be deemed true and all the documents described in the requests will be deemed genuine.”

Rule 216 cannot only be very useful, but can also be mercilessly unforgiving. The rule provides that the requests are admitted “unless, within 28 days after service thereof, the party to whom the request is directed serves upon the party requesting the admission either (1) a sworn statement denying specifically the matters of which admission is requested or setting forth in detail the reasons why the party cannot truthfully admit or deny those matters or (2) written objections on the ground that some or all of the requested admissions are privileged or irrelevant or that the request is otherwise improper in whole or in part.” Ill. Sup. Ct., R 216(c) (emphasis added). This means that if opposing counsel does not respond to the requests within 28 days of service all of the requests are deemed admitted as if the opposing party answered “Admit” to all of the requests. It is important to consult Rule 12 to determine when the requests are considered “served” depending on the method of service. If drafted carefully, opposing counsel’s oversight can potentially provide the basis for a Motion for Summary Judgment. It is equally as important to keep this requirement in mind if you are served with Requests to Admit.

Despite the harsh nature of the rule, the court still has discretion to allow the party who receives the requests to file a response after the 28-day deadline. See Vision Point of Sale, Inc. v. Haas, 226 Ill. 2d 334, 343 (2007) (“Rule 183 vests the circuit court with discretion to allow a party to serve a response to requests to admit after the expiration of the 28-day period.”) For that reason, it is prudent to wait a few days past the 28 day deadline before filing a motion for summary judgment as a court is less likely to exercise this discretion if the party receiving the requests cannot show good cause as to why they should be granted additional time to respond to the requests.

As you can see, Rule 216 provides us with a powerful discovery tool that can not only help us narrow down the issues in a case, but can also help us bring a case to an end if the opposing party is not diligent in responding to the Requests to Admit. However, it is equally as important to be diligent if you receive such requests.

For more information regarding this article, you can contact attorney Joshua Pagán at jpagan@lavellelaw.com or 312-332-7555.