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Appellate Court Clarifies Deadline to Respond to Requests to Admit, Bases for Discovery Extensions

March 31, 2014Stephen GorskiRelated Practice Areas: Civil Rights Litigation & Correctional Healthcare
Stephen J. Gorski

In Armagan v. Pesha, 2014 IL App (1st) 121840, the Illinois Appellate Court for the First District clarified the rules of service for responding to requests to admit. In Armagan, the plaintiff filed suit alleging that the defendants, who held an interest in a coin shop, converted a number of gold coins he gave to the shop for safekeeping. The plaintiff served the defendants with a request to admit facts pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 216 seeking admissions about the terms of their agreement for the safekeeping of the coins. Plaintiff served these requests on November 18, 2010. Defendant filed his response with the court and mailed them to plaintiff on December 17, 2010. On December 30, 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion to deem facts admitted, arguing that the defendants’ responses were not served within the 28-day deadline provided in Rule 216. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion and denied the defendants’ subsequent motion to extend the deadline to respond. With the facts deemed admitted, Plaintiff filed and won a motion for summary judgment. The defendants appealed, arguing that the trial court: (1) erred in applying the rules of service for responses to requests to admit, and (2) abused its discretion for failing to extend the deadline to respond.

The appellate court first addressed whether the defendants timely served their responses to the requests to admit. Plaintiff argued that under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 12 service of documents by mail is complete four days after mailing. Therefore, service of plaintiff’s requests to admit was complete on November 22, 2010. The defendants’ responses were therefore due 28 days later on December 20, 2010. While the defendants filed and mailed the responses within that timeframe, plaintiff argued that under Rule 12 service of the responses was not complete until December 21, 2010. Plaintiff argued the defendants should have mailed their responses no later than December 16, 2010 to ensure completion of service by December 20, 2010 under Rule 12. The trial court agreed.

The appellate court quickly noted that the controlling service rule is Illinois Supreme Court Rule 11, not Rule 12, and that Rule 216(c) requires only that “responses to requests for admissions be served on the opposing party within the specified time frame.” Rule 11 provides that service by mail of non-pleadings occurs upon the act of mailing the document. This was distinguished from Rule 12, which provides that for purposes of proof of service, service by mail is complete four days after the documents are mailed. Ultimately, Rule 216 does not require that service of the responses be perfected under Rule 12 within 28 days, just that they be served under Rule 11. Therefore, the appellate court found that the defendants’ responses were timely served when they were mailed and that further proceedings were required.

The appellate court then addressed whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying the defendants’ an extension of time to respond to the requests to admit. In their motion, the defendants argued they had “good cause” for an extension under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 183 because the responses could not have been signed prior to December 17, 2010. They provided the trial court with an affidavit that the individual defendant who signed the responses was out of town between December 13 and December 17, 2010. The trial court found this explanation inadequate because it did not explain why the responses could not have been signed prior to December 13, 2010.

The appellate court treated the issue as moot because the defendants’ responses to the requests to admit were timely served under Rules 11 and 216. However, it took a moment to note that the trial court relied too heavily on Bright v. Dicke, 166 Ill. 2d 204 (1995), which applied a bright-line test for resolving discovery extensions under Rule 183. It noted that post-Bright decisions were harsh and did not allow for mistake, inadvertence, or attorney neglect as a basis for establishing “good cause” under Rule 183. It further pointed out that subsequent cases, like Vision Point of Sale, Inc. v. Haas, 226 Ill. 2d 334 (2007), shifted away from the Bright decision, and recognized that attorneys who made technical or inadvertent mistakes were being kept from extensions without the courts considering objective evidence of good cause. The court in Vision held that a good cause analysis should include “all objective, relevant evidence presented by the delinquent party with respect to why there is good cause for its failure to comply . . . and why any extension of time should now be granted.” Id. at 353.  A good cause analysis should include a consideration of “mistake, inadvertence, or attorney neglect,” but not “an open-ended inquiry” into non-compliance. Id. The appellate court also reiterated a preference to resolve cases on the merits and not technicalities, and that discovery extensions under Rule 183 facilitate this end.

Practitioners in Illinois’ First Appellate District should be aware of Armagan’s interpretation of the rules for serving responses to requests to admit. Under Rules 11 and 216, service by mail occurs at the moment the responses are deposited in the mail. Rule 216 does not require that service of such responses be perfected under Rule 12 before the 28 day deadline to respond. The Armagan court also held that filing responses to requests to admit with the court does not constitute proper service. Where an extended deadline is needed, litigants in the First District should also look to Armagan and Vision as guideposts for interpreting Rule 183’s “good cause” basis for an extended discovery deadline.

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