Rule 1.370: What Admissions are Legal
Rule 1.370 Requests for Admission can be a powerful tool to narrow the disputed facts and issues in litigation. A request for admission may be utilized to conclusively establish the truth of any fact, opinion of fact, or application of law to fact. A party must respond in good faith and based upon reasonable inquiry to ascertain the truth of the matters sought to be admitted. Failure to do so, including through the assertion of an unjustified objection, may result in the Court deeming the request admitted or ordering an amended answer to be served. The well-constructed language of Rule 1.370 presents a high hurdle for the party seeking to evade a carefully crafted request for admission. Pursuant to Rule 1.380(c), failure to admit a well-founded request for admission can result in the imposition of reasonable costs, including attorneys fees, incurred in proving the truth of the matter requested by the party making the request.
A well-founded request for admission on a critical fact or issue thus presents a major dilemma for the party to whom the request is directed: admit and conclusively establish the truth of the adverse fact, opinion, or conclusion OR deny and suffer the consequences of a fee award if/when the subject of the admission is subsequently proven. A common tactic used by litigants confronted with such a dilemma is to assert an objection which ostensibly relieves the party of the burden of either admitting or denying the request. One such commonly asserted objection, often posited in response to requests for admission regarding negligence or causation, is to claim that the request improperly seeks admission of a legal conclusion. It is true that a request pursuant to the current version of Rule 1.370 may not seek the admission of a "purely legal conclusion." Davis v. Dollar Rents A Car Sys., Inc., 909 So. 2d 297, 300 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004), rev'd on other grounds, 974 So. 2d 1052 (2007). In Davis, the Fifth District held that a request for admission on the legal duty of a property owner to maintain foliage on the property so that it would not block motorists' view of an intersection was impermissible as a request seeking admission of a purely legal conclusion. It is not true, however, that a request must be limited to a purely factual admission. Rule 1.370 was amended in 1972 to specifically permit a request for admission of the "application of law to fact." A request for admission of "a genuine issue for trial" is also explicitly permissible pursuant to the Rule. In accordance with the 1972 amendment, a request for admission that seeks the application of law to facts - such as a request for admission on negligence - is permitted. Just as Florida courts have long held that negligence cases are rarely amenable to summary judgment due to the uniquely factual nature of negligence claims, a request for admission of negligence is a permissible request requiring the application of law to fact. See Grimes v. Family Dollar Stores of Fla., Inc., 194 So. 3d. 424, 429 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016) ("Courts must be particularly restrained in granting summary judgment in negligence cases and summary judgment should not be granted 'unless the facts are so crystallized that nothing remains but questions of law.' Moore v. Morris, 475 So. 2d 666, 668 (Fla. 1985)."). The rationale for the distinction between permitting requests for admission on the application of law to fact and prohibiting requests for admission of a purely legal conclusion is that the governing law cannot be written and re-written in each individual case by way of requests for admission (i.e. a party cannot equitably be bound to a misstatement of governing law established by way of a request for admission), however a party can be bound to an admission based upon the application of law to the particular facts of the case as known to the responding party.