In Hill v. City of Horn Lake, the Mississippi Supreme Court announced an obscure civil procedure point. The Court refused to accept a denial to a request for admission as proper summary judgment evidence. The Court explained that only matters “admitted” are imbued with the special, conclusive treatment under Rule 36. Therefore, the Court surmised, denials were not deserving of equal treatment. It held (for the first time as far as I can tell): “Unlike admissions, denials in response to a request for admission are not competent summary judgment evidence.” In this case, the City propounded requests for admissions to the co-defendant, a construction contractor, asking it to admit that the City took no part in the design and planning of a project. The co-defendant denied the requests. The Plaintiff asserted those denial as creating a question of fact that precluded summary judgment.
The Court did not cite to any Mississippi precedence for this proposition. Instead, they cite two Texas Court of Appeals cases. Neither Texas case supports the absolute restriction on the use of denials as the Court appears to be pronouncing.
In the Barragan case, the Texas Court of Appeals noted that under their rule 166a(c) (similar to our Rule 56), although it may appear that interrogatory answers, pleadings and admissions are proper summary judgment evidence, in reality, Texas law has severely limited their use in summary judgment context. In that case, the plaintiff failed to respond at all to the summary judgment motion, but tried to cite to the discovery for the first time on appeal.
In the City of Richland Hills case, the plaintiff sought summary judgment on a declaratory action. The defendant opposed summary judgment and tried to rely on its own denials of the Plaintiff’s requests for admission. The Texas Court of Appeals rejected the attempt to use your own denials to create a fact question.
This seems to be the right result here. A self-serving denial to requests for admission by another party should not be permitted to be used to defeat an otherwise properly supported summary judgment motion. If that were the case, all a plaintiff would have to do is hope the defendant sent requests for admission he or she could simply deny. However, the Court may have overstated the result in its blanket pronouncement that all such denials are unworthy as Rule 56 proof. A denial of a fact or contention may be just as important and vital to a case as a positive admission.
The lesson in semantics here may simply be that when faced with denials you would like to use, send a second set of requests for admission asking the respondent to “admit that you denied” all the allegations in the first set.