Analysis of Murnam v. Joseph J. Hock, 274 Md. 528 (1975)

Murnam v. Joseph J. Hock, 274 Md. 528 (1975) is often cited in this motion for the following statement of law made in the case:

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An answer to a request under Rule 36 is unlike a statement of fact by a witness made in the course of oral evidence at trial, or in oral pre-trial depositions, or even in written answers to interrogatories. It is on the contrary a studied response, made under sanctions against easy denials, to a request to assert the truth or falsity of a relevant fact pointed out by the request for admission. The purpose of the Rule is not the discovery of information but the elimination at trial of the need to prove factual matters which the adversary cannot fairly contest. In short, if [Maryland] Rule 421 is to fulfill its unquestioned function, to eliminate the need to prove factual matters at trial which the adversary cannot fairly contest, the admission produced by the rule must be conclusively binding. A contrary interpretation would reduce the rule to a "useless appendage.

The idea is that once a party has made an admission or failed to answer in a timely fashion, the party that is bound by the admission is not permitted to contradict the admission at trial and "there is no discretion to reexamine facts once they have been deemed admitted." 23 AM. JUR. 2d Depositions and Discovery § 197 (2002). See Kramer v. Levitt, 79 Md. App. 575, 579 (1989) (in case of investor suing his mortgage broker for breach of contract, non responding party was held to his requests for admissions).

The most powerful affirmation of this principle in recent years is Wilson v. John Crane, 385 Md. 185, 867 A.2d 1077 (2005). In Wilson, an asbestos case, suit was filed on March 2, 2000 for a case scheduled for trial on June 26, 2002. The defendant failed to respond timely to plaintiff's lawyer's request for admissions. On June 17, 2002, Defendant finally filed a motion for leave to withdraw the requests for admission. The court denied the motion the day before trial. The Maryland high court affirmed the trial court's ruling, finding that it had not abused its discretion in denying the motion.

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In Wilson, the delinquent party was requesting relief on eve of trial and the trial court chose to sanction the defendant for its flagrant failure to get its ducks in a row. Conversely, Maryland courts are unlikely to deem late requests for admission as admitted without aggravating circumstances. In Gonzales v. Boas, 162 Md. App. 344 (2005), while the court agreed that "while it is true that the Maryland Rules of Procedure are to be strictly followed the discovery rules in particular are to be 'liberally construed' in order to effectuate their purpose." With this purpose in mind, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals excused a defendant doctor's late filed answers to requests for admission in a case filed by Charm City's Peter Angelos Law Office, finding that there was no finding on how admission of a response that was only eight days late prejudiced the Plaintiff. In this case, the court found that the judge abused his discretion in deeming the requests in that case admitted.

The summary of these cases appears to be that a circuit court judge in Maryland has discretion to sanction parties for dilatory requests for admission in cases where their conduct is egregious but not where the violation is de minimis.

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