Under CCP 2033.420, a party that unreasonably denies a request for admission may be required to pay the requesting party’s reasonable expenses, including attorney fees, in proving the truth of the matter at trial. Sanctions cannot be imposed if the party denying the admission had a reasonable basis at the time of denial for thinking it would prevail on the issue at trial. Such a reasonable basis must be found in facts and evidence known to the party at the time and may include expert testimony. An appellate court reviews the trial court’s findings regarding the reasonable basis for denial for abuse of discretion. This decision holds that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that the District lacked a reasonable ground for denying most of the requests for admission in this groundwater contamination suit. For most of the contaminating chemicals, the District had evidence showing the defendant used the chemicals at the site and it reasonably relied on its expert’s testimony that the release of those chemicals contaminated the groundwater. Sanctions were, however, properly awarded for the one chemical that the District did not try to prove at trial that the defendant had used. Also, the trial court erred in basing its award in part on an expert witness’s time records that had general entries not linked to the specific requests for admission that were improperly denied. By contrast, the attorney time entries noted the specific RFA to which each time entry related and thus were a sufficient basis on which to award fees.
California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1 (Haller, J.); December 19, 2018; 31 Cal. App. 5th 96