In Kniep v. Templeton, decided today, the Court of Appeals (COA) held that summary judgment was properly entered against the defendant based on unanswered requests for admissions, even though the defendant maintained he didn't answer the requests because a default judgment had already been entered against him.
Plaintiffs sued defendant for breach of contract, seeking specific performance and damages. Along with the complaint, plaintiffs served requests for admissions. Defendant failed to file a responsive pleading, so plaintiff got a default judgment. A month later, plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the ground that defendant failed to timely respond to the requests for admissions. Plaintiff argued that the matters in those requests were therefore deemed admitted by operation of law, and that those (silent) admissions were dispositive of liability because they established the elements of plaintiffs' breach of contract claim. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to plaintiff.
On appeal, defendant argued that it was improper for the trial court to base a summary judgment ruling on defendant's failure to answer requests for admission when default had already been entered before the deadline for the admission responses. The COA disagreed. The COA emphasized that entry of default only admits the allegations in the complaint but doesn't admit the sufficiency of those allegations to state a cause of action; therefore, a defaulted defendant should serve responsive pleadings to protect his interests. The COA held that the entry of default didn't preclude defendant from responding to the request for admission because defendant was free to contest the sufficiency of plaintiffs' complaint to state a claim for recovery; by not responding to the requests, defendant admitted the matters requested.
The lesson: because a default judgment may be set aside or limited (it doesn't establish that the allegations in the complaint are sufficient to state a claim, and damages may be contested), a defaulted defendant shouldn't stand down when served with discovery requests. Instead the defaulted defendant should proceed as if the default judgment hadn't been entered.