T he certified question before the Supreme Court in Vision Point of Sale v. Haas was framed as follows:
"In determining whether good cause exists under Supreme Court Rule 183 for the grant of an extension of time to remedy an unintentional non-compliance with a procedural requirement, may the court take into consideration facts and circumstances of record that go beyond the reason for non-compliance?"1
In Vision Point, accordingly, the Court’s ruling was limited to holding that the appellate court improperly limited the discretion of the trial court to consider objective evidence that may be relevant to the court’s good-cause determination.2 The Court noted that even the best of lawyers make technical or inadvertent mistakes, and that such conduct should not serve as an automatic basis for denying a good-cause motion for an extension of time. The court mentioned specific criticisms of the rule from legal communications, noted that several legal groups had submitted proposals to amend Rule 216 to soften the adverse effects on litigation which have followed in the wake of Bright v. Dicke, 166 Ill 2d 204, 208 (1995), and its progeny.3 At the public hearings of the Supreme Court’s Rule Committee, the committee heard repeated testimony labeling the case law "draconian".4
The court found that it has never held that "mistake, inadvertence or attorney neglect" is automatically excluded from the trial court’s consideration in determining whether good cause exists to grant an extension of time pursuant to Rule 183.5 Instead, the court noted the "broad overall policy goal of resolving cases on the merits rather than on technicalities".6 It refused to provide any additional specific definition of "good cause" but rather noted "good cause" is a fact-dependant determination that rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. The Vision Point court stated, however, that the trial court does not have carte-blanche authority to consider the "totality of the circumstances."7 Open-ended inquiries are not permitted after Vision Point. Instead, the trial court is limited in considering only the causes of the party’s original non-compliance in evaluating whether or not a Rule 183 motion should be granted.
Several important lessons can be learned from the Vision Point decision.
First, the decision underscores that Requests to Admit can be used in a variety of ways. On one hand, Requests to Admit can be used as a cost-effective means of preparing a case for trial and for streamlining other avenues of discovery. Requests to Admit issued early in a case can be used to narrow future discovery requests and narrow the scope of a witness’s trial testimony. On the other hand, Requests to Admit can be used as a weapon. Unlike the other methods of discovery, Requests to Admit carry a predetermined penalty, i.e., a factual admission, whenever a responding party does not strictly comply with the procedural requirements of Rule 216. While Vision Point provided the trial court with more latitude on when it can issue extensions of time to comply with the procedural requirements of Rule 216, the severe consequences for failing to comply with Rule 216 remain.
The scope of the Vision Point decision should also be considered. The certified question before the court was a narrow one and made reference only to "unintentional non-compliance with a procedural requirement." While the certified question dealt only with the issue of what constituted good cause under Rule 183, the Supreme Court took a broader view and spent a great deal of time discussing the function of Requests to Admit, noted that Requests to Admit became a "trap for the unwary" and how the appellate courts created a "draconian" rule that frustrated the very purposes of discovery and the public policy objectives contained therein.
Given this broad departure from the issue presented, it is clear that the Supreme Court wished to curtail the practice of using Requests to Admit as a tactical weapon and intended to discourage the use of Requests to Admit as a means of resolving disputes on procedural traps rather than on the merits. However, the Supreme Court declined to make broad rules regarding requests to admit. Instead, it permitted the trial courts to use their discretion in determining whether an extension of time to a request to admit should be granted or denied.
1 Vision Point of Sale v. Haas, 226 Ill.2d at 335-336.
2 Vision Point of Sale v. Haas, 226 Ill.2d at 351-52.
3 In Bright v. Dicke, the Court held that the burden should be on the party moving for a Rule 183 extension to submit to clear, objective reasons why it was unable to meet the original deadline and why an extension of time should be granted. The Bright Court refused to allow movants to rely upon a lack of prejudice to support a Rule 183 motion. The Court found that the movant must assert some in-dependent ground for why its untimely response should be allowed or its request for an extension will be denied.
4 Vision Point of Sale v. Haas, 226 Ill.2d at351-52.
5 Vision Point of Sale v. Haas, 226 Ill.2d at 351-52.
6 Vision Point of Sale v. Haas, 226 Ill.2d at 351-52, citing Shimanovsky v. Gen. Motors Corp., 181 Ill.2d 112, 123 (1998).
7 Vision Point of Sale v. Haas, 226 Ill.2d at 353.
James L. Ryan is an associate attorney at the Wheaton law firm of Roberts & Caruso. He concentrates his practice in the areas of civil and commercial litigation, business law and probate. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame in political science and economics and his law degree from Loyola University of Chicago School of Law. While in law school, Mr. Ryan completed Loyola’s Trial Advocacy Program earning a certificate in trial advocacy, served as a lead articles editor for the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal and advanced to the national quarterfinals of the Wagner Labor and Employment Law Moot Court Competition.