Earlier this year I noted the case of Precision Franchising, LLC v. Catalin Gatej, a breach of contract case filed by the Leesburg-based franchisor of the Precision Tune Auto Care system against a Massachusetts resident. The Eastern District of Virginia had denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case and had issued a detailed written opinion explaining the grounds therefor. What happened next? Mr. Gatej promptly fired his lawyers, then proceeded to ignore Precision’s discovery requests until several weeks after responses were due. The predictable result was another written opinion, this time granting summary judgment in favor of Precision Franchising.
Requests for admissions are deemed admitted if not timely answered. Gatej failed to respond timely to Precision’s requests for admissions, resulting in certain key facts being deemed established. Precision, relying on those admissions, moved for summary judgment. Late responses, however, are generally treated as motions to withdraw or amend the admissions, which courts can allow if allowing the late or amended responses would promote “the presentation of the merits of the action” and “would not prejudice the party that obtained the admission.” (See Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36). Gatej filed late responses.
Judge Cacheris found that although allowing Gatej to amend his responses would certainly promote presentation on the merits, it would cause prejudice to Precision. Precision reasonably relied on the deemed admissions in preparing its motion. Allowing Gatej to amend his responses so late in the process would force Precision to expend more time and money to prove what the deemed admissions already conclusively established. Perhaps most importantly, Gatej filed his responses over two months beyond an extended deadline as part of a pattern of “general unresponsiveness and repeated delinquency.” The looming discovery deadline left no room for Precision to complete more discovery. And the Court had already warned Gatej that his repeated noncompliance could result in sanctions, including the entry of a default judgment. Though the result was perhaps harsh, Judge Cacheris concluded that litigants must be able to rely on the rules of procedure or there is no point to having them.