Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 01 L 6269 The Honorable John G. Laurie, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Smith
Plaintiff-appellant Craig Robertson (plaintiff) appeals from the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant-appellee Sky Chefs, Inc. (defendant), based on plaintiff's failure to respond to defendant's written request for admission of fact pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 216 (134 Ill. 2d R. 216). Plaintiff asks that we vacate the order and remand the cause, allowing him to withdraw any admissions or file a late response to defendant's written request. For the following reasons, we affirm.
The record in the instant case reveals that on June 2, 1999, plaintiff was operating a motor vehicle on a service ramp in the American Airlines terminal at O'Hare International Airport between gates K11 and K13. While plaintiff was driving the vehicle, he slowed to yield to a catering truck that was being operated by an agent of defendant. Despite this, plaintiff's vehicle and defendant's vehicle collided.
On May 29, 2001, plaintiff filed a complaint at law alleging that defendant's agent had been negligent in operating its vehicle and that this negligence resulted in his injury and damages. Defendant answered the complaint and asserted various affirmative defenses. Defendant then filed and served upon plaintiff a written request for admission of fact (request to admit), pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 216 (Rule 216). See 134 Ill. 2d R. 216. This request to admit propounded 12 questions with respect to the alleged accident and sought plaintiff's response to each. Plaintiff did not respond to defendant's request to admit.
Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that due to plaintiff's failure to respond to the Rule 216 request to admit, all the facts contained in that request must be deemed admitted, thereby leaving no issue of material fact with respect to defendant's alleged negligence. Plaintiff responded, claiming that the questions defendant propounded in the request to admit were improper in form and did not comply with Rule 216. On September 10, 2002, the trial court entered an order granting defendant's motion for summary judgment.
On appeal, plaintiff contends that the trial court abused its discretion in granting defendant's motion for summary judgment due to his failure to answer the questions contained in defendant's request to admit. Plaintiff claims that the questions improperly sought admissions concerning conclusions of law, and therefore, his failure to respond to them did not result in any binding admissions. Alternatively, plaintiff contends that even were we to find that his failure to respond did result in his admission of the contents of defendant's Rule 216 request to admit, summary judgment was not proper because genuine issues of material fact still exist. For its part, defendant contends that each question in the request to admit was proper in form. Defendant further argues that even if some conclusions of law were present, the remaining factual questions in the request "are enough by themselves" for plaintiff to have judicially admitted, through his failure to answer them, that no cause of action for negligence against defendant exists. We agree with defendant's latter argument.
As a threshold matter, we note for the record that the parties disagree upon the appropriate standard of review for the instant cause. Plaintiff argues that the trial court committed an abuse of discretion in its ruling, while defendant points out that an appeal from a grant of summary judgment requires de novo review. Neither approach, however, is entirely correct. This cause invokes two issues for our consideration: (1) whether the questions in defendant's request to admit were proper in form and thus should be deemed admissions as a result of plaintiff's failure to respond to them; and (2) whether, after setting aside any improper questions in the request to admit, the remaining admissions provide adequate support for the trial court's award of summary judgment to defendant. Our review for both of these questions is on a de novo basis, since the first is a question of law (see P.R.S. International, Inc. v. Shred Pax Corp., 184 Ill. 2d 224, 234 (1998) (whether request to admit calls for admission of fact or conclusion of law is reviewed de novo)), and the second is an appeal from an order granting summary judgment (see Outboard Marine Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 154 Ill. 2d 90, 102 (1992) (whether summary judgment was properly granted is reviewed de novo)).
The purpose of summary judgment is to determine whether a question of fact exists. See Addison v. Whittenberg, 124 Ill. 2d 287, 294 (1988). This relief is proper when the pleadings, affidavits, depositions and admissions of record, construed strictly against the moving party, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Morris v. Margulis, 197 Ill. 2d 28, 35 (2001); accord Purtill v. Hess, 111 Ill. 2d 229, 240-44 (1986). While summary judgment has been called a "drastic measure," it is an appropriate tool to employ in the expeditious disposition of a lawsuit in which " 'the right of the moving party is clear and free from doubt.' " Morris, 197 Ill. 2d at 35, quoting Purtill, 111 Ill. 2d at 240.
Pursuant to Rule 216, a party to an action may serve another party to that action with a written request for his admission of "any specified relevant fact set forth in" that request. 134 Ill. 2d R. 216(a); see P.R.S. International, 184 Ill. 2d at 234. The party receiving the request then has 28 days in which to either deny or object to the request. See 134 Ill. 2d R. 216(c). If he does neither, those factual matters in the request are deemed judicial admissions which cannot later be controverted by any contradictory evidence. See 134 Ill. 2d R. 216(c); see also Banco Popular v. Beneficial Systems, Inc., 335 Ill. App. 3d 196, 208 (2002) (failure to respond as required by Rule 216(c) results in admission of facts which cannot later be disputed).
However, Rule 216 applies exclusively to the admission of facts or "ultimate facts" which might give rise to legal conclusions. See P.R.S. International, 184 Ill. 2d at 236, 239; Walker v. Valor Insurance Co., 314 Ill. App. 3d 55, 62 (2000) ("Rule 216 applies only to the admission of facts"). Thus, a party may not include legal conclusions in his request to admit. See P.R.S. International, 184 Ill. 2d at 236; Walker, 314 Ill. App. 3d at 62 ("legal conclusions may not be admitted or included in a Rule 216 request"). Any question propounded in the request to admit which seeks the admission of a conclusion of law is improper in form (see P.R.S. International, 184 Ill. 2d at 236), and the failure to respond to that question does not result in a judicial admission. See P.R.S. International, 184 Ill. 2d at 239; accord Banco Popular, 335 Ill. App. 3d at 209; see also Hubeny v. Chairse, 305 Ill. App. 3d 1038, 1043 (1999) (if request asks party to admit to conclusion of law, party's failure to respond is irrelevant and "a trial on the issue" is "required").
Accordingly, we must determine whether the defendant's request to admit to which plaintiff did not respond properly included questions of fact, and subsequently, whether these facts deemed admitted due to plaintiff's failure to respond ...