I sued someone and they responded in their answer with sidestepping, indirect statements that neither admitted nor denied my allegations, what can I do?
22 February 2023
Answer: Move to strike the offensive responses and have them deemed admitted. Alternatively, you may simply regard them as admitted and proceed accordingly.
It is common for defendants of claims when answering the complaint to provide evasive responses to many of the allegations when they really should just expressly admit them. In fact, it is uncommon to not experience such answers in a case.
First, let’s lay out the basics of the beginning of a law suit before coving the answer in more detail; essentially and most often, there is a complaint with a bunch of specific allegations and there is an answer from the defendant that contains a response to each allegation. The purpose of “pleadings,” which in this case refers to the initial complaint and the answer to it, are to establish what facts are agreed upon and which are contested. The theory being that if the allegations are admitted to then, provided the allegations state a valid legal claim, you can then move to damages. (You must contrast this with criminal law, where there is no obligation to admit to anything.). If the essential allegations are not all admitted to, the extent of which allegations are admitted to will define the scope of the discovery (the next step in litigation) and limit the issues as much as they can be. So, when someone is not as “forthcoming” let’s say, it frustrates the civil law system and can make litigation more costly than it should be.
Now back to the problem, as stated, far too often, a defendant that knows he should admit an allegation simply doesn’t. Three are a few tacks you can take when facing this. First, let’s establish what the law is; Mass. R. Civ. P. 8(d) states that averments in a pleading . . . are admitted when not denied in the responsive pleading. see Mahanor v. United States, 192 F.2d 873, 876 (1st Cir. 1951) (deeming answer neither denying or stating insufficient knowledge admitted under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b)); Keller v. Enhanced Recovery Co. LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186043 **3-4, D.C. N.D. Ind. (decided Oct. 31, 2018)(“District courts in the Seventh Circuit consistently have found that responses that . . . a document ‘speaks for itself’ are insufficient and contrary to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”); Blasbalg v. Negro (In re Negro), 176 B.R. 671, 674 (Bankr. D. R.I. 1995); Metro. Prop. & Cas. Inc. Co. v. Morrison, 460 Mass. 352, 360 (2011)(allegations deemed admitted upon default); see also Conway v. Caragliano, 27 LCR 421 *7 (2019) (finding response exhibits that “speak for themselves” do not contest allegation and allegation is deemed admitted under analogous rule). So unless the answer expressly denies the allegation, it is supposed to be regarded as admitted. However, in practice, it may be risky to rely on this and continue the litigation, and one way to confirm and establish this conclusively is to motion the court in a timely manner.
In federal practice this happens much more often than in Massachusetts practice, but it can still be done in Massachusetts. However, one must move quickly. There is some room for debate whether Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(f), titled “Motion to Strike” is applicable to this situation of a non-responsive and evasive answer, but if it does apply it requires such a motion to strike to be filed “within 20 days after the service of the pleading upon him.” It is wise to move this quickly anyways, and all parties should want to know what is established by the pleadings as soon as possible in general.
It is practical to reach out to your adversary to ask them to address the problem answers and serve/file an amended answer to avoid this entire process. However, the same human nature that caused the less than forthcoming answer in the first place is likely to cause the inability to cure it and usually you will be left to having to proceed.
Overall, you are dealing with a common issue but it is important to address it in the right way. In the event you are facing a similar situation, feel free to give this office a call.