Thursday, January 10, 2008

Getting stuck in Southern California Traffic is not excusable neglect

Not long ago, a California district court denied as untimely a motion for about a million dollars worth of attorneys' fees.  The prevailing party had 14 days from entry of judgment to file its motion.  The deadline was 4pm on the 14th day.  On the 14th day, at 3:14 pm, the lawyer for TAIS, the prevailing party, delivered the motion to the courier service.  The courier got stuck in traffic and missed the deadline (reportedly by one minute).  The court denied the motion as untimely.  The court reasoned, in part:

[E]ven a good faith mistake that does not result in prejudice to the other side is not a sufficient reason to enlarge the time period for requesting fees, absent some other evidence of 'compelling circumstances.'

[T]he reason for the delay was entirely within the TAIS' control and TAIS has not offered a good reason for the delay.  Given that the Ninth Circuit has held that a good faith misunderstanding of local rules is not sufficient to rise to the standard of excusable neglect, the entirely foreseeable obstacle of traffic in Southern California in the late afternoon cannot justify an enlargement of time. ... Because [the lawyer] made a conscious decision to wait until the final hour to file his motion, he assumed the risk that ... his risk would run out. 


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It seems like courts are obsessed with missed deadlines! We should think about why lawyers always run up against deadlines and whether there are good ways to alleviate the time pressures. One possibility that just pops into my head is that the rules could divorce deadlines for briefs from deadlines for motions. That might allow a party more easily to file a motion immediately so as to avoid running up against a deadline and then have time to focus on the brief. Sure, the brief itself would have a deadline, and parties might still miss it, but then the court would still have to entertain the motion and rule on it (albeit perhaps without a supporting brief). Not sure if this idea would hold up on closer scrutiny, but the broader point is that we should consider whether this is a problem and, if so, how we might fix it.

Posted by: Scott Dodson | Jan 10, 2008 10:44:29 AM

I confess to being in the idealistic and protected environment of law school, but I have no sympathy for people who wait until the last minute. When the rules give 14 days for filing a motion, the attorney should complete and file the motion within 14 days or request an extension. I realize that schedules are hectic and priorities force attorneys to shuffle tasks around, but 14 days are 14 days. I would somehow find time a day or two early if a timely motion were worth $1 million to me.

(And if this ever happens to me I hope that I will have the conviction to admit that it was my fault, though that remains to be seen.)

Posted by: Jeff Fisher | Jan 10, 2008 2:42:27 PM

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