Drop Dead Deadlines – Impartial or Indiscriminate? 

The world of litigation is rife with deadlines.  Even a meritorious argument or strong case can be derailed by failure to timely file pleadings and motions.  This reality was illustrated in the recent case of Connolly v. 129 East 69th St. Corp.  In this slip and fall case, a defendant moved for summary judgment to dismiss plaintiff’s case, and the trial court granted the motion.  On appeal, however, the decision was reversed, as the court held the motion was filed one day after the motion filing deadline.

The trial court’s rules stipulated that motions for summary judgment were to be “filed” within 60 days of the filing of the note of issue.  Since plaintiffs filed their note of issue on July 10, 2013, motions for summary judgment were due by September 9, 2013. While the defendant served its motion for summary judgment on September 4, 2013, it did not file the motion until September 10, 2013, one day after the 60-day time period expired. Consequently, the motion was denied as untimely, without much explanation from the appellate court.

Conversely, proponents of strict deadlines, no matter their origin, argue that strict deadlines are necessary to keep the judicial system running fairly, with no “special exceptions” for any party, and ensure cases are disposed of efficiently.  Those in the middle of the road may say that a day late does not always mean a dollar short.  Courts will sometimes, but not always, permit a late filing, often using yardsticks such as “good cause” or “excusable neglect.”

Detractors of this decision, and others like it, criticize the court’s heavy-handedness and also lament that “haphazard” rules that permit trial courts, like those in New York, to set their own deadlines for the filing of dispositive motions inevitably result in the peremptory dismissal of meritorious arguments.

Whatever your stance, this case serves as a reminder to always check, and double-check court rules, particularly when filing something as significant as a motion for summary judgment.

  • Double-check deadlines – as in the Connolly case, timing can be everything
  • Frame out the format – look into things like margins and formatting requirements, length limits, and the like
  • Assess the attachments –Are there any limits on number or length of exhibits? Are there any praecipes, certifications, or affidavits you are overlooking?