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Reason for Missing Deadline Did Not Reach Level of Excusable Neglect

by David Reutter

The First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff’s failure to oppose the defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a timely fashion could not be considered excusable neglect.

Patrick Skrabec was arrested in December 2012 for threatening to commit a crime and disturbing a school assembly. After a trial by jury, Skrabec was acquitted of both misdemeanors.

Patrick and his parents, Neil and Mary Ann Skrabec, filed suit against North Attleboro, Mass., and others (the Town) for violating Patrick’s constitutional rights, negligence, and depriving the parents of consortium with their son.

The Massachusetts federal district court overseeing the case ordered both parties to file dispositive motions by October 31, 2016, and any opposition to these motions by November 30, 2016.

The Town filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming probable cause existed for the arrest, the defendants were entitled to immunity, conduct of the defendants wasn’t outrageous enough to warrant unintentional emotional distress, and loss of consortium was not recognized under Massachusetts law.

Patrick Skrabec died, and his parents’ attorney e-mailed the Town’s attorney to discuss the developments. The Town’s attorney agreed to meet, but no additional communication occurred until well after the November 30 deadline.

On December 28, 2016, the district court granted the Town’s unopposed motion for summary judgment. Two days later, the Skrabecs field a motion for relief from judgment for excusable neglect. The district court denied the motion. It held that the belief that a settlement was forthcoming based simply on sparse e-mails was beyond reason and that their attorney still had a responsibility to respond to the defendant’s motion before the court deadline.

The Skrabecs appealed. The First Circuit stated that a party seeking relief under excusable neglect must show, at bare minimum, that the motion was filed in a timely manner, there were exceptional circumstances favoring extraordinary relief, that if judgment was set aside the claimant would have a potentially meritorious claim or defend, and no prejudice would accrue to the opposing party if granted. Additionally, the party must show that the neglect was in fact excusable. Deference is given to the trial court and relief is only granted with a showing of abuse of discretion.

The Skrabecs contended that there was an understanding between attorneys, that the Skrabecs were not required to oppose the summary judgment motion as long as settlement discussions were continuing. That conclusion was unsupported by the facts.

The Skrabecs’ attorney’s failure to seek an extension was not, the court held, excusable neglect.

The Skrabecs also claimed that Patrick’s death disrupted settlement negotiations and preparation of this case. But they did not explain how the death contributed to the attorney’s belief that he need not oppose the Town’s motion.

The First Circuit held that the district court acted within its discretion in concluding that the Skrabecs failed to demonstrate excusable neglect and its order was affirmed.

See Skrabec v. Town of North Attleboro,__f.3d__(1st Cir. 2017)

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Related legal case

Skrabec v. Town of North Attleboro