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Court-Ordered and Statutory Deadlines are Not Optional, Says the First Department

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  • Posted on: Apr 17 2019

As every lawyer knows, the practice of law requires compliance with various deadlines. Some are court ordered, while others are statutory. To be sure, there are many practitioners who do not sweat the time constraints imposed by a deadline. Indeed, “[t]oo many pages of the Reports, and hours of the courts, are taken up with deadlines that are simply ignored.” Miceli v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 3 N.Y.3d 725, 727 (2014). However, most lawyers likely wake up in the middle of the night worrying about whether they can meet a court-ordered or statutory deadline.

In New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”), there are many deadlines that require compliance. In addition to the CPLR, there are deadlines in the rules of the judge before whom a case is pending that require compliance by litigants.

In Appleyard v. Tigges, 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 02820 (1st Dept. Apr. 16, 2019) (here), the Appellate Division, First Department, addressed the deadlines set by the CPLR and the judge before whom the case was pending for filing a motion for summary judgment, concluding that the motion court’s denial of such a motion on compliance grounds was proper.

Appleyard was originally assigned to Justice Stanley Green of the Supreme Court, Bronx County, on July 1, 2015. On October 24, 2016, Justice Green signed a so-ordered stipulation setting February 16, 2017 as the date for a compliance conference before Justice Douglas E. McKeon. Plaintiff filed her note of issue on December 16, 2016. Justice Green’s individual rules required that motions for summary judgment be filed within 120 days of the filing of the note of issue, which would have made the deadline for filing such a motion April 17, 2017.

On December 31, 2016, Justice Green retired from the bench. The action was administratively reassigned to Justice Wilma Guzman on January 7, 2017. Justice Guzman’s rules require that “a motion for summary judgment shall be made no later than sixty (60) days after the filing of the Note of Issue, except with leave of court on good cause shown.” Thus, under Justice Guzman’s individual rules, in the absence of a showing of good cause, the deadline for filing a motion for summary judgment was 60 days after the filing of the note of issue or February 14, 2017.

Defendants’ counsel averred that on February 10, 2017, he first learned of the reassignment of the case to Justice Guzman when a scheduling clerk in his office consulted the court system’s e-Courts electronic calendar to confirm the previously scheduled February 16, 2017 conference. Counsel acknowledged that shortly thereafter, he reviewed Justice Guzman’s individual rules and noted the requirement that summary judgment motions be made within 60 days of the filing of the note of issue.

On March 29, 2017, approximately 43 days after the February 14 deadline, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment and, “if necessary,” to extend the deadline to file same. Citing Brill v. City of New York, 2 N.Y.3d 648, 652 (2004), the motion court denied both motions as untimely, reasoning that defendants were aware of the reassignment of the matter to the motion court prior to the February 14 deadline, yet failed to move for an extension of time to file the motion for summary judgment prior to that date.

In Brill, the Court of Appeals addressed the question of what constitutes “good cause” in determining whether to consider untimely motions for summary judgment. The Court held that “good cause” under CPLR 3212 (a) required “a satisfactory explanation for the untimeliness” rather than a statement that the motion is meritorious and nonprejudicial.  2 N.Y.3d at 651. The Court explained that “[n]o excuse at all, or a perfunctory excuse, cannot be ‘good cause.’” Id.

The First Department affirmed, holding that the motions were untimely.

In so holding, the Court emphasized the importance of complying with court-ordered and statutory deadlines, noting that “‘statutory time frames — like court-ordered time frames . . . are not options, they are requirements, to be taken seriously by the parties.” Id., quoting Miceli, 3 N.Y.3d at 726 (internal citation omitted).

With the emphasis on compliance, the Court concluded that “defendants’ motions for summary judgment and alternatively an extension of time were properly denied.” Id. at *2.  Aside from the deadline itself, the Court noted that defendants conceded their awareness of the reassignment of the action to Justice Guzman and the 60-day filing period provision in her rules in advance of the filing deadline. Id. Nevertheless, noted the Court, “they waited 47 days after learning of Justice Guzman’s timeliness rule and 43 days after the expiration of her statutorily authorized 60-day filing period to seek leave of court for additional time to file their motions….” Id. Such actions, the Court held, rendered “their motions untimely.” Id.

Moreover, the Court held that defendants did not establish “good cause for their belated filing.” Id. The Court rejected defendants’ argument that good cause was demonstrated by the filing of their motions within 120 days after the note of issue was filed, noting that defendants failed “to comply with the [motion] court’s own deadline.” Id., citing Giudice v. Green 292 Madison, LLC, 50 A.D.3d 506, 506 (1st Dept. 2008) (good cause not found where the parties failed to file their summary judgment motions by the court-imposed deadline, even if they were filed within the statutory 120-day period). Accordingly, the Court held that “Defendants’ failure to inform themselves of the identity of the new judge and her part rules [did] not constitute good cause for failing to adhere to them.” Id.

Takeaway

Appleyard serves as good reminder that compliance with deadlines, whether court-ordered or statutory, is mandatory, not optional. As Appleyard demonstrates, practitioners who fail to comply with deadlines do so at their own peril.  

Appleyard is also a reminder that to demonstrate good cause, one must provide a satisfactory explanation for the delay in brining the motion. As the plaintiff in Appleyard learned, failing to meet the deadline with knowledge that one is violating that deadline is not sufficient.

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