MSBA member Daniel Cragg (Eckland & Blando) writes:
“The Minnesota State Bar Association is taking an active role in two recent Minnesota Supreme Court cases, filing amicus curiae briefs addressing the relatively new Minn. R. Civ. P. 5.04, governing so-called ‘pocket filing.’ The Court agreed with the MSBA in both instances, adopting the arguments from each amicus brief as the primary reasoning for the decisions, and holding that cases ‘deemed dismissed’ for the failure to be filed within one year of commencement be subject to Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 motions for relief.
“On August 31, 2016, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued opinions in Gams v. Houghton (A14-1747 (Minn. 2016)) and Cole v. Wutzke (A15-0060 (Minn. 2016)). In both cases, the Court was faced with the issue of whether a dismissal under Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 5.04 could be vacated through a motion made pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 because of ‘excusable neglect.’
“Rule 5.04 mandates dismissal with prejudice of a case if the case is not filed within one year of commencement against any party, unless the parties within that year stipulate to extend the deadline. Rule 60.02 provides relief from a final judgment (other than a marriage dissolution decree), order, or proceeding. In both of the cases discussed here, the plaintiffs failed to file the case within one year of commencement, but at the time of dismissal, both cases were already being actively litigated, including through discovery requests and responses. The issues arose when defendants each determined that the matters were dismissed because of Rule 5.04, which dismisses cases by operation of rule and does not require court intervention. The plaintiffs, each arguing that they were unaware of the rule, sought relief from dismissal under Rule 60.02(a), which grants relief for ‘mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.’”
“The MSBA briefs argued that Rule 5.04 dismissals are not exempt from relief under Rule 60.02 for a number of reasons. The plain language of Rule 60.02 provides no exception for dismissals under Rule 5.04. Since the rule lists a specific exception for marriage-dissolution decrees, the briefs contended, a new exception should not be read into the rule. This is due to the canon of construction expressio unius est exclusio alterius—that the inclusion of one exception implies the exclusion of others. Thus, the inclusion of marriage dissolution decrees implies the purposeful exclusion of Rule 5.04 dismissals. Further, the amicus briefs argued that a rigid rule mandating that Rule 5.04 dismissals are irrevocable could lead to the exact results that Rule 60.02 is intended to relieve, such as dismissal due to simple errors.
“The Court agreed with the MSBA, accepting and restating many of the arguments from the amicus briefs in the decisions, both of which confirmed that Rule 60.02 relief was available to cases dismissed under Rule 5.04. The MSBA took no position on the ultimate resolution of the Rule 60.02 motions in the cases, and on remand, the plaintiffs still must show facts that support discretionary Rule 60.02 relief.”