Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Supreme Court’s amendments to MRCP include many proposed by MSBA

A series of amendments to the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure will take effect on July 1, 2018.  Many of the adopted amendments had been proposed by the MSBA.  A number of amendments conform the Minnesota rules to the federal rules of civil procedure, where the federal rules have been working well.

The amended rules do not change Minnesota’s standard for grant of a summary judgment motion, but do make other changes.  One change expressly allows the court to grant summary judgment on grounds not raised by a party.  Another change allows the court to consider granting summary judgment on its own motion, but only after identifying for the parties the material facts that may not be genuinely in dispute, in order to give the parties a chance to respond before the court acts.

Other amendments include: a “waiver of service” provision (in place of the “acknowledgement of service” provision under existing rules 3 and 4); a provision allowing cost shifting where a protective order is warranted under rule 26;  an amendment to Rule 26 requiring that discovery plans address the preservation of electronically stored information to disclose whether documents are being withheld based on that objection;  and amendments to rule 37 imposing sanctions for the failure to preserve electronically stored information.

The Court also revised the standard in rule 63 for disqualification of judges to for bias, to align the standard with those set out in different rules and case law.

The MSBA had proposed that Minnesota’s rules be amended to conform to the time-period structure under the federal rules (setting a 7-14-21 and 28 day system, instead of Minnesota’s existing 5, 10 and 21 day system).  Under the proposed amendments, weekends and holidays would be counted in calculating due dates.  As a result, the response to a filing would usually be due on the same day of the week as the initial filing.  This change would make it easier to calculate due dates for filings.   The Court was receptive to these proposed timing changes, but deferred any action on them to get input from the Advisory Committees for the General Rules of Practice, the Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure.

The Minnesota Supreme Court amended Rule 23 to allow civil legal services to benefit from cy pres awards, which arise when unclaimed residual funds in class actions are distributed.

The MSBA petitioned for the amendment to increase funding for legal aid, which suffered a significant decline in revenue after the 2008 recession, and thereby improve access to justice. In 2016, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution urging states to adopt court rules or legislation authorizing cy pres awards to organizations serving people living in poverty. Minnesota now joins 21 other states with a similar rule or statute.

Amended Rule 23 provides that when a district court is considering the possible distribution of cy pres funds, civil legal services providers will receive notice and the opportunity to request distribution of the funds. The district court will decide how to distribute the funds based on “all relevant factors, including the recommendations of the parties, the nexus between the nature, purpose, and objectives of the class action and the interests of the class members, and the interests of potential recipients of the residual funds.”

Although it is difficult to predict the amount of revenue that legal services programs will derive from the amended rule, distributions in any amount will strengthen the providers’ ability to meet the unmet legal needs of thousands of Minnesotans living in poverty.

For more background and to see additional amendments, review the Court’s Order Promulgating Amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure, filed March 13, 2018.

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