Minnesota has long followed the hip pocket rule: a civil action is started when it is served. A recent change to the requirements has tweaked that rule. Now an action must also be filed within a year or it is “deemed dismissed.”
What if a plaintiff misses that deadline and the action is dismissed? Can the plaintiff move to vacate the judgment of dismissal under rule 60.02?
In Gans, the court of appeals said, “yes.” Rule 60.02 relief is available if the tests under that rule are met.
A concurrence in Gans sheds some light on the issue. A judgment of dismissal entered pursuant to rule 5.04 for failure to file in time is just as much a final judgment as a judgment on the merits, a judgment of dismissal under rule 12, and a default judgment under rule 41.
In each case, rule 60.02 is available if the standards are met.
The Gans court also addressed one question that has already been decided by the court, but which continues to vex lawyers and judges: how the four Hinz factors are supposed to be applied.
To refresh your memory, Hinz sets out four factors that apply when deciding a rule 60.02 motion based on excusable neglect. Those factors are 1) a reasonable claim or defense on the merits; 2) a reasonable excuse for the neglect; 3) diligence after notice of the entry of judgment; and 4) no prejudice to the nonmovant.
The district court in Gans decided that, even if rule 60.02 did apply to a dismissal under rule 5,02, it was not available in that case because all four factors were not shown.
In Gans, the court of appeals repeated what has been said before: all four Hinz factors don’t need to be shown.
A court addressing a rule 60.02 motion is expected to weigh the factors. However, it must reopen a judgment if all four factors are shown. And the district court may not reopen a judgment if a key factor is not shown – the factor requiring the moving party to show a reasonable claim or defense on the merits.
The Gans court remanded the case so that the district court can correctly assess the Hinz factors.
Lessons for us attorneys:
- Watch the clock. Know when the one-year deadline falls. If you represent the plaintiff, be sure to file within one year of service.
- If you screw up and miss that deadline, you may resort to rule 60.02. But know that those standards can be rigorous and do require you to show a reasonable claim on the merits.