In Minnesota a lawsuit can be commenced by notifying the defendant. No immediate court filing is necessary. In Gams, the Minnesota Court of Appeals faced the question of whether the recent rule requiring the filing of a civil action within one year of commencement is absolute. Beginning July 1, 2014, the Minnesota Supreme Court, through Minn. R. Civ. P. 5.04(a) and a clarifying order, declared that any civil action not filed within one year from commencement would be dismissed with prejudice. In Gams, the Plaintiff/Appellant served a summons and complaint but failed to file the case within one year. The summons and complaint was filed, however, but the district court dismissed the action and judgment was entered. The Court of Appeals opinion held that Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 may provide relief for dismissals under 5.04(a).
Under 60.02, a party can seek relief from an order or judgment. Caselaw, developed prior to the institution of 5.04(a), permits relief to be granted by application of a four-factor test requiring consideration of: (1) whether there is a reasonable claim or defense on the merits; (2) whether there is a reasonable excuse for the neglect; (3) whether the party acted diligently after notice of entry of judgment; and (4) whether the party can demonstrate that no prejudice will occur to the opposing party. Cole (citing Northland Temps., Inc. v. Turpin, 744 N.W.2d, 398, 402 (Minn. App. 2008)). The district court does not need to find that a party seeking relief has made a strong showing on all four factors. That having been said, a party at least has to make a strong showing on the first factor, and then two others. The district court has great discretion in granting relief but will be bound to do so if the party makes a strong showing on all four factors. Id.
In Cole, the Court of Appeals addressed the proper procedure to be followed when an untimely complaint is filed and the plaintiff opposes the motion to dismiss on the basis of 5.04(a). The Court specified that the district court must make findings on the four factors mentioned above. With regard to the first, the parties so stipulated. The second factor seemed to be met by the leniency of the Court. In effect, because the delay was completely the fault of plaintiff’s counsel, the Court determined that it should favor a grant of relief. The third factor was met because the plaintiff responded within a matter of a few days from the time judgment was entered. Finally, the fourth factor was met because “delay and added expense [are] not substantial prejudice.”
Going forward, parties simply need to be mindful of the deadline for filing in order to avoid potential dismissal and increased costs. It seems as though the four factors can be met with relative ease and that defendants should not look to the one-year rule as being a safe haven from dilatory plaintiffs. On the other hand, when a plaintiff is in this situation, arguing for relief on the basis of 60.02 should not be viewed as a back door or guaranteed escape.
If you have any questions about filing a civil action in Minnesota and/or the consequences of delay, please feel free to call or e-mail any one of our many experienced attorneys – www.hansendordell.com / 651-482-8900.