Laura Moehrle

Minnesota Supreme Court holds Rule 60.02 Motions to Vacate can revive cases dismissed under Rule 5.04 for failure to file within one year; District Courts have discretion under Rule 60.02

Yesterday, the MN Supreme Court issued a pair of decisions – Gams v. Houghton and Cole v. Wutzke – related to the one year filing deadline under Minn. R. Civ. P. 5.04. Specifically, the Court answered the question whether a party can seek relief from a dismissal by bringing a motion to vacate pursuant to Rule 60.02, and if so, how Rule 60.02 should be applied.

In Gams, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that where a case is deemed dismissed by Rule 5.04, a plaintiff may seek relief under Rule 60.02. The Court emphasized the “broad discretion” of the district court in evaluating whether the moving party has met the requirements of Rule 60.02 and in the case of excusable neglect, met the Finden factors. [Finden requires proof the moving party has (1) a reasonable claim or defense on the merits; (2) a reasonable excuse for the neglect; (3) acted diligently after notice of entry of judgment; and (4) demonstrated that no prejudice will occur to the opposing party.]

In Cole, the Court held that the moving party must prove all four Finden factors in connection with a motion to vacate a Rule 5.04 dismissal. The Court examined the Finden factors, notably including whether the “reasonable excuse” factor applies to the mistakes of a lawyer versus the mistakes of a client. While the Court noted the long standing proposition that clients should not be made to suffer for the mistakes of counsel, the Court also commented that not all mistakes, whether by a party or its attorney, are subject to relief. The Court did not establish a bright-line rule regarding how to apply the Finden factors and instead offered points on both sides, and seems to leave the decision of whether the failure to file is excusable solely in the hands of the district court, with a broad grant of discretion.

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