When you serve as counsel in a federal lawsuit, you must comply with all filing deadlines imposed by the court. However, even seasoned lawyers may experience the dread that sets in when they overlook a date. In some cases, a missed date could result in a default judgment against your client.
The American Bar Association explains that the equitable doctrine of excusable neglect may help alleviate the potentially severe consequences you or your client may face because of a missed deadline.
Federal rules allow the filing of a motion for excusable neglect
Missed deadlines do not always prejudice your case. If you inadvertently miss a date, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may allow you to file a motion for excusable neglect. You may use this motion to request additional time to respond to court-imposed deadlines or to seek relief from a default judgment.
The U.S. Supreme Court has described four factors that may be relevant to determining whether an attorney’s failure to meet a deadline constitutes excusable neglect:
- The length of the delay and how the delay may affect court proceedings
- The risk of prejudice to the other party
- Whether the delay was within the attorney’s reasonable control
- Whether the attorney acted in good faith
Courts generally consider the length of delay and its prejudicial impact as key factors when they decide whether to grant a motion for excusable neglect.
Take prompt action when you become aware of a missed deadline
If you miss a deadline, you should move as quickly as possible to file a motion to reopen or a motion for relief from judgment. By acting promptly, you demonstrate good faith and may mitigate prejudice to the other party and your own client.
Avoid further delays or extensions by being ready to file the late pleading with your motion for relief. You can ask opposing counsel to consent to your motion. However, consent will not relieve you from the obligation to file a motion.