On Appeal

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Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal of Case That Resulted From Counsel’s Failure to Ensure Accurate Contact Information in Electronic Filing Portal

In the first Rhode Island Supreme Court decision to address the Rhode Island Judiciary’s new electronic filing system, the Court cautioned counsel to confirm the accuracy of their service contact information to ensure receipt of electronic filings.  See Santos v. D. Laikos, Inc., d/b/a Monet Lounge and John Doe, 139 A.3d 394 (R.I. 2016).  Failure to do so does not constitute excusable neglect.  Id. at 399.

In Santos, the defendant’s counsel filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint and certified that he had filed the motion and accompanying memorandum of law through the electronic filing system and by mail.  Id. at 397.  Plaintiff’s counsel did not respond or appear at the hearing on the motion and the Superior Court granted defendant’s motion.  Id.  Days later, the plaintiff filed an objection and motion to vacate, in which he asserted that his counsel had not received notice of the motion.  Id.

Plaintiff later explained that his counsel did not receive notice of the motion when it was filed in the court’s electronic filing system because she was not listed as a service contact at the time the motion was filed and she did not receive the paper copy that had been sent by mail because of an apparent mishap with the mail.  Id. at 398.  The Superior Court denied the plaintiff’s motion to vacate and the plaintiff appealed.  Id.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the order granting the motion to dismiss should have been vacated under Rule 60(b)(1).  Id.  Rule 60(b)(1) provides that “the court may relieve a party or a party’s legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for . . . [m]istake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.”  Id.

After examining the reasons offered for the plaintiff’s failure to respond to the motion, the Supreme Court concluded there were “no extenuating circumstances which render excusable plaintiff’s failure to object to or to attend the hearing on defendants’ motion to dismiss.”  Id. at 398-99.   The Court noted that “[t]he plaintiff’s explanation for his failure to take any action in response to defendants’ motion—that the motion was never received—[fell] short of what this Court has deemed excusable neglect.”  Id. at 399.  Indeed, the Court observed that plaintiff’s counsel’s conduct was “precisely the type of ‘unexplained neglect’ and case mismanagement that we have said, on its own, does not suffice.”  Id.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that “failure to update the electronic filing system with the correct service contact information in a timely fashion” did not constitute excusable neglect beyond counsel’s control.  Id.

In light of this decision, counsel should be diligent in confirming that their service contact information is listed for each of their cases in the Court’s electronic filing portal.

About The Author

Nicole J. Benjamin

I am a shareholder and business litigator at AP&S. I help businesses and their legal departments achieve their objectives by reducing their liabilities, advising them on complex legal matters and defending unavoidable litigation in federal and state court. I am also a member of the firm’s Appellate practice group and counsel the firm’s clients on appellate matters in the Rhode Island Supreme Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

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