Summary Judgment – Timeliness – Court-Ordered Deadlines

Quinones v Joan & Sanford I. Weill Med. Coll.,

114 A.D.3d 472, 980 N.Y.S.2d 88 [1st Dept., 2014]

When the court sets a deadline for summary judgment motions, shorter than the statutory 120 days, what standard governs applications for extensions of time? Is it the strict “good cause” provided for summary judgment motions generally, or is it the more lenient “procrastinator’s friend” standard of CPLR 2004? The First Department held here that the strict standard applies, no matter how the deadline was set. The purported “good cause” here, which was nothing more than the attorney’s confession of error, did not suffice.
CPLR 3212 (a) sets a deadline for summary judgment motions of 120 days after the filing of the note of issue. The Court of Appeals held, in Brill v City of New York, that a party moving after the deadline must show “good cause,” which means good cause for the delay, and not merely a showing of merit to the motion and lack of prejudice to the adversary. The Court held that this interpretation was supported by the purpose of the amendment as well as its language. “No excuse at all, or a perfunctory excuse, cannot be ‘good cause.’ ” This requires, at a minimum, something more than law office failure.

Where CPLR 2004 applies, however, the court’s discretion is broader, and in a proper case includes discretion to find “good cause” and extend deadlines based upon law office failures. CPLR 2005 explicitly allows the courts to excuse delays resulting from law office failure.

The court here issued a preliminary conference order setting a deadline for dispositive motions of 45 days after the filing of the note of issue. That worked out to a deadline of January 31, 2013. Defendant moved, on February 11, 2013, to extend the deadline and allow a summary judgment motion on the grounds that counsel had simply overlooked the short deadline in the order. In Supreme Court, the case had been reassigned to a different Justice than the one who had issued the PC order, but the new Justice was of course constrained by the deadline and denied the motion.
In order to avoid the plain and strict effect of CPLR 3212, the defendant relied on CPLR 2004. Its claim was that CPLR 3212 applied only to the statutory 120-day deadline, but that CPLR 2004 governed shorter court-imposed deadlines. The Appellate Division rejected the distinction, holding that the strict standard of CPLR 3212 applied to late summary judgment motions, no matter where the deadline came from. The law office failure here was exactly the perfunctory excuse ruled out by the Court of Appeals in Brill, and the denial of the motion was affirmed.

Note, by the way, that the court’s authority to set deadlines for “dispositive motions” other than summary judgment is not clear. A motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, for example, is as dispositive as it gets, and may be made at any time (CPLR 3211 [e]).

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