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Monday, June 27, 2011

The difference between excusable neglect and stupidity


 
The difference between excusable neglect and stupidity
Source: Administrative Law Professor Blog. Reproduced with permission. Copyright © 2011, All rights reserved http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adminlaw/

On Above the Law, Christopher Danzig illustrates the difference between excusable neglect and a "bonehead mistake" in "How to Lose a Case With Simple Computer Cluelessness".

For attorneys, missing deadlines is a big no-no. BIG no-no. A Goodyear blimp-sized no-no. People have literally died because of blown deadlines. Cases worth millions of dollars get tossed out because of missed deadlines, even if someone has a decent excuse.

That being so, I do not envy the lawyer who had to tell his client that the 4th Circuit shut down their lawsuit because he didn’t know how to use his Microsoft calendar. ...

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled on a breach of contract and fiduciary duty dispute between Symbionics Inc. and its former president, Christopher J. Ortlieb, in December 4, 2009.

Symbionics planned to file an appeal on the last day of the standard 30-day window. But, uh oh, the company missed the deadline by a day, due to what the 4th Circuit later — and generously — called a computer “quirk” and “glitch”:

The alleged glitch occurred when, after counting twenty-seven days through December 31, 2009, counsel changed the month on the calendar display to January in order to continue the computation. Counsel failed to notice that the calendar did not automatically advance to January 2010 but instead reverted to January 2009.

Consequently, counsel mistakenly referenced the January 2009 calendar when he completed the calculation of the thirty-day window to appeal, which resulted in counsel’s erroneous determination that the deadline was January 5.
... The company apologized to the court, District Judge Anthony Trenga ruled the mistake was “excusable neglect,” and he gave Symbionics an extension. ...

In late May, the 4th Circuit benchslapped Symbionics in an unpublished, per curiam opinion [PDF] that basically states the obvious: Learn how to use a freakin’ computer.

We find nothing extraordinary or unusual about counsel’s calendaring error that should relieve Symbionics of its duty to comply with the time limit of Rule 4(a)(1). Counsel’s total dependence on a computer application—the operation of which counsel did not completely comprehend—to determine the filing deadline for a notice of appeal is neither “extraneous” to nor “independent” of counsel’s negligence…

[T]his neglect is precisely the sort of “run-of-the-mill inattentiveness by counsel” that we have consistently declined to excuse in the past.

If you want a technical look at the Circuit’s analysis of what exactly “excusable neglect” means, check out this Law Technology News story.

More broadly though, it’s 2011. Not knowing how to use Outlook isn’t and shouldn’t be an excuse for anything. It’s a disability.

And somehow, there are attorneys (often senior-level ones) who still don’t think they need to learn this basic stuff. We’re not even talking about more complex e-discovery processes. It’s just scheduling your day! (If counting the days yourself is too hard, there are websites that do it for you.) A speaker at a conference I recently attended said the best thing attorneys with this mindset can do… is retire.

This kind of ignorance loses cases, makes routine office work less efficient and could even lead to malpractice claims. ...

Agencies are often even more strict on deadlines, either because of specific statutory direction or just wanting to close matters out quickly. Don't miss deadlines, and don't wait until the last day to file.

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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