Porter v. Spader (9/21/2010)

September 27, 2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Rule 60(c)(1) Does Not Allow Relief From a Judgment Entered Based on a Statute of Limitations.

Plaintiff suffered personal injuries in an automobile accident on September 25, 2006.  She hired counsel to prepare a civil complaint seeking compensation for those injuries.  Her counsel mailed the complaint to the Navajo County Superior Court on September 19, 2008, six days before the statutory two-year limitation period for such actions was to expire.  The envelope was returned for insufficient postage.  The law office received the returned envelope one day before the limitations period would expire.  Without reviewing the contents or consulting an attorney, the office staff simply placed the contents in another envelope with additional postage and remailed it to the court.  The clerk of the court filed the complaint on September 26, one day after the limitations period had expired.  Defendant moved for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations.  Plaintiff conceded that her complaint was filed after the limitations had run, but argued that the judgment should be immediately set aside under Rule 60(c)(1) because of the excusable neglect of the office staff.  The trial court granted the defense motion for summary judgment and denied Plaintiff’s Rule 60(c)(1) motion.  Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment, holding that Rule 60(c)(1) does not allow relief from a judgment entered based on a statute of limitations.  To determine whether a claim is time-barred, Arizona courts examine four factors: “(1) when did the plaintiff’s cause of action accrue; (2) when is the applicable statute of limitations period; (3) when did the plaintiff file his or her claim; and (4) was the running of the limitations period suspended or tolled for any reason?”  The Court found that the complaint, in this case, was untimely as a matter of law because Plaintiff acknowledged that she filed the complaint one day late and there are no grounds upon which the Court could toll the limitations.  None of the statutes that toll the limitations period applied to the circumstances of this case and there was no contention that the actions of Defendant served to conceal the cause of action, mislead Plaintiff in any fashion, or caused Plaintiff to delay filing her complaint in a timely manner.  The Court rejected Plaintiff’s contention that the judgment should nevertheless be set aside under Rule 60(c)(1) – which permits courts to relieve a party from a final judgment upon a showing of “mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect.”  According to the Court, “excusable neglect” cannot justify relief from the applicable statute of limitations because, “[t]o hold otherwise would make statute of limitations meaningless.”  The Court, therefore, held that trial courts do not have the discretion to apply Rule 60(c)(1) to resurrect or otherwise allow the untimely filing of a complaint.

Judge Winthrop authored the opinion; Judges Hall and Johnsen concurred.