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Terry v. Swift Transportation

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 22, 2017

SEAN V. TERRY, Plaintiff,
v.
SWIFT TRANSPORTATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          L. PATRICK AULD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Swift Transportation's Contingent Motion for Leave to File Answer out of Time (Docket Entry 36) (the “Motion”) and Plaintiff's opposition to such relief, presented in the form of a Motion to Dismiss Defendant's Contingent Motion for Leave for File Answer out of Time (Docket Entry 38). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendant's instant Motion and will deny Plaintiff's instant Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         In March 2016, Plaintiff commenced this action against Defendant in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (the “D.C. Court”). (See Docket Entry 1.) As “[n]one of the parties appear to reside or conduct business in the District of Columbia, and it does not appear that any of the events giving rise to . . . [P]laintiff's claims occurred [t]here” (Docket Entry 3 at 1), the D.C. Court transferred the action to this Court (id. at 2).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, which elaborates upon the factual allegations underlying his claims against Defendant. (Compare Docket Entry 5, with Docket Entry 1.) In response, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (Docket Entry 10), and, on July 6, 2017, this Court (per Senior United States District Judge N. Carlton Tilley, Jr.) granted that Motion except as to Plaintiff's claim for defamation (see Docket Entry 34 at 1-2). On July 27, 2017, Defendant filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint (Docket Entry 35) as well as the instant Motion seeking to file its Answer after the deadline of July 20, 2017. Plaintiff opposed Defendant's instant Motion by filing his instant Motion (Docket Entry 38), along with a supporting brief (Docket Entry 39). Defendant replied/responded. (Docket Entries 40, 41.)

         DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(b)(1)(B)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(a)(4)(A) provides that the deadline to answer a complaint occurs 14 days after a court's denial of a motion to dismiss. As documented in the Background section, Defendant did not move to enlarge its time to answer until seven days after that deadline passed. “When an act may or must be done within a specified time, the court may, for good cause, extend the time . . . on motion made after the time has expired if the party failed to act because of excusable neglect.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b) (emphasis added). Although this Rule thus nominally requires a showing of both “good cause” and “excusable neglect, ” “[t]he practical difference between the good cause and excusable neglect standard is difficult to discern . . . . Indeed, in another context, ‘good cause' has been equated with ‘excusable neglect.'” Sweetwater Investors, LLC v. Sweetwater Apartments Loan, LLC, No. 1:10CV233WKW[WO], 2011 WL 1545076, at *2 n.2 (M.D. Ala. Apr. 25, 2011).

         Moreover, in this context, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit effectively has collapsed these requirements into a single inquiry. See Lovelace v. Lee, 472 F.3d 174, 203-04 (4th Cir. 2006) (“A district court has discretion to grant an enlargement of time ‘upon motion made after the expiration of the specified period where the failure to act was the result of excusable neglect.' Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b). We find no abuse of discretion here. The district court had a reasonable basis for finding good cause (or excusable neglect) . . . .” (internal ellipses in original)). This approach makes sense because, whereas courts have described the “good cause” standard as “non-rigorous, ” Ahanchian v. Xenon Pictures, Inc., 624 F.3d 1253, 1259 (9th Cir. 2010), “liberal, ” Coon v. Grenier, 867 F.2d 73, 76 (1st Cir. 1989), and “not . . . particularly demanding, ” Stark-Romero v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Co., 275 F.R.D. 544, 547 (D.N.M. 2011), the Fourth Circuit has declared that “‘[e]xcusable neglect' is not easily demonstrated, ” Thompson v. E.I. DePont Nemours & Co., Inc., 76 F.3d 530, 534 (4th Cir. 1996). The Court thus will focus on determining whether Defendant has shown excusable neglect to file an answer out-of-time.

         The United States Supreme Court has explained that:

[T]here is no indication that anything other than the commonly accepted meaning of the phrase [“excusable neglect”] was intended by its drafters. It is not surprising, then, that in applying [Federal] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 6(b), the Courts of Appeals have generally recognized that “excusable neglect” may extend to inadvertent delays. Although inadvertence . . . do[es] not usually constitute “excusable” neglect, it is clear that “excusable neglect” under Rule 6(b) is a somewhat “elastic concept” and is not limited strictly to omissions caused by circumstances beyond the control of the movant.

         Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 391-92 (1993) (internal footnotes omitted) (emphasis added). In other words, the excusable neglect inquiry “is at bottom an equitable one, taking account of all relevant circumstances surrounding the party's omission.” Id. at 395. “These include . . . [1] the danger of prejudice to the [opposing party], [2] the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings, [3] the reason for the delay, including whether it was within the reasonable control of the movant, and [4] whether the movant acted in good faith.” Id. (emphasis added).

         The first Pioneer factor, i.e., prejudice to Plaintiff, see id., strongly favors Defendant's position. In this regard, the Court notes that Plaintiff has not identified any cognizable prejudice from the lack of a timely answer. Further, the Fourth Circuit has ruled that “delay in and of itself does not constitute prejudice to the opposing party, ” Colleton Preparatory Acad., Inc. v. Hoover Universal, Inc., 616 F.3d 413, 418 (4th Cir. 2010), and that no prejudice accrues from “los[ing] a quick [default-based] victory, ” Augusta Fiberglass Coatings, Inc. v. Fodor Contracting Corp., 843 F.2d 808, 812 (4th Cir. 1988).

         The second Pioneer factor, i.e., the length of the delay and its impact on judicial proceedings, see Pioneer, 507 U.S. at 395, also clearly supports a finding of excusable neglect. As detailed in the Background section, a total of seven days elapsed between the expiration of Defendant's deadline to answer and the filing of its instant Motion. In applying the Pioneer factors, other courts have deemed even longer periods of delay “minimal.” Bateman v. United States Postal Serv., 231 F.3d 1220, 1225 (9th Cir. 2000); Smith v. Rockett, No. CIV-06-492-M, 2010 WL 274497, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 15, 2010); Iannace v. Rogers, Civil No. 03-5973(JBS), 2006 WL 2038492, at *3 (D.N.J. July 18, 2006). Moreover, the ...


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