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Deadline Extension When Legal Papers Served by Mail Does Not Apply To Mailed Judgment Notice

2003-1066. Harvey v. Hwang, 2004-Ohio-4112.
Madison App. No. CA2003-03-010. Judgment affirmed.
Moyer, C.J., Resnick, F.E. Sweeney, Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, .,O'Connor and O'Donnell, JJ., concur.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/newpdf/0/2004/2004-Ohio-4112.pdf

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(Aug. 18, 2004) In a 7-0 decision announced today, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that a general procedural rule granting civil litigants three extra days to respond to legal papers that are served on them by mail does not add three days to the deadline for parties to file post-judgment motions seeking "judgment notwithstanding the verdict" or a new trial when a court delivers its official notice of a judgment by mail.

In order to ensure that civil lawsuits keep moving through the judicial process with reasonable speed and predictability, the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure set specific time limits within which parties in a case must file their own motions or objections, respond to motions or objections by opposing parties, provide required information or documents to the court and each other and file post-judgment motions or appeals. Failure of a party to file a motion or appeal within the time limits specified in the rules normally results in a court's permanent barring of such a motion or appeal at any future date.

The civil rules include a general provision, Civ. R. 6(E), that grants a three-day extension to the normal time limits set forth for filing motions or taking other legal actions "whenever a party has the right or is required to do some act or take some proceedings … after service of notice or other paper upon him and the notice or other paper is served upon him by mail."

This case involved a personal injury suit filed by motorist Anne Marie Harvey against another driver (Yong Hwang) and several insurance companies, including Illinois National Insurance Co. (INIC), for severe injuries Harvey suffered in a 1999 traffic accident in Madison County. Following the announcement of a jury verdict in Harvey's favor, the Madison County Common Pleas Court considered supplemental motions before recording its official journal entry certifying judgment in the case on Dec. 30, 2002. On that same date, the court sent official notification of its judgment to Illinois National by mail. On Jan. 15, 2003, Illinois National filed post-judgment motions asking the trial court to reconsider its ruling and enter a "judgment notwithstanding the verdict" or in the alternative to void the jury verdict and grant a new trial.

In responding to those motions, attorneys for Harvey pointed out that the time limit set forth in Ohio's civil rules for filing these kinds of post-judgment motions was "not later than 14 days after the entry of judgment." Since INIC's motions had not been filed until 16 days after the court entered its Dec. 30 judgment, Harvey sought and was granted a ruling by the trial court dismissing Illinois National's motions as not timely filed. The 12th District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the appeals as untimely, but certified that its decision was in conflict with a 1996 ruling by the 7th District in a similar case, Murphy Truck Service v. Abdalla.

The Supreme Court agreed to review the case solely on the timely filing issue, in order to resolve the conflict between courts of appeals.
In today's decision, written by Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, the Court rejected arguments by INIC that its post-judgment motions filed 16 days after the entry of judgment should have been accepted as timely because the trial court's notice of judgment was sent by mail, and therefore INIC was entitled under Civ. R. 6(E) to a three-day extension beyond the normal 14-day deadline for filing its post-judgment motions.

Writing for the Court, the Chief Justice noted that "Civil Rule 6(E) provides that whenever 'a party has the right or is required to do some act or take some proceedings within a prescribed period after the service of a notice or other paper upon him, and the notice or other paper is served upon him by mail, three days shall be added to the prescribed period.'" In examining the specific civil rules governing the motions filed by INIC in this case, the Chief Justice wrote that those rules set a time limit of "not later than 14 days after the entry of judgment - not 'within a prescribed period after the service of a notice or other paper.'"

Pointing to a number of other Ohio civil rules that specifically set time limits for a certain number of days "after service of" a summons, notice or pleading, rather than "after the entry of judgment" the Chief Justice wrote that this distinction in the wording of the rules makes it clear that "(t)he act of entering judgment is distinct from the act of serving notice of the entry of judgment."

Since the deadline-triggering event under the rule that governed INIC's motions for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial was the Dec. 30, 2002, entry of judgment, and not the service of a notice of that judgment, the court ruled that the three-day filing extension granted under Civ. R. 6(E) does not apply, and that INIC's motions filed on Jan. 15, 2003, were therefore properly rejected by the trial and appellate courts as not timely.

Michael Close, 614.221.5216, for Yong Hwang and Illinois National Insurance Co. et al.

Philip F. Brown, 614.258.6000, for Anne Marie Harvey.