From the desk of Cliff J. Wilson: A Plaintiff’s unpreparedness for trial does not constitute a free pass to postpone trial once it has been set. In this case, the Oregon Court of Appeals addressed a scenario where a plaintiff attempted to postpone trial into the following year due to a pending mental health crisis. The trial court’s denial of his motion to postpone and dismissal “without prejudice” was held proper when Plaintiff was, expectedly, unprepared to proceed with his originally-scheduled trial date.
Case Pointer: As every lawyer knows, parties are expected to be ready and prepared to proceed on their scheduled trial date. If a plaintiff is unprepared, the court may dismiss the case pursuant to Oregon Rule of Civil Procedure (ORCP) 52. However, the dismissal need not be with prejudice. The court may, within its discretion, enter a general judgment of dismissal, “without prejudice.” Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 12.220 (colloquially known as the Oregon “saving statute”) allows a plaintiff whose claim was involuntarily dismissed “without prejudice” to re-file their complaint within 180 days from the dismissal, even if the statute of limitations would otherwise have run by that time. In this case, a plaintiff whose claim was dismissed without prejudice nonetheless challenged the dismissal decision. Rejecting Plaintiff’s arguments, the Oregon Court of Appeals held that in light of the saving statute, the inconvenience and expense associated with re-filing a claim does not rise to the level of depriving one of their day in court.
Porter v. Veenhuisen, 302 Ore. App. 480 (February 26, 2020).
Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident in March 2015. He filed a claim against Defendant in March 2017, within the applicable 2 year statute of limitations. Trial was scheduled for September 2018. Things went as planned until trial drew near. Just nine days before trial was scheduled to begin, however, Plaintiff filed a motion requesting that trial be postponed, citing a flare-up of his longstanding condition of PTSD. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed these flare-ups caused him “extreme anxiety and fear that [prevented] him from leaving his home and from appearing in court.” Plaintiff did not know when he would return to his baseline and suggested that trial be rescheduled “to a date in 2019.”
The trial court denied Plaintiff’s motion to postpone. On the morning of trial, Plaintiff was not prepared to proceed. Pursuant to ORCP 52A (under which the court must try, postpone, or dismiss the case once it is “set and called for trial”), the court dismissed the case. However, and over Defendant’s request to the contrary, the court entered a general judgment of dismissal, “without prejudice” as Plaintiff was unprepared for trial due to a mental health crisis. Even though that dismissal would have allowed the Plaintiff to re-file his complaint within 180 days under Oregon’s so called “Saving Statute,” (ORS 12.220(2)), Plaintiff appealed the dismissal on the grounds that the trial court had abused its discretion in denying his motion to postpone, forcing a dismissal when the matter was called on the trial date.
According to Plaintiff, the trial court’s denial of his motion to postpone represented an improper prioritization of the court’s own docket over Plaintiff’s “constitutional right to have his day in court.” Essentially, Plaintiff felt he was denied his chance to bring his case. The Court of Appeals held that because the trial court had dismissed his claim without prejudice, he had the option to re-file his claim within 180 days of the judgment of dismissal pursuant to the “saving statute” and, therefore, the trial court’s denial of Plaintiff’s motion to postpone and subsequent dismissal without prejudice was not an abuse of discretion. The only consequence of the trial court’s decision was that Plaintiff, if he wanted to continue pursuing his claim, would have to re-file his complaint within 180 days of the general judgment of dismissal. The Oregon Court of Appeals concluded that “inconvenience and expense [associated with re-filing one’s claim] is not trivial, but is a far cry from being deprived of one’s day in court.”