U.S. District Court Denies Motion for Relief from Dismissal of Hurricane Sandy Coverage Case

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey has denied a motion seeking relief from dismissal of a case involving insurance coverage for damages as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Plaintiffs Luanne and Anita Liguori had originally filed a complaint against defendant Allstate Insurance Co., claiming they were entitled to coverage, compensatory damages, and other relief based on Allstate’s handling of a flood claim filed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The court dismissed the case after more than a month had passed since the expiration of the 120-day timeframe for service of process and plaintiffs had not filed proof of service with the court. About five and a half months after the court dismissed the case without prejudice, plaintiffs filed a motion to reopen, and sought relief from dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b).

The court explained that Rule 60(b) applies only to final judgments, but since the statute of limitations had run and plaintiffs could no longer amend the complaint, the dismissal constituted a final order. The court analyzed plaintiffs’ claim using the four non-exhaustive factors considered in the Supreme Court case of Pioneer Investment Services v. Brunswick Association in order to determine whether plaintiffs’ neglect in not filing proof of service within the applicable timeframe was excusable. Along with the totality of the circumstances, the four factors the court considered here were (1) the danger of prejudice to the non-movants (Allstate), (2) the length of delay and potential impact on judicial proceedings, (3) the reason for the delay, and (4) whether the movant acted in good faith. In denying plaintiffs’ motion for relief from dismissal, the court reasoned that allowing plaintiffs to reopen the case would infringe on the court’s strong interest in case management. Further, the court found that plaintiffs’ explanation that the delay was a result of inadvertent clerical errors, heavy caseload, and scheduling conflicts rather than bad faith indicated that the delay was not the result of circumstances beyond plaintiffs’ reasonable control.