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Doris S. Huggins and Robert v. Maurice W. Armstrong and Billie

May 14, 2012

DORIS S. HUGGINS AND ROBERT L. HUGGINS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
MAURICE W. ARMSTRONG AND BILLIE R. DUNHAM, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-670-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted April 30, 2012

Before Judges Ashrafi and Fasciale.

Plaintiffs appeal from an April 4, 2011 order denying their motion to reinstate their complaint. We affirm.

On March 16, 2005, Mrs. Huggins*fn1 was stopped in traffic on a bridge on-ramp in Trenton, when a van, operated by defendant Armstrong,*fn2 struck the passenger side of her vehicle. As Armstrong attempted to drive away, Mrs. Huggins pursued, beeping her horn until he pulled over. Police arrived, confirmed that Armstrong had two outstanding arrest warrants and did not possess a valid drivers' license, and arrested him. Mrs. Huggins complained of back pain and requested an ambulance, but then decided to go to the hospital on her own.

Plaintiffs obtained legal representation, and on March 12, 2007, filed a complaint alleging negligence and loss of consortium. On June 26, 2007, plaintiffs succeeded in serving Dunham. However, they were unsuccessful in attempts to serve Armstrong. On July 23, 2007, the judge entered an order relieving plaintiffs' attorneys as counsel of record for plaintiffs.*fn3 The attorneys communicated this to plaintiffs by letter dated August 4, 2007.

On June 28, 2008, the court administratively dismissed the complaint. On March 15, 2011, plaintiffs filed a motion to reinstate their complaint. On April 1, 2011, the judge conducted a motion hearing, heard oral argument from Mrs. Huggins, and issued an oral decision. On April 4, 2011, the judge entered an order denying plaintiffs' motion to reinstate the complaint. On May 18, 2011, plaintiffs filed this appeal.*fn4

We review a trial judge's denial of a motion to reinstate a complaint under the abuse of discretion standard. Baskett v. Kwokleung Cheung, 422 N.J. Super. 377, 382 (App. Div. 2011).

Rule 1:13-7(a) is "an administrative rule designed to clear the docket of cases that cannot, for various reasons, be prosecuted to completion." Mason v. Nabisco Brands, Inc., 233 N.J. Super. 263, 267 (App. Div. 1989). As Judge Keefe explained in Mason:

Often notice . . . of the court's intention to dismiss the action will serve to stimulate a renewed interest in the case. The problem which generates the notice is usually resolved and the case is not dismissed. When the notice does not have that salutary affect, the case is dismissed. [Ibid.]

The rule itself provides, in pertinent part:

[W]henever an action has been pending for four months . . . without a required proceeding having been taken therein . . ., the court shall issue written notice to the plaintiff advising that the action as to any or all defendants will be dismissed without prejudice 60 days following the date of the notice . . . unless, within said period, action . . . is taken. If ...


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