On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-108-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 19, 2012
Before Judges Harris and Hoffman.
Plaintiff Rhonda Reed-Montijo appeals from three Law Division orders: (1) the October 15, 2010 order extending discovery; (2) the September 6, 2011 order denying her motion to reinstate the amended complaint, which had been dismissed at the trial call four months earlier; and (3) the October 6, 2011 order denying reconsideration and dismissing the amended complaint with prejudice. We (1) affirm the order extending discovery; (2) reverse the order denying reinstatement and dismissing the amended complaint with prejudice, and remand for trial; and (3) treat the order denying reconsideration as moot.
On December 20, 2008, Reed-Montijo was involved in a motor vehicle accident with defendant Orangel Rodriguez, who was operating a vehicle owned by defendant American Limo Services, LLC (the Rodriguez defendants). A complaint was filed against these defendants less than three weeks later, on January 5, 2009, in the Essex vicinage of the Law Division.
Two weeks after that, on January 20, 2009, Reed-Montijo was involved in another motor vehicle accident with defendant Gwendolyn Padilla, who was operating a vehicle owned by Tri-County People Corp. (the Padilla defendants). Reed-Montijo did not immediately sue the Padilla defendants, but she eventually moved to amend the complaint to add claims against them, which was granted on November 6, 2009. The amended complaint was filed on November 19, 2009. Even though new parties were added to the litigation following the filing of the amended complaint, discovery was not automatically extended. Cf. R. 4:24-1(b). By February 8, 2010, all defendants had answered the amended complaint and discovery was being processed, albeit with some difficulty.
On March 31, 2010, the court scheduled mandatory, non-binding arbitration for May 12, 2010. To accommodate the late addition of the Padilla defendants to the litigation, the discovery period was extended sixty days by court order on April 30, 2010, and the arbitration date was subsequently adjourned several times. However, even though discovery still remained incomplete, the arbitration finally occurred on September 28, 2010.
On September 28, 2010, the Padilla defendants moved to extend the discovery deadline a second time because a variety of discovery materials had not yet been collected, and Reed-Montijo had not been examined by defendants' medical experts. On October 15, 2010, the court granted the motion to extend discovery for ninety days.*fn1
On October 21, 2010, the Padilla defendants rejected the arbitration award and made a demand for a trial de novo. On October 27, 2010, notice of a January 18, 2011 trial date was transmitted to the parties.
On December 28, 2010, still within the ninety-day discovery extension, the Padilla defendants filed a motion to compel Reed-Montijo to appear for a medical examination. The Rodriguez defendants filed a cross-motion for the same relief.
On January 14, 2011, a separate plaintiff, Denise Rudeau, filed a complaint against the Padilla defendants regarding the same January 20, 2009 motor vehicle accident that Reed-Montijo had been litigating for over a year.
The Padilla defendants requested an adjournment of the January 18, 2011 trial date since their motion to compel was not scheduled to be considered until January 21, 2011. The request for the trial adjournment was denied by the civil presiding judge, and all parties were ordered to appear on the January 18, 2011 trial date. When Reed-Montijo's counsel failed to attend the trial call, defendants were asked by the judge to contact ...