On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-3827-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 17, 2012 -
Before Judges Sabatino and Maven.
In this unopposed appeal, plaintiff Kenneth Henry challenges the Law Division's February 17, 2012 order denying a motion to reinstate his complaint. After reviewing the issues and in light of the current law, we reverse and remand the matter for further proceedings.
Plaintiff, a police officer, filed a complaint on May 5, 2010, alleging that on October 18, 2008, he was injured by defendant while on duty. Defendant was served with the complaint on October 28, 2010, at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility where he was confined. Defendant did not file an answer. Instead, he responded directly to plaintiff's counsel in two separate undated letters. Defendant expressed an intent to defend against the lawsuit and requested a postponement of the lawsuit until his release, which was anticipated to be May 2011.
The court notified plaintiff, on April 1, 2011, that his complaint would be dismissed for lack of prosecution unless plaintiff took one of the actions required under Rule 1:13-7. The court administratively dismissed the complaint on June 3, 2011. On January 25, 2012, plaintiff filed a motion to reinstate his complaint and, in support thereof, attached copies of defendant's letters as exhibits. The judge entered an order denying plaintiff's motion to reinstate the complaint, reasoning that "[i]n order to reinstate [the complaint], Rule 1:13-7 requires plaintiff to demonstrate exceptional circumstances." This appeal followed.
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). This rule was amended effective September 1, 2008. The pre-amendment rule provided that reinstatement of a complaint "may be permitted only on motion for good cause shown." Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, R. 1:13-7(a) (2007). The 2008 amendment provides separate standards for cases with a single defendant and cases with multiple defendants. As the provision outlines, "[i]n single defendant cases, reinstatement is permitted upon a showing of good cause. In multi-defendant cases, reinstatement within ninety days of dismissal is permitted on a showing of good cause, but otherwise a party must demonstrate exceptional circumstances." Baskett, supra, 422 N.J. Super. at 383-84 (citations omitted).
This action involves only one defendant and, accordingly, plaintiff only must establish good cause for reinstatement of his complaint. Applying these principles, we conclude that the motion court misapplied the law by finding that exceptional circumstances were required to be shown.
We remand the matter for application of the proper legal standard and a determination of whether plaintiff established good cause. We do not retain jurisdiction.
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