Don’t Wait 364 Days to Move for Relief Under Rule 4:50

Orner v. Liu, 419 N.J. Super. 431 (App. Div. 2011).  This case involved a motion under several sections of Rule 4:50-1 for relief from a judgment.  Defendants, the movants, waited until one day less than one year from the entry of the judgment to make that motion.  The Law Division denied the motion.  On appeal, using the “clear abuse of discretion” standard that is applicable to decisions on motions under Rule 4:50-1, the Appellate Division affirmed.  Judge Fisher wrote the opinion.

The most significant part of the decision was Judge Fisher’s discussion of the issue of timeliness.  The Law Division found, as one of the bases for its ruling, that the motion came too late.  Defendants contended that they were timely, since they filed their motion within the one year period permitted for such motions by Rule 4:50-2.  But the Appellate Division correctly observed that the one-year deadline “represents only the outermost time limit for the filing of a motion” based on certain subparts of Rule 4:50-1.  Though Judge Fisher noted that there had been “few reported decisions interpreting the relationship between the reasonableness requirement and the one-year provision of Rule 4:50-2,” he turned to the many decisions under a parallel federal rule, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), that have required motions for relief from a judgment to be filed within a reasonable time, even if they were filed within one year.

In an extraordinary footnote, the Appellate Division criticized the normally authoritative New Jersey Court Rules annotated rulebook written by Judge Pressler and Justice Verniero.  The panel labeled “erroneous” the comment of that book that “[t]he basic theme of the rule is to impose a one-year limitation on motions made pursuant to [Rule 4:50-1(a), (b), or (c)].  Motions made under the remaining subsections must be made within a reasonable time under the circumstances.”  The court stated that “[t]o the extent this comment suggests motions based on Rule 4:50-1(a), (b) or (c) are timely so long as they are filed within one year, it is incorrect.  The ‘basic theme’ of Rule 4:50-2 is that the motion– regardless of the subsection relied upon– must be filed within “a reasonable time.”  And it is not only “the remaining subsections” that are subject to the reasonableness requirement.  All such motions must be filed within a reasonable time.”