This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
Corey Donald Ransom,
L.N.D. Properties, d/b/a
Yamaha/Suzuki Sports Center,
Lac Qui Parle County District Court
File No. C699038
Daniel J. Bresnahan, 220 Rosedale Towers, 1700 West Highway 36, Roseville, MN 55113 (for respondent)
Robert G. Haugen, Johnson & Lindberg, P.A., 7900 International Drive, Suite 960, Minneapolis, MN 55425-1582 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*
Respondent Corey Ransom brought a personal injury action against appellant L.N.D. Properties for injuries suffered as a result of alleged negligent repairs to a snowmobile. A jury found L.N.D. negligent and awarded damages. L.N.D. submitted posttrial motions but the trial court ruled that they were untimely. L.N.D. contends that, under the circumstances, it was reasonable for L.N.D.’s counsel to assume that the court had issued an extension to hear posttrial motions. L.N.D.’s posttrial motions included arguments that Ransom’s expert was unqualified, Ransom failed to prove a prima facie case of negligence, and Ransom was engaged in a joint enterprise as a matter of law. Because we find that L.N.D. could have reasonably believed that the trial court had granted a good-cause extension for posttrial motions, we reverse and remand to allow the trial court to address the motions on their merits.
In February 1994, Jeff Wildung bought a used snowmobile from L.N.D. Properties, a recreational vehicle dealership in Willmar, Minnesota. The snowmobile Wildung bought had been traded-in by its former owner after it threw a track. After this malfunction, L.N.D. submitted a claim for warranty repairs to the manufacturer, Yamaha. Yamaha denied the claim for a new frame, but paid for repairs to the back end of the snowmobile. Wildung, a good friend of L.N.D.’s principals, bought the snowmobile on February 25, 1994. The snowmobile then had 1,435 miles on it. In August 1994, Wildung brought the snowmobile to L.N.D. to repair the chain and sprocket mechanism that had broken the previous winter. Those repairs were done.
On December 10, 1994, Wildung, his brother Dean Wildung, and Corey Ransom went snowmobiling. It was the first time the snowmobile had been used since the most recent repairs. Wildung’s snowmobile was not running correctly and, in order to diagnose the trouble, Ransom and Dean lifted the back of the machine while Wildung revved the engine. As Ransom and Dean held up the snowmobile, the track tore and flew off the back, striking and injuring both Ransom and Dean. Ransom sued L.N.D., alleging negligent repair, testing, and inspection of the snowmobile.
At trial, Ransom argued that the first accident bent the frame of the snowmobile, the bent frame caused the axles to be misaligned, and the misalignment stressed the track, causing it to break. Ransom alleged that L.N.D. negligently repaired the snowmobile by failing to fix the frame and by replacing the broken track with a used track, and that the negligent repair caused Ransom’s injuries. The jury found negligence, causation, and awarded Ransom approximately $400,000 in damages.
On May 22, 2000, L.N.D. received notice of filing of judgment. On June 1, 2000, L.N.D.’s counsel contacted the district court administrator and requested a hearing date within 30 days for posttrial motions for a new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). The district court administrator told counsel for L.N.D. that the first available date was in August. L.N.D.’s counsel suggested setting the motion in a different county in order to schedule it within the time limit. That alternative was not possible. The district court administrator then suggested July 13, 2000, at 8:15 a.m. L.N.D.’s counsel responded that the date was beyond the time limit set by Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.03 and asked if the arguments could be heard by telephone, given that counsel for both parties would have to drive about three hours in order to appear in person. The court administrator told counsel that she would check with the trial court and call him back. The following day, the court administrator called L.N.D.’s counsel and told him that the court had agreed to hear the posttrial motions by telephone. L.N.D.’s counsel concluded that, because the court had agreed to hear the arguments after the 30-day deadline, the extension was “by the court” and for “good cause,” as required by Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.03.
L.N.D.’s counsel received a facsimile from the court administrator on June 2, 2000, confirming the July 13 hearing. He served a notice of motion and motion on Ransom’s counsel that same day. L.N.D.’s memorandum in support of motion was served June 30, 2000. Ransom served his memorandum in opposition on July 12, 2000, the day before the hearing. Ransom indicated in the memorandum that he intended to challenge the court’s jurisdiction to hear the motions on the basis that they were untimely.
The court heard the posttrial motions by telephone on July 13, 2000. Because of the late submission by Ransom, L.N.D. was given seven days to respond. On August 4, 2000, the court dismissed L.N.D.’s posttrial motions as untimely. The court found that, although it had been consulted regarding the propriety of telephone appearances, the court had neither been asked nor approved an extension of the time permitted under the rules for the hearing date. The court also found that L.N.D. never received a written order for good cause to extend the time limit by the court. Therefore, the hearing, which was held 52 days after notice of the filing of the order, was untimely. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
L.N.D. asserts that the trial court erred in dismissing the posttrial motions for untimeliness. L.N.D. argues that the court’s inability to hear the motions sooner and the court’s agreement to hear the motions on July 13 was a good-cause extension of the time limit made “by the court.”
Under Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.03, a posttrial motion for a new trial
shall be heard within 30 days after such general verdict or notice of filing, unless the time for hearing be extended by the court within the 30 day period for good cause shown.
The trial court, in ruling that the motions were untimely, found this situation substantially similar to the facts of U.S. Leasing Corp. v. Biba Info. Processing Servs., Inc., 489 N.W.2d 231 (Minn. 1992). In U.S. Leasing Corp., the supreme court held that the motions of a party that accepted the first-available hearing date provided by court personnel without seeking an extension of the 30-day time limit were untimely. Id. at 232. The court held that a new trial motion was properly dismissed when the notice of motion and motion set the hearing date beyond the 30-day limitation period, neither party requested an extension, and the trial court was not involved in scheduling the hearing. Id. The supreme court emphasized that the scheduling of the hearing date was a “unilateral action” by counsel and that there was no judicial determination of good cause for an extension. Id.; see also Celis v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 580 N.W.2d 64, 66 (Minn. App. 1998) (Randall, J. dissenting) (holding that the trial court is without jurisdiction to hear posttrial motions scheduled outside of the 30-day limit when appellant’s attorney scheduled the hearing on the first available date given by the trial court’s clerk).
We believe this case is more akin to American Standard Ins. Co. v. Le, 551 N.W.2d 923 (Minn. 1996). In Le, the district court dismissed the posttrial motions because the hearing was held after the 30-day period and no extension was granted. Id. at 925. But the delay was due to the court administrator, not the parties. Id. at 926. In Le, the court administrator informed the parties in writing that the hearing had been rescheduled “by the court.” Id. at 925. The supreme court found that, under those circumstances, counsel “was justified in assuming that the court had good cause to reschedule the hearing” and the district court erred in dismissing the motions. Id.
Here, the setting of the hearing date was not a “unilateral action” by counsel. Instead, the trial court was involved when it told the court administrator that a telephone conference would be acceptable. Only the miscommunication between the court administrator and L.N.D.’s counsel caused counsel to conclude that the trial court’s involvement included authorization of the hearing date past the 30-day time limit set by the rule.
Although there was nothing in writing that indicated to the parties that the hearing had been rescheduled “by the court,” in both Le and the present case,counsel believed that the trial court was involved in the scheduling of the hearing date and did not find it prudent to question the court’s judgment. Here, the trial court’s decision to hear the motions by telephone could have led L.N.D.’s counsel to reasonably believe that the court had also been involved in the scheduling of the hearing date.
The supreme court in U.S. Leasing Corp. noted that “prudent counsel will obtain a written confirmation of any extension issued by the court within the 30-day limitation period.” 489 N.W.2d at 232; see also Celis, 580 N.W.2d at 66 (explaining that the attorney “should have, within the 30-day period, obtained an order from the trial court extending the date for hearing in the matter.”). We agree. But the court in Le also recognized that “a lawyer ought not be required to initiate an inquiry that might be considered disrespectful of the judge.” 551 N.W.2d at 926. We find L.N.D.’s counsel’s failure to obtain the written confirmation of an extension excusable error under these circumstances. We, therefore, hold that in this case, under these unique facts, the posttrial motions were not untimely, and we remand to the trial court to rule on the merits of the motions.
Reversed and remanded.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.