In M.D. v. Newport-Mesa School Dist., published October 19, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court decision dismissing a plaintiff's lawsuit for failure to file an amended complaint on time. The plaintiffs were a student and parent who sued the school district for alleged retaliation. After the district moved to dismiss the FAC, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed two claims (including a California Public Records Act claim). The district court then dismissed the remaining claim, but granted 30 days' leave to amend. The order was originally calendared on the CMF/ECF efiling system as made "in chambers." Two days later, a notice of clerical error was entered and the same order was redocketed as a separate entry. Plaintiffs' counsel, who did not customarily practice in the federal courts, erroneously calendared the 30 days as running from the correction of the clerical error. The plaintiffs therefore did not file within the 30 days. The day after the 30 days ran, the district filed a proposed judgment of dismissal. The plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint the next day. The district court nevertheless dismissed the case for failure to amend within the time allowed. The plaintiffs moved for relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1) based on excusable neglect. The district court denied the motion.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the district court abused its discretion by denying the motion. A 60(b)(1) motion requires that the court consider at least four factors: (1) the danger of prejudice to the opposing party; (2) the length of the delay and its potential impact on the proceedings; (3) the reason for the delay; and (4) whether the movant acted in good faith. The district court addressed only the third factor, finding the reason for the delay insufficient. The defendant would not be prejudiced by granting relief; the length of delay was minimal; there was no evidence the movant acted in bad faith; and the calendaring error was excusable neglect.
The district court also denied the district's motion for attorney fees for the dismissal of the CPRA request. The appellate court held that the district court properly denied the request. The CPRA claim was not frivolous when brought, and the plaintiff eventually dismissed it.