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Supreme Court Affirms Denial of Motions to Dismiss for Excusable Neglect

In Laura Clark as Personal Representative of the Estate of Christopher Tylie Jackson-Clark, et al. v. Richard Baker, M.D., Mary Beerworth, M.D., et al., 2016 VT 42 (April 15, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the denial of motions to dismiss that had been filed by two sets of medical defendants (the Baker defendants and the Hospital defendants).

Issue: Both sets of defendants argued that the plaintiffs failed to timely serve process. The Baker defendants argued that while the trial court granted an enlargement of time to serve process, it expired before the plaintiffs could serve the summons and complaint. The Hospital defendants argued that while they signed a waiver of service, the plaintiffs failed to file the waiver before the expiration of the service period.

Holding: The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of both motions to dismiss, finding that there was excusable neglect on the part of plaintiffs’ lawyer. While the individual circumstances alone (balancing being a legislator and an attorney, having two deaths in the family, his son’s marriage, his own divorce, and surgery) would not have been enough for the Court to find excusable neglect, the effect of all the circumstances combined was enough for the trial court to have found, as it did, that there was excusable neglect. This finding was not outside of the discretion of the trial court, so the Supreme Court affirmed.

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