Our court system is based upon a series of deadlines. There are deadlines for everything from starting a lawsuit (statute of limitations) to returning the lawsuit papers to court (6 or 12 days before the return date) to filing an appearance (2 days after the return date). There are deadlines for every aspect of a case and litigation attorneys live by deadlines. However, the fact is, some deadlines are more meaningful than others. Unfortunately, it takes attorneys years of practice to figure out the different treatment by judges for different deadlines. More importantly, there are some deadlines that hurt your case if missed, and others that kill your case. The statute of limitations will kill your case if missed.
But, what happens if you need to serve your lawsuit on a defendant but it is a legal holiday? Or, what if the deadline to pay a promissory note falls on Christmas and you fail to pay? Or, what if the day you are supposed to file something in court, the court is closed?
There are all kinds of rules and grace periods that apply in various cases. In law school, students learn about the mailbox rule which means the papers are delivered on the date they are put in the mail, not the date received. Some states will count business days and not weekend or holidays at all. Other states will provide different methods of counting days for legal papers and build in grace periods. And, to add to the confusion, federal courts and state courts have different time deadlines on legal filings.
Recently, the Connecticut Appellate Court issued a ruling in case dealing with the “Holiday Rule.” The Holiday Rule is a common law rule (it is not in any statutes) dating back to at least 1816 in Connecticut. Its stands for the proposition that if the final day of a deadline falls on a legal holiday, the real deadline is the next day. In Connecticut, the Holiday Rule has been used to extend the deadline one day for promissory notes and service of papers on a municipality.
In Kim v. Stephen EMT, the Appellate Court refused to permit the Holiday Rule to apply to the statute of limitations. In Kim, the statute of limitations for bringing the relevant cause of action fell on Memorial Day. The plaintiff failed to serve the lawsuit papers on that date, but instead served the papers the next day. The defendant raised the statute of limitations for negligence cases as a defense at the trial court level. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant. On appeal, the plaintiff raised the Holiday Rule as a defense.
Although the Appellate Court noted some instances where the rule could apply, the court declined to extend the rule to the statute of limitations. The court noted that courts are closed on Memorial Day, but that should not necessarily matter for state marshals. State marshals can and do serve serve subpoenas and lawsuit papers on holidays. This fact appeared to influence the judges in declining to extend the Holiday Rule for the statute of limitations. The court was not persuaded that it was impossible to act because of the holiday. The takeaway here is that while many deadlines in litigation can be extended or missed without serious consequences, the same cannot be said for the statute of limitations.