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Spence v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

March 27, 2018



          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS United States District Judge.

         Currently before the Court are:

• Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company's ("Union Pacific") Motion for Extension of Time to Answer (Doc. 10), Brief in Support (Doc. 11), and Supplement (Doc. 13); Plaintiff Marion D. Spence ll's Response (Doc. 18) and Brief in Support (Doc. 19); and Union Pacific's Reply (Doc. 22); and
• Mr. Spence's Motion for Default Judgment on Liability and Request for Hearing on Damages (Doc. 14), Brief in Support (Doc. 15), and Affidavit in Support (Doc. 16); and Union Pacific's Response (Doc. 17).

         For the reasons given below, Union Pacific's Motion is GRANTED, and Mr. Spence's Motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Spence was a truck driver for Union Pacific, who allegedly sustained shoulder injuries as the result of continued or specific exposure to hazards on the job while working for Union Pacific. See Doc. 1. Mr. Spence filed suit for negligence against Union Pacific on September 1, 2017. See Id. Upon prompting by the Court to show cause, see Doc. 5, Mr. Spence filed proof of service on January 12, 2018, indicating that Union Pacific had been served with the Complaint on November 27, 2017. See Doc. 6. The Court filed a Notice of Default Procedure on January 16, 2018, because the deadline for Union Pacific to file its Answer had passed without any Answer having been filed. See Doc. 7. Union Pacific then filed an Answer on January 22, 2018, see Doc. 8, accompanied that same day by a Motion for Extension of Time to File Answer, see Doc. 10. A week later, Mr. Spence filed his Motion for Default Judgment. See Doc. 14. Both Motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for decision.


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a defendant to serve an answer or responsive motion to a complaint "within 21 days after being served with the summons and complaint." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(a)(1)(A). "When a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default." Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). However, "when an act may or must be done within a specified time, the court may, for good cause, extend the time ... on motion made after the time has expired if the party failed to act because of excusable neglect." Huggins v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 592 F.3d 853, 856 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(1)) (ellipses in original).

         "Excusable neglect is an 'elastic concept' that empowers courts to accept, 'where appropriate, . . . late filings caused by inadvertence, mistake, or carelessness, as well as by intervening circumstances beyond the party's control.'" Chorosevic v. Met Life Choices, 600 F.3d 934, 946 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 392 (1993)). "The determination of whether neglect is excusable 'is at bottom an equitable one, taking account of all relevant circumstances surrounding the party's omission.'" Id. When making that equitable determination, the Court must pay particular attention to the following four factors: (1) the possibility of prejudice to the party opposing the late filing; (2) the length of the late party's delay and the possible impact of that delay on judicial proceedings; (3) the late party's reasons for delay, including whether the delay was within their reasonable control; and (4) whether the late party acted in good faith. See Id. The decision whether to allow a party to submit a late filing is committed to this Court's discretion. See Id. In the Discussion Section below, the Court will analyze each of these four factors, in the sequence just mentioned, with respect to Union Pacific's Motion for Extension of Time to Answer.


         A. Possibility of Prejudice

         The Court finds that the possibility of prejudice to Mr. Spence is minimal. The proceedings here are relatively new, and Union Pacific appears ready to defend its case on the merits. Notwithstanding his Motion for Default Judgment, Mr. Spence has not displayed any sense of urgency about the pace of these proceedings; he filed his Affidavit of Service, see Doc. 6, after being prompted to do so by the Court, see Doc. 5, and he has since sought (and been granted) an extension of the deadline to file his initial disclosures under Rule 26. See Docs. 24, 26. Therefore, this factor weighs in favor of extending Union Pacific's deadline to respond to Mr. Spence's Complaint.

         B. ...

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