Motion To Reinstate Permitted Despite Filed Well Beyond Statutory Requirement

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-54, claims may be dismissed for lack of prosecution. That statute also permits a petition to be reinstated upon a showing of good cause provided that the application to reinstate is made within one year from the date of dismissal. In a recent decision issued by the Appellate Division, however, that one year deadline can be extended.

In Kost v. GPU Energy, Eric Lentz, Esq. of Garces and Grabler filed seven claim petitions on behalf of the Petitioner in 2003. In 2005, Mr. Lentz left Garces and Grabler, but remained as the Petitioner’s counsel and would meet the Petitioner at McDonald’s, the Petitioner’s house, and in Mr. Lentz’s basement. Between 2005 and 2008, Mr. Lentz failed to appear in Court and, on December 5, 2008, the Respondent filed motions to dismiss for lack of prosecution on each of the seven claims and the Court granted those motions on that date. Copies of the Orders for Dismissal were sent to Mr. Lentz on December 8, 2008.

Undaunted by the Orders for Dismissal, Mr. Lentz continued to advise the Petitioner that the cases were moving forward through 2010. Eventually, the Petitioner obtained new counsel and it was determined in August, 2010 that the cases were already dismissed. New counsel was not able to effectuate a substitution of attorney on each claim until October 2, 2010 and a motion to reinstate the claim was filed. The Judge of Workers’ Compensation denied the Petitioner’s Motion finding that Mr. Lentz’s “neglect is not grounds for relief” as the motion was filed more than eighteen months after the order for dismissal. The Petitioner then appealed.

The Appellate Division ultimately relied upon Rule 4:50-1(f) in finding that the Petitioner is entitled to relief because the status of his cases was not caused by his “own dereliction or ambivalence”; rather, it was his attorney that caused the dismissals. Moreover, the Appellate Division also considered the fact that the Respondent will not be prejudiced if the matter was re-opened as the Respondent had the opportunity to investigate and obtain discovery and medical records.

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