United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
SAMMIE A. DELOACH and LAURIE DELOACH, Plaintiffs,
STANDARD INSURANCE COMPANY and J.A. JONES, INC., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Laurie DeLoach's
motion to be substituted for her deceased husband Sammie
DeLoach and for leave to reopen this case out of time (Doc.
No. 61). The motion is fully briefed and ready for
the standard for filing a motion for leave to file out of
time requires addressing “all the relevant
circumstances, ” Maritz, Inc. v. C/Base, Inc.,
4:06CV761 CAS, 2007 WL 2302511, at *2 (E.D. Mo. August 7,
2007) (citing Pioneer Inv. Servs Co. v. Brunswick Assoc.
Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 395 (1993)), the Court
will discuss the procedural history of this case.
October 2002, Plaintiffs Sammie and Laurie DeLoach
(“Plaintiffs”) filed this action for long term
disability benefits under an employee welfare benefit plan
sponsored by Sammie DeLoach's employer, J.A. Jones, Inc.
(“Jones”) and administered by Standard Insurance
Company (“Standard”) (Doc. No. 1). Under the
plan, Jones was to self-insure the first 60 months of any
award of disability benefits; any liability for benefits
thereafter would be Standard's alone (see Doc.
No. 70 at 3-4).
October 1, 2003, Jones filed a Suggestion of Bankruptcy (Doc.
No. 56); on October 6, 2003, all proceedings in this matter
were stayed (Doc. No. 57). On November 21, 2003, the Court
administratively closed this file subject to reopening upon
motion by the Plaintiffs. The Court's order specifically
directed Plaintiffs to file their motion “no later than
thirty (30) days after the bankruptcy court's action,
which shall include a statement of the facts and procedural
history, including significant actions taken in proceedings
in any United States Bankruptcy Court” (Doc. No. 58).
On December 17, 2007, the United States Bankruptcy Court for
the Western District of North Carolina disallowed
Plaintiffs' claims against Jones and expunged them from
the record (Doc. No. 61-3). Sammie DeLoach died on June 29,
2008 (Doc. No. 61-8). The bankruptcy proceedings concluded in
April 2014 (Doc. No. 61-6). Two years later, Laurie DeLoach
(“DeLoach”) filed the instant motion to reopen
this case. She also seeks to be substituted for her deceased
husband pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a)(2).
Rule of Civil Procedure 6(b) authorizes courts to accept late
filings where the failure to timely file is the result of
“excusable neglect.” Whether a party's
failure to meet a deadline is excusable is an equitable
determination, “taking account of all the relevant
circumstances surrounding the party's omission.”
In re Harlow Fay, Inc., 993 F.2d 1351, 1352 (8th
Cir. 1993) (quoting Pioneer, 507 U.S. at 395)). In
making this determination, the Court must consider a number
of factors, including (1) the danger of prejudice to the
non-moving party; (2) the potential impact on the
proceedings; (3) the reason for the delay, including whether
it was within the party's control; and (4) whether the
party acted in good faith. Maritz, 2007 WL 2302511,
at *2; see also Sugarbaker v. SSM Health Care, 187
F.3d 853, 855-56 (8th Cir. 1999). Plaintiff has the burden to
demonstrate “excusable neglect.” See Huggins
v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., 592 F.3d 853, 856
(8th Cir. 2010). The Eighth Circuit has indicated that the
reason given for the late filing is the key consideration in
determining whether there is excusable neglect. Lowry v.
McDonnell Douglas Corp., 211 F.3d 457, 463 (8th Cir.
motion, DeLoach asserts that intervening circumstances beyond
her control made it difficult, “if not impossible,
” to timely file her motion to reopen this case. In
particular, she points to the fact that Jones' bankruptcy
proceedings spanned ten years, during which time she and her
husband relocated from Missouri and her husband died (Doc.
No. 62 at 5-6). DeLoach asserts her counsel did not receive
notice when the bankruptcy case was concluded in April 2014,
and that once discovered, counsel had to locate case files,
obtain documents from the bankruptcy court, and evaluate the
legal effects of her husband's death and the bankruptcy
court's rulings on the claims asserted in this action
(id. at 6). Notably, DeLoach does not assert that
she and her husband did not receive notice in 2007 when the
bankruptcy court disallowed their claims against Jones and
expunged them from the record. DeLoach contends that Standard
will suffer no prejudice from reopening this case because at
the time the case was stayed, Standard's summary judgment
motion was fully briefed and ready for disposition
opposes the motion, arguing that it has been severely
prejudiced by DeLoach's delay in seeking to reopen this
case, and that her delay is not attributable to excusable
neglect (Doc. No. 70). Standard states its motion for summary
judgment was directed to Sammie DeLoach's claim for
benefits under the “Own Occupation” standard and
did not address any future claim for benefits under the
“Any Occupation” standard (id. at 5).
Standard also maintains that Plaintiffs' involvement in
the bankruptcy proceedings was terminated as of December 17,
2007, when the bankruptcy court disallowed and expunged their
claims against Jones (id. at 12-13). Had Plaintiffs
moved to reopen this case at that time, Standard would have
been able to fully evaluate Sammie DeLoach's medical
condition to determine whether he was disabled from
“Any Occupation” in December 2005 for it to be
liable for disability benefits. Unfortunately, Sammie DeLoach
died in June of 2008, and Standard cannot have him examined.
Standard states that given the passage of time, it is
unlikely that it can obtain Sammie DeLoach's full and
complete medical records (id. at 8-10). The Court
notes that independent medical examinations are frequently
not conducted in these cases. Moreover, Standard does not
actually know whether or not Sammie DeLoach's medical
records still exist. While the danger of prejudice to the
non-moving party is a consideration, see Maritz,
2007 WL 2302511, at *2, the more compelling issue for the
Court is the lack of excusable neglect on the part of
initiated this case in 2002. Once the case was stayed on
Jones' Suggestion of Bankruptcy, Plaintiffs had an
obligation to monitor the bankruptcy proceedings and inform
the Court when those proceedings were finally concluded.
Plaintiffs failed to timely comply with the Court's
order. The delay is not a matter of days or weeks or even
months. According to Standard, Plaintiffs had notice in
December 2007 that their involvement in the bankruptcy
proceedings had ended, but did not take action to reopen this
case for nine years. Even assuming their obligation to notify
the Court began to run from April 9, 2014, when the
bankruptcy proceedings were terminated, this still results in
a significant delay of over two years. In any event,
Plaintiffs did not adequately preserve their claim.
Plaintiffs could have pursued a separate claim for benefits
against Standard at any time after December 2005, when
Standard's liability under the plan was implicated; the
automatic stay in the bankruptcy proceeding only prevented
Plaintiffs from pursuing a claim against Jones. Indeed,
Plaintiff concedes that Standard's liability was not
affected by the Jones bankruptcy (see Doc. No. 62 at
4; Doc. No. 73 at 4). For these reasons, the Court concludes
that DeLoach has not established excusable neglect and is,
therefore, not entitled to reopen this case.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff Laurie DeLoach's
Motion for Leave to Reopen Case  is DENIED. A separate
Judgment of ...