Dismissal for want of prosecution is automatic, and reinstatement after six months is not possible

Mollie Pawlosky Iowa Commercial Litigation Dickinson Law Des Moines, Iowa

Posted on 11/02/2016 at 07:08 AM by Mollie Pawlosky

Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.944, “Uniform Rule for Dismissal for Want of Prosecution,” is designed to move cases through the court system.  Rule 1.944 states that all civil actions shall be tried within one year from the date they are filed.

The rule further states, “All cases at law or in equity where the petition has been filed more than one year prior to July 15 of any year shall be tried prior to January 1 of the next succeeding year.”  To accomplish the rule’s goal, the clerk, “shall prior to August 15 of each year give notice to counsel of record of the docket number, the names of parties, counsel appearing, and date of filing petition.  The notice shall state that such case will be subject to dismissal if not tried prior to January 1 of the next succeeding year pursuant to this rule.”  “All such cases shall be assigned and tried or dismissed without prejudice…”  After dismissal, “Applications for reinstatement …shall be filed within six months from the date of dismissal.”

Dismissal under Rule 1.944 is automatic, and applications for reinstatement must be filed within six months of January 1, as recently reminded by the Iowa Court of Appeals in Atchison v. Shaffer, No. 14-1555 (Oct. 12, 2016).  In July 2013, Atchinson received the Rule 1.944 dismissal notice, advising that the case would be dismissed, if not tried by January 1, 2014.  The trial date was continued to March 24, 2014, but the order granting the continuance specifically stated that the order had no effect on the issue of “automatic dismissal by the Clerk for failure to complete the trial in this matter in the period allowed by the timelines.”

On January 7, 2014, the clerk filed notice that the case was dismissed, without prejudice, on “01/07/2014,” pursuant to Rule 1.944.  On July 7, 2014, Atchison filed an application to reinstate.  The district court held that the case had been automatically dismissed on January 1, 2014, so the July 7, 2014 application was untimely.  Based on controlling precedent, the district court further held that it had “no authority” to reinstate, once the six months had passed.  Atchison appealed.

The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the district court:  dismissal was automatic on January 1, 2014, and, once six months had passed after dismissal, the court was without authority to reinstate.  In ruling that dismissal was automatic, the Court of Appeals relied upon several prior appellate cases, dating back several decades.  However, the Court barely mentioned the January 7, 2014 notice from the court, simply stating, “Atchison’s case was automatically dismissed on January 1, 2014, notwithstanding the clerk’s order stating that it was dismissed on January 7th.”  The Court of Appeals similarly relied upon controlling precedent to determine that an untimely reinstatement was not allowed.

Atchison reminds litigants of the importance of attending to Rule 1.944 notices.  Dismissal likely would have been avoided, if Atchison, when the continuance of trial was obtained, had also sought relief from Rule 1.944.  Judges commonly extend the Rule 1.944 deadline, especially in instances when new counsel becomes involved.

For further information on Iowa civil procedure, contact Mollie Pawlosky.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.

Mollie Pawlosky


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