excusable neglect

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Excusable neglect is a term associated with legal proceedings, notably in bankruptcy cases, that includes inadvertence, mistakes, carelessness, or any other intervening circumstances beyond a party's control. A court has the discretion to allow a party to file a motion after the deadline if it finds excusable neglect. It is worth noting that the litigant and their attorney's conduct are considered as joint when deciding whether the neglect was excusable. In other words, clients are held accountable for the acts and omissions of their attorneys.

In determining whether the neglect is excusable, courts take a flexible approach and consider all relevant circumstances. For example, clerical errors, like a misreading of the filing date, have been considered excusable. However, courts also particularly look to: 

  1. The danger of prejudice to the nonmoving party; 
  2. The length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings; 
  3. The reason for the delay; and 
  4. Whether the movant acted in good faith

The Supreme Court has held that indifference to the motion's deadlines is inexcusable (see: Pioneer Investment Services Co. v. Brunswick Associates Ltd. Partnership, 507 U.S. 380 (1993).

Federal Courts also allow parties to amend their pleadings (Rule 13(f)) or allow courts to revisit their judgments (Rule 60(b)(1)) should excusable neglect be found. Under Rule 60(b)(1), a federal court may set aside a default judgment if it resulted from excusable neglect by considering: 

  1. Whether the party's default was willful; 
  2. Whether setting the judgment aside would prejudice the opposing party; and 
  3. Whether a meritorious defense is presented. 

Some jurisdictions have their own schemes for deciding when a judgment should be set aside due to excusable neglect. For example, in California, a reasonable mistake of misconception or mistake of law can be considered excusable neglect and provide relief from judgment. However, in determining whether the neglect is excusable, California courts determine whether a reasonably prudent person under the same circumstances would have made the same error. This standard ensures that attorneys are held to a professional standard of care and prevents them from using excusable neglect as an excuse for malpractice.

[Last updated in November of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]