Part II: When a Court Says So

June 10, 2015

alarm clockThe question of how to apply West Virginia’s tricky holiday rules was addressed by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in the recent case of Postlewait v. City of Wheeling.  The plaintiff in that case prevailed at trial and judgment was entered on November 19, 2010.  The defendant filed a motion for new trial on December 7, 2010, and one of the questions on appeal was whether the motion for new trial was filed too late.  According to Rule 59 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion for new trial must be filed “not later than 10 days after the entry of the judgment” and if not timely filed, “the party is deemed to have waived all errors occurring during the trial….”.

Because 10 days are fewer than 11 days, all Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays are excluded from the time computation pursuant to RCP Rule 6(a).  Counting forward from November 19, 2010, and excluding all Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, the tenth and final day to file a motion for new trial is either December 6 or December 7 depending on which days are counted as holidays.  Both Rule 6 and the state holiday statute list Thanksgiving Day as a holiday, which was November 25 in 2010; thus, excluding all Saturdays, Sundays, and Thanksgiving Day, the last day to file a motion for new trial was December 6, 2010, and in Postlewait v. City of Wheeling the defendant filed the motion on December 7, which would have been a day late.

In arguing that the motion for new trial was timely filed, the defendant argued that Lincoln’s Day, the day after Thanksgiving, should be considered a holiday and excluded from the time computation because it is listed in the state statute as a legal holiday.  The plaintiff disagreed because Lincoln’s Day was not listed in the time computation rule, and argued that the legislative holidays did not supersede the holidays contained in the rules that were adopted by the state supreme court pursuant to constitutional authority.  (And, although not mentioned in the court’s decision, the plaintiff also could have argued that the time computation rule already had a holiday honoring President Lincoln as Lincoln’s Birthday, and from the face of the rule it would be hard to argue that it meant the day after Thanksgiving.)

The West Virginia Supreme Court considered a couple of factors in reaching a decision.  The court noted that the time computation rule in defining the term “legal holidays” used the word includes before enumerating a list of holidays, and that the word “includes” is not a limiting term, and there could be more holidays recognized beyond those listed.  The court also pointed out that the holidays listed in Rule 6 did not provide dates to correspond with the holidays, unlike the statute.  Thus, in order to interpret days such as “West Virginia Day” or “Columbus Day” in the rule, one is required to consult external sources such as the state statutes for precise definitions of these holidays.  For this reason, the court read the rule and statute in pari materia, and looked at the statute to guide interpretation of the rule.  In so doing, the court held that the statutory Lincoln’s Day was a legal holiday within the meaning of Rule 6, and that the defendant had filed its motion for new trial within the 10-day requirement of Rule 59 despite it being filed 18 calendar days after entry of judgment.

In the area of civil procedure and calendaring specifically, the significance of this decision is that one cannot always rely exclusively on the plain language stated in a rule of procedure.  In jurisdictions with a time computation rule that does not define the term holiday or legal holiday, one is required to look beyond the rule and consult other sources of reference for a definition.  But even where the term is spelled out, and a list of holidays is provided, that may not end the inquiry.

The author would like to thank Cole Foster for his contributions to this post.

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