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Bailey v. Algonquin Gas Transmission Co.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island
788 A.2d 478 (2002)


Facts

Robert Bailey and others (plaintiffs) sued Maguire Group, Architects, Engineers, Planners, Ltd. (Maguire) (defendant), alleging that they had suffered personal injuries as a result of Maguire’s negligence. Maguire was represented by attorney John Coffey Jr. The plaintiffs served upon Coffey a request to Maguire for production of documents. Coffey never informed Maguire about the request, and never responded to the request. Coffey also never responded to follow-up motions to compel Maguire to produce the requested documents. Coffey served as legal counsel for Maguire on other matters and routinely met with Maguire representatives to provide case updates. However, Coffey advised Maguire that nothing was happening in the negligence case. As a result of the failure to respond to the request for production and the subsequent motions, a default judgment was entered against Maguire for damages. Upon learning of Coffey’s mishandling of the case, Maguire hired a new attorney to file a motion to vacate the default judgment. The motion to vacate was based on Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure (Rules) 60(b)(1) and (6), which granted a party relief from final judgment on the basis of their conduct or their attorney’s conduct for reasons such as excusable neglect. Maguire argued that Coffey’s alcohol abuse during his representation caused him to improperly handle the case. The trial court denied the motion to vacate on the basis that Coffey’s failure to respond did not constitute excusable neglect, but rather resulted from unexplained or willful conduct. Maguire appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Flanders, J.)

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