Time Flies in Small Claims Court: Unique Deadline Calculation Rules Can Be a Trap for the Unwary

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By Norman D. Farnam

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By Douglas C. Scriver

August 22, 2017

Litigation is deadline driven, and missing a statutory or court-ordered deadline can have dire consequences.  Because many deadlines are expressed as a certain number of days from the occurrence of an event (e.g., a defendant might have 20 days after being served with a complaint to file an answer), correct calendar practice and time computation are essential to litigators.

Most deadlines are simply calculated by counting calendar days.  Nevertheless, when a litigation deadline of less than 11 days applies in Wisconsin, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays are generally not counted in determining the date of the deadline.  The Court of Appeals recently instructed, however, that the additional time this general rule affords is not available in small claims cases.

The small claims statute at issue in Team Property Management LLC v. Reiss allowed the defendants 10 days after an oral decision was issued to file a demand for trial de novo.  The defendants thought they had 14 actual days (10 days without counting weekends) until their deadline and waited 14 days to file a demand.  Unfortunately for the defendants, the Court of Appeals found their demand to be untimely because all deadlines are measured by calendar days in small claims court.  Thus, the defendants lost their right to try their case before a judge or jury.

The upshot of the Court of Appeals’ decision is that small claims deadlines may elapse sooner than attorneys and parties expect; Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays must be counted.  If attorneys or parties rely on the additional time generally afforded to them in a small claims action, they might commit malpractice or lose legal rights, respectively.  Particularly for those who are accustomed to the rules of civil procedure, missing a small claims deadline could be a simple (and potentially understandable), but costly and avoidable, mistake.

If you have any questions about how the information in this article may affect you or your business, please contact Norm Farnam at nfarnam@stroudlaw.com or Doug Scriver at dscriver@stroudlaw.com or (608) 257-2281 or your Stroud attorney.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only, is not necessarily updated to account for changes in the law, and should not be considered tax or legal advice.  This article is not intended to create, nor does the receipt of it constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  You should consult with your own legal and/or financial advisors for legal and tax advice tailored to your specific circumstances.