The 2013 amendments to the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure enacted substantial changes to Rule 5.04(a), which now plays a crucial role in determining the timeliness of filing a case. It brought about significant change to the long-standing practice of so-called “hip-pocket service,” allowed in only a handful of states, which permits a party to commence an action merely by serving the summons upon the defendant without the need to file the case in court. But the 2013 amendment to Rule 5.04(a) curtailed the practice, requiring an action to be filed with the court within one year. The Rule provides: “Any action that is not filed with the court within one year of commencement against any party is deemed dismissed . . . .”

The amendment aimed to establish clear guidelines for practitioners regarding the commencement of legal actions in Minnesota. But the Minnesota Supreme Court was almost immediately called to resolve uncertainties regarding the new provisions, and issued a pair of clarifying opinions in Gams v. Houghton, 884 N.W.2d 611 (Minn. 2016) and Cole v. Wutzke, 884 N.W.2d 634 (Minn. 2016), in which the court addressed due process concerns related to the newly amended Rule and set forth the procedure and standard for seeking relief from dismissal under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02.

The Glen Edin v. Hiscox Ins. Co. Case

In a new opinion issued June 28, 2023, Glen Edin of Edinburgh Ass’n v. Hiscox Ins. Co., 992 N.W.2d 393 (Minn. 2023), the court continued its development of that law and its interpretation of Rule 5.04(a).

Glen Edin arose from a dispute over insurance coverage for damage caused by a hailstorm in 2017. The homeowners’ association of Glen Edin, located in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park, served its insurance company, Hiscox, with a summons and complaint in 2019. However, the actual complaint was not filed with the court until four months later when it was filed not as a standalone document, but rather as an exhibit to an affidavit submitted alongside a memorandum. Hiscox filed its answer, then moved to dismiss, arguing that Glen Edin had failed to satisfy Rule 5.04(a). Glen Edin argued that the “action” had been “filed” when Hiscox filed the answer.

Defining “Action” and “Filed”

The court was posed with two separate questions under Rule 5.04(a): (1) What constitutes an “action,” and (2) what must be done for an action to be “filed.” In answering these questions, the court found itself divided, resulting in an unusual scenario where two partially conflicting “opinion dissents” emerged.

The Majority Opinion on the First Issue

The majority opinion on the first issue, authored by Justice Natalie Hudson and joined by Justice Barry Anderson, Justice Paul Thissen, and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, rejected the argument that the filing of Hiscox’s answer could satisfy the requirement that the “action” be filed. Justice Hudson emphasized the need to consider the surrounding text and context of the rule, and held that the filing of an “action” refers specifically to the filing of the summons and complaint. Justice Hudson noted that “under Rule 5.04(a), not only does an ‘action’ need to be ‘filed,’ but it also needs to be ‘commenced.’” And because an “action” can only be “commenced” via the summons and complaint, she reasoned, it would be inconsistent to hold that an “action” meant one thing for “filing” and another for “commencing.”

Justice Chutich’s Dissent

Justice Margaret Chutich, joined by Justice Gordon Moore and Justice Anne McKeig, dissented. Justice Chutich argued that a “civil action” merely means “a judicial proceeding,” and reasoned that if the court had intended to limit Rule 5.04 so that only the summons and complaint satisfied the filing requirement they would have so specified.

Majority Opinion on the Second Issue

Justice Chutich – although without the votes to decide the majority on the first issue – did pen the majority opinion on the second issue, joined again by Justices Moore and McKeig and this time also by Justice Anderson.

Justice Chutich held that even considering the summons-and-complaint requirement, Glen Edin’s filing of a copy of the complaint as an attachment to an affidavit met the requirements of the rule. She noted that imposing an additional technical filing requirement for the summons and complaint would go beyond what was explicitly required by the rule and would undermine the judiciary’s goal of resolving disputes on their merits. She emphasized that while the complaint had not been filed as a standalone document, Glen Edin had “still placed the necessary documents in the hands of the district court” and had thus “appris[ed] the court of the nature of the action and content of the complaint.”

Justice Hudson’s Dissent

But Justice Hudson, again joined by Justice Thissen and Chief Justice Gildea but this time dissenting, expressed concern with the practical effects of this holding. Specifically, Hudson raised concerns about the potential for plaintiffs to flood the court with numerous exhibits and burying the summons and complaint in a mountain of documents. According to Hudson, this approach would hinder the efficient use of judicial resources.

Implications for Attorneys – Understanding Filing Requirements

In the end, the posture of the court’s competing “opinion dissents” created a peculiar result, where Justice Anderson was the only Justice to concur in the court’s opinion as to all parts. But the essential holding of the opinion dissents can be summarized as: (1) Rule 5.04 requires the summons and complaint to be filed within one year, and (2) that summons and complaint need not be filed as a standalone document, so long as it is filed in some form and “placed . . . in the hands of the district court.”

In any case, the divided opinions among the justices shed light on the complexities involved in interpreting legal terms – including the filing requirements of Rule 5.04(1) – as well as the practical impact the rule can have on a client’s case and the importance of practitioners having a full and complete understanding of all applicable rules.