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Missed Deadline Kills School Shooting Case

By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 21, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Seventeen-year-old Patrick Skrabec made a terrible joke, telling his Attelboro classmates "he would like to shoot up the school."

Because of the Sandy Hook shooting days earlier, that joke put Skrabec in jail -- until he was released and found not guilty of threatening to commit a crime. He and his family then sued for false arrest and other claims.

A judge threw out his case, largely because his lawyer made a terrible mistake. He failed to oppose a motion for summary judgment.

Untimely Opposition

In Skrabec v. Town of Attelboro, the Skrabecs' attorney tried to set aside the judgment based on excusable neglect. The judge denied the request, leading to an appeal.

The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals said the judge didn't err; the attorney did. The plaintiffs' lawyer said he was in settlement talks with the town's attorney and thought he had an extension to file an opposition. 

The trial judge granted the unopposed summary judgment motion -- three weeks after the opposition was due.

"The Skrabecs' attorney's belief that the Town's attorney had agreed or would agree to an extension was no more than an assumption," the appeals panel said.

Untimely Death

Patrick Skrabec never knew what happened in the case because he died unexpectedly on Oct. 16, 2016, more than two months before the judge ruled.

In the motion to alter the judgment, the attorney cited his death as a factor in missing the deadline. However, the trial judge said, that was no excuse.

"Although this Court is sympathetic to Patrick's parents, the First Circuit has found that an attorney's neglect is not excusable even after the death of a family member because "a lawyer's duty of diligence transcends both upheaval at work and personal tragedy,'" Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton wrote.

The First Circuit affirmed.

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