The Impact of Missing Deadlines for Trial de Novo Requests


In the intricate world of law, strict adherence to deadlines can be the difference between success and failure.  An example of this principle is the recent case of a lawyer miscalculating the deadline by just one day throwing former St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams and New York Giants cornerback, Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins, into a whirlwind of legal trouble. Learn more about trial de novo requests and the importance of timeliness in the legal world.

What is a trial de novo? 

There are several reasons for a trial de novo, a legal term for a “new trial,” most commonly used to challenge awards found in arbitration. Also called a de novo hearing or writ of de novo, these trials are essentially an appeal to a prior case but which allows it to be tried all over again, meaning:

  • new evidence and new witness testimony can both be heard
  • prior decisions are not considered
  • previous awards or sentences are completely dismissed

A caveat to seeking a trial de novo is if the new trial is granted and results in a harsher ruling or penalty from the court, the defendant is subject to this and cannot revert back to the previous trial’s judgment.

Additionally, a de novo hearing is governed by procedural requirements, most notably timing, meaning the defendant and their attorney are limited in the amount of time from when an arbitration award or decision has been filed, often 20 or 30 days. The deadline to file for this hearing varies by jurisdiction, so it’s critical that legal representation be aware of the court’s procedures. Missing a deadline for the new trial means the previous ruling stands. 

Trial de novo in the wrongful-death lawsuit against Janoris Jenkins

Former NFL star Janoris Jenkins is painfully familiar with the requirements of a trial de novo, as his attorney miscalculated the deadline to file for one amidst a serious suit against him. Here’s a little background on the case:

On June 28, 2018, William Jenkins, the brother of Janoris, killed Roosevelt Rene, while living at a home owned by Janoris. According to the Complaint, Janoris invited Roosevelt to live at the house with him and William. Roosevelt was a music producer working with Janoris to develop his career as a rapper.  Roosevelt was unaware of William’s criminal history and propensity to violence when he moved into the house.  Roosevelt’s sister brought a wrongful-death suit on behalf of Roosevelt’s Estate against Janoris, claiming he knew his brother had a history of violent behavior and yet allowed William to live in the home with Roosevelt. 

The wrongful-death suit was sent to a court-appointed arbitrator who set gross damages at $800,000 and apportioned fault at 50% each to Janoris and Roosevelt. Under New Jersey’s comparative negligence law, recovery of damages is permitted when each party is 50% at fault.  Thus, the Estate obtained an arbitration award for $400,000.  

At the close of arbitration, the arbitrator informed counsel of her decision and executed a form stating that those seeking to obtain a writ de novo “must file with the decision manager a trial de novo request together with a $200 fee within 30 days of today.” The date of the decision was September 21, 2022, so the demand for trial de novo was due October 21, 2022.  

What happens when a trial de novo is filed late?trial de novo

Unfortunately, Janoris’ attorney mistakenly believed that the 30-day deadline to file a trial de novo request did not begin to run until September 22, as this was when he received electronic notification of the decision. Thirty days from September 22 lands on Saturday October 22.  

Pursuant to New Jersey Rules, when a deadline falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the deadline continues to run until the end of the next day which is neither a Saturday, Sunday, nor legal holiday. Put simply, Janoris’ attorney reasoned that if the countdown began on September 22 and 30 days later would fall on a Saturday, the deadline was Monday, October 24. Accordingly, he filed his request for trial de novo on October 24, three days past the actual deadline.

The Estate’s attorney subsequently filed a motion to vacate the request for a de novo hearing and confirm the arbitration award, arguing that opposing counsel clearly failed to read the text of the decision, which stated:

Parties desiring to reject this award and obtain a trial de novo must file with the division manager a trial de novo request . . . within thirty (30) days of today. Note that unless otherwise expressly indicated this award will be filed today.

Furthermore, the email notification stated that the decision was filed on September 21.

The trial court agreed with the Estate. The trial court cited N.J. Rule 4:21A-6(b) which provides that “[a]n order shall be entered dismissing the action following the filing of the arbitrator’s award unless: (a) within 30 days after filing of the arbitration award, a party thereto files . . . a notice of rejection of the award and a demand for a trial de novo[.]”  The trial court found that the arbitration award was filed on September 21 meaning the demand for trial de novo was due October 21, not October 24. 

Under New Jersey law (and most states), an attorney’s negligence, miscalculation, or misreading of court rules is not an extraordinary circumstance sufficient to enlarge the time to file a trial de novo. Therefore, the trial court denied Janoris’ motion for reconsideration and confirmed the arbitration award.

If a request for trial de novo is filed past court deadlines, it will not be granted. 

Support for a trial de novo

Attorneys are entrusted with the task of safeguarding their clients’ interests, a responsibility that extends to ensuring timely compliance with procedural requirements. The failure to meet deadlines not only undermines the client’s confidence in their legal representation but also erodes the foundation of trust upon which the attorney-client relationship is built.

This case serves as a stark reminder of the need for attorneys to implement robust systems and procedures to track deadlines accurately. With the complexity of modern legal practice and the multitude of cases that lawyers handle simultaneously, relying solely on memory or manual calendaring systems can prove to be inadequate and prone to errors.

As aptly put by the attorney representing the Estate, “this case is a cautionary tale to file a request for de novo of an arbitration in a timely fashion.” In an environment where adherence to deadlines can mean the difference between success and failure, vigilance, diligence, and effective communication are indispensable virtues for legal practitioners and their clients alike. 

If you are in need of litigation support, including a trial de novo, please connect with our Litigation & Trial Practice attorneys in Allentown, PA. 

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