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Civil Procedure Fall 2014

Cheat Sheet on Motions for Relief from Judgment

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Clerical Mistakes and Other Oversights

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Under FRCP 60(a), a court may correct a clerical mistake or other oversight or ommission found in a judgment, order, or portion of the record.  In doing so, the court seeks to correct a mistake made in executing its intended result—not an error in judgment.  Such mistakes may be small (e.g., misnumbered paragraphs in a judgment) or large (e.g. missing zeros in a damages award).  The rule allows a court to make such a correction sua sponte, with or without notice.  However, if the case is already pending in the court of appeals, the appellate court’s leave is required.

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Relief from a Judgment or Order

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FRCP 60(b) enumerates six grounds for relief from a final judgment, order, or proceeding:

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→  Under Rule 60(b)(1), relief is available for “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.”  However, examples of sufficient extenuating circumstanes are rare.  In Rooks v. Am. Brass Co., 263 F.2d 166 (6th Cir. 1959), the court granted a Rule 60(b)(1) motion where the defendant neglected to answer the complaint because of a serious illness.  Similarly, in Griffin v. Kennedy, 344 F.2d 128 (D.C. Cir. 1965), the court declined to hold the plaintiffs responsible for an erroneous stipulation entered by their counsel.

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→  Rule 60(b)(2) permits relief for “newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b).”  In Patrick v. Sedwick, 413 P.2d 169 (Alaska 1966), the Alaska Supreme Court considered the meaning of this phrase in a medical malpractice action.  The defendant moved for a new trial on the ground that between the close of evidence and the judge’s determination of damages two years later (following a lengthy appeal), a new treatment had been devised that would reduce the plaintiff’s injuries—and thus reduce his damages.  The court affirmed the trial judge’s denial of a new trial, indicating that newly discovered evidence: “(1) must be such as would probably change the result on a new trial; (2) must have been discovered since the trial; (3) must be of such a nature that it could not have been discovered before trial by due diligence; (4) must be material; (5) must not be merely cumulative or impeaching” in order to qualify under the rule.  “In addition to the foregoing requirements,” the Court noted, “it is established that for any evidence to come within the category of ‘newly discovered’ such evidence must relate to facts which were in existence at the time of the trial.”  Because the treatment was not developed until after trial, the new “evidence” failed the requirement that facts be in existence at time of trial.

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→  Rule 60(b)(3) concerns misdeeds by an opposing party—for example, if failure to respond to discovery requests hinders the one’s ability to prepare for trial.  In Peacock Records, Inc. v. Checker Records, Inc., 365 F.2d 145 (7th Cir. 1966), the court held: “[W]here it appears that perjured testimony may have played some part in influencing the court to render a judgment, the perjury will not be weighed, on a motion to set aside the judgment. . . . The factual question which the district court failed to answer is, ‘Was the judgment obtained in part by the use of perjury?’  If it was, then it was clearly the duty of the district court to set aside the judgment, because poison had permeated the fountain of justice.”

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Rule 60(b)(4) is a mandatory provision.  It applies in circumstances in which the judgment is, for some reason, a nullity (e.g., lack of subject-matter jurisdiction or fraud on the court).

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→ Rule 60(b)(5) is particularly applicable in cases where (1) a judgment was based on the preclusive effect of a prior case and (2) that case has since been overturned.  However, as indicated in Title v. United States, 263 F.2d 28 (9th Cir. 1959), the rule does not apply to “change[s] in the judicial view of applicable law after a final judgment.”

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→ Despite the broad language of the catch-all provision in Rule 60(b)(6), movants face two hurdles.  First, the “reason that justifies relief” must fall outside the scope of the five preceding provisions.  Second, the movant must show the existence of extraordinary circumstances.

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Unlike Rule 60(a), Rule 60(b) does not allow courts to offer relief from final judgments sua sponte.

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Timing

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FRCP 60(c)(1) contains two limitations on Rule 60 motions.  First, motions under Rule 60(b)(1)–(3) must be made “no more than a year after the entry of the judgment or order or the date of the proceeding.”  Second, all Rule 60 motions “must be made within a reasonable time.”