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Boughner v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit
Mar 8, 1978
572 F.2d 976 (3d Cir. 1978)

Summary

holding that attorney's failure to oppose motion for summary judgment constituted an extraordinary circumstance warranting relief under Rule 60(b) where attorney failed to file responsive pleadings in fifty-two other cases

Summary of this case from Mitchell v. Fuentes

Opinion

Nos. 77-1069, 77-1202, 77-1211, 77-1252, 77-1654 and 77-1697.

Submitted under Third Circuit Rule 12(6) November 29, 1977.

Decided March 8, 1978.

Charles A. Bressi, Jr., Kulpmont, Pa., for appellants.

S. John Cottone, U.S. Atty., Scranton, Pa., Joseph F. Cimini, Asst. U.S. Atty., Lewisburg, Pa., for appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Before GIBBONS and VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judges and FISHER, District Judge.

Honorable Clarkson S. Fisher, United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey, sitting by designation.


OPINION OF THE COURT


These consolidated appeals are from the denial by the trial court of a motion to vacate a summary judgment entered, in each case, in favor of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, appellee. The effect of the summary judgments was to deny the appellants' claims for benefits under the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, 30 U.S.C. § 901 et seq.

All six appellants were represented by Peter Krehel, Esquire, who instituted the actions in the district court. In each case the Secretary filed a motion for Summary Judgment. These motions were unopposed and granted pursuant to Local Rule 301.01(e), of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Present counsel for appellants was then substituted and in each case moved to vacate the summary judgments pursuant to F.R.Civ.P. 60. The appellants relied specifically on sections 60(b)(1) and 60(b)(6), citing as the basis for the motion: (1) Krehel's intense involvement in his campaign for the office of Common Pleas Judge of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania; (2) the loss of his secretary who allegedly was responsible for his calendar; and (3) Krehel's large backload of cases. Their reasons were insufficient in the judgment of the district court. However, a survey was conducted to determine how many other summary judgment motions Krehel had permitted to go unopposed. The results of the survey were astounding. Krehel had failed to file a responsive pleading in a total of 52 H.E.W. cases. This egregious conduct amounted to nothing short of leaving his clients unrepresented.

Rule 301.01(e) provides in pertinent part:

Submission of Briefs or Memoranda Opposing Motions. Any party opposing any motion, shall file a responsive brief . . . or other documents within ten (10) days after service of the opposing brief. Any respondent who fails to comply with this rule shall be deemed not to oppose such motion.

Krehel was subsequently elected.

Furthermore, this Court was previously confronted with Krehel's dereliction of responsibility where he failed to file a timely appeal from the denial of black lung benefits by the Social Security Administration. The district court had found that Krehel's preoccupation with the judgeship election, his backlog of cases and loss of secretary did not constitute "good cause" for the untimely filing.
We remanded, however, for consideration of whether "good cause" existed in light of our holding that regulations promulgated pursuant to the Social Security Act of 1935, 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq., required evaluation of the actions of the claimant, not the attorney, in determining what constitutes "good cause". Litchko v. Mathews, 558 F.2d 1028 (3d Cir. 1977).

Although the Rule 60(b) motions were denied here, two other judges in the same district granted similar motions under the identical situation.

The general purpose of Rule 60, which provides for relief from judgments for various reasons, is to strike a proper balance between the conflicting principles that litigation must be brought to an end and that justice must be done. Wright and Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 2851. Generally, a motion brought pursuant to Rule 60 is addressed to the sound discretion of the Court and is reviewable on appeal only for abuse of discretion. Virgin Islands National Bank v. Tyson, 506 F.2d 802, 804 (3d Cir. 1974). However, the District Court has no discretion in considering motions predicated on the voidness of the original judgment, Jordan v. Gilligan, 500 F.2d 701, 704 (6th Cir. 1974), fraud, or other extraordinary circumstances such as the unconstitutionality of the statute, upon which the judgment was based. See Neely v. United States, 546 F.2d 1059, 1065-66 (3d Cir. 1976). This Court has also cautioned that relief from a judgment under Rule 60 should be granted only in exceptional circumstances. FDIC v. Alker, 234 F.2d 113, 117 (3d Cir. 1956); 30 F.R.D. 527 (E.D.Pa. 1962), aff'd. 316 F.2d 236 (3d Cir. 1963), cert. denied, 375 U.S. 880, 84 S.Ct. 150, 11 L.Ed.2d 111 (1963).

A party may be entitled to relief from a judgment under Rule 60(b)(1) on a showing of "mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect." Situations in which relief has been granted pursuant to Rule 60(b)(1) include: Where the defendant's attorney did not know that the defense of forgery was available when he agreed to a consent judgment against his client in an action on a written guaranty note; where a defendant corporation had no actual notice that a suit had been entered against it; and where an attorney confused two similar cases involving his client.

Associates Discount Corp. v. Goldman, 524 F.2d 1051, 1054 (3d Cir. 1975). (Judgment vacated on grounds of mistake or inadvertence.)

Tozer v. Charles A. Krause Milling Co., 189 F.2d 242, 246 (3d Cir. 1951). (Default judgment set aside on basis of excusable neglect.)

Medunic v. Lederer, 533 F.2d 891, 893 (3d Cir. 1976). (Judgment vacated where court found that confusion of similar cases was excusable neglect.)

The record before us does not show circumstances indicating any mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect and therefore we do not find Rule 60(b)(1) applicable. We reverse, however, on the basis that the motion to vacate should have been granted under Rule 60(b)(6). The conduct of Krehel indicates neglect so gross that it is inexcusable. The reasons advanced for his failure to file opposing documents in a timely fashion are unacceptable.

In making this determination we are aware that Rule 60(b)(6), which permits the vacating of a judgment "for any other reason justifying relief," provides an extraordinary remedy and may be invoked only upon a showing of exceptional circumstances. Ackerman v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 202, 71 S.Ct. 209, 95 L.Ed. 207 (1950); Vecchione v. Wohlgemuth, 558 F.2d 150, 159 (3d Cir. 1977). The party seeking relief has the burden of showing that absent such relief, an "extreme" and "unexpected" hardship will result. United States v. Swift, 286 U.S. 106, 119, 52 S.Ct. 460, 76 L.Ed. 999 (1932); Mayberry v. Maroney, 558 F.2d 1159, 1163 (3d Cir. 1977).

Relief pursuant to subsection (6) is only available where subsections (1) through (5) do not apply. Stradley v. Cortez, 518 F.2d 488, 493 (3d Cir. 1975).

The appellee urges that generally a party is deemed to be bound by the acts of his attorney. Link v. Wabash Railroad Co., 370 U.S. 626, 82 S.Ct. 1386, 8 L.Ed.2d 734 (1962). In Link, the Supreme Court held that the dismissal of an action because of the failure of an attorney to attend a pretrial conference did not abuse the discretion vested in the trial judge by F.R.Civ.P. 41(b). The Court noted, in discussing its decision, that such a dismissal did not impose an unjust penalty on the attorney's client because a party who freely selects an attorney cannot avoid the consequences of the acts or omissions of that attorney. Id. 370 U.S. at 633-34, 82 S.Ct. 1386, 8 L.Ed.2d 734, citing Smith v. Ayer, 101 U.S. 320, 326, 25 L.Ed. 955 (1879).

However, in Link, supra, the Court determined only that dismissal was proper under Rule 41(b). In doing so, and while declaring that a party was deemed bound by its attorney's acts, the Court expressly indicated that the aggrieved party never availed himself of a corrective remedy such as the "escape hatch provided by Rule 60(b)." Id. 370 U.S. at 632, 82 S.Ct. at 1390. The Court also refused to consider whether it would have been an abuse of discretion to deny a Rule 60(b) motion, since none had been filed. Id. at 635-36, 82 S.Ct. 1386.

We hold, therefore, that in the factual setting here, which warrants relief under Rule 60(b)(6), appellants are not bound by the acts of their attorney for the purposes of the rule.

See Lucas v. Juneau, 20 F.R.D. 407 (D.Alaska 1957) and 15 A.L.R.Fed. 193. (Gross neglect and abandoning of client by attorney create an exception to the rule that a client is bound by the acts of an attorney; and also constitute extraordinary circumstances permitting relief from a judgment under Rule 60(b)(6).)

In reaching our decision that the circumstances here are sufficiently exceptional and extraordinary so as to mandate relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6), we are not unmindful of the need for judicial eagerness to expedite cases, to fully utilize the court's time, to reduce overcrowded calendars and to establish finality of judgments. However, these commendable aspirations should never be used to thwart the objectives of the blind goddess.

Furthermore, the entry of summary judgments precluded an adjudication on the merits of the appellants' claims for benefits, thus constituting the "extreme and unexpected hardship" addressed by the Supreme Court in Swift, supra.

To permit these judgments to stand, in light of Krehel's conduct and the absence of neglect by the parties would be unjust. A motion under Rule 60(b)(6) should be granted when "appropriate to accomplish justice." Klapprott v. United States, 335 U.S. 601, 614-15, 69 S.Ct. 384, 93 L.Ed. 266 (1949); see also Steuart v. Matthews, 117 U.S.App.D.C. 279, 329 F.2d 234 (1964).

Cf. United States v. Karahalias, 205 F.2d 331, on rehearing 334 (2d Cir. 1953), and Industrial Building Materials Inc. v. Interchemical Corp., 437 F.2d 1336, 1339 (9th Cir. 1970). (Relief from judgment granted where parties not at fault.)

The judgment of the district court is, therefore, reversed and the case remanded for a consideration of these matters on the merits.


Summaries of

Boughner v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit
Mar 8, 1978
572 F.2d 976 (3d Cir. 1978)

holding that attorney's failure to oppose motion for summary judgment constituted an extraordinary circumstance warranting relief under Rule 60(b) where attorney failed to file responsive pleadings in fifty-two other cases

Summary of this case from Mitchell v. Fuentes

holding that, under certain circumstances, the " client should [not] suffer the ultimate sanction of losing his case without any consideration of the merits because of his attorney's neglect and inattention"

Summary of this case from Dunn v. Nicholas Cnty.

holding that motions to vacate an entry of summary judgment on account of the attorney's failure to oppose those motions were not appropriately filed under Rule 60(b) on the grounds of "excusable neglect," but were appropriately filed under Rule 60(b)'s catchall provision

Summary of this case from Gallagher v. Farm Family Ins. Co.

holding relief proper under Rule 60(b) where attorney had failed to file responses to summary judgment motions in a total of 52 cases after losing his secretary and being involved in a political campaign

Summary of this case from Arnold v. KY Catalog Sales, Inc.

finding that Rule 60(b) relief was warranted when an attorney had displayed "neglect so gross that it is inexcusable" in failing to respond to fifty-two motions for summary judgment, which precluded an adjudication on the merits of his clients' claims

Summary of this case from Doe v. Ritz Carlton Hotel Co.

finding "gross negligence" where counsel's "egregious conduct amounted to nothing short of leaving his clients unrepresented"

Summary of this case from In re Subramanian

finding inexcusable gross negligence of attorney in failing to respond to summary judgment motion was, in light of "the absence of neglect by the parties," an "exceptional circumstance" justifying relief from judgment under Rule 60(b)

Summary of this case from In re Subramanian

finding that attorney's conduct in failing to answer summary judgment on behalf of clients reflected "neglect so gross that it is inexcusable" where Local Rules provided that failure to answer motions resulted in finding that party did not oppose such motion, and where during the attorney's representation, he was running a campaign for judicial office, had a large backlog of cases, had failed to oppose summary judgment motions in a total of fifty-two cases, and essentially had left his clients unrepresented.

Summary of this case from TRAVELERS CASUALTY SUR. CO. OF A. v. J.O.A. CONS

finding that relief was warranted under Rule 60(b) where attorney failed to respond to over fifty summary judgment motions, thereby abandoning his clients

Summary of this case from In Matter of Jersey Integrated Health-Practice, Inc.

finding Rule 60(b) relief warranted where the attorney's "egregious conduct amounted to nothing short of leaving his clients unrepresented"

Summary of this case from In re Fisher

finding that the attorney's conduct "indicates neglect so gross that it is inexcusable."

Summary of this case from In re Babcock

concluding that attorney's failure to oppose a motion for summary judgment constituted an extraordinary circumstance warranting reopening under Rule 60(b), where attorney failed to file responsive pleadings in fifty-two other cases

Summary of this case from Atkinson v. Middlesex Cnty.

concluding that "the circumstances here are sufficiently exceptional and extraordinary so as to man-date relief pursuant to Rule 60(b). . . ."

Summary of this case from Budget Blinds v. White

granting relief under 60(b) where plaintiff showed that the conduct of his attorney had been so grossly negligent that to deny him relief would impose extreme hardship

Summary of this case from Stitzel v. Guarini

granting relief because the attorney's "egregious conduct amounted to nothing short of leaving his clients unrepresented"

Summary of this case from Panzino v. City of Phoenix

vacating judgment where attorney actively campaigning for a common pleas judgeship failed to file a responsive pleading in more than 50 cases, effectively "leaving his clients unrepresented"

Summary of this case from United States v. Shelly

reversing entry of unopposed summary judgment which precluded an adjudication on the merits, and stating that "[t]o permit these judgments to stand, in light of Krehel's conduct and in the absence of neglect the parties, would be unjust."

Summary of this case from Leenstra v. Then

reversing entry of unopposed summary judgment which precluded an adjudication on the merits, and stating that "[t]o permit these judgments to stand, in light of Krehel's conduct and the absence of neglect by the parties, would be unjust."

Summary of this case from ZAK v. ULTIMATE DISTRIBUTION, INC.

reversing denial of relief under Rule 60(b) for gross neglect and abandonment by attorney who failed to respond to motions for summary judgment in 52 cases, even upon prompting from court staff

Summary of this case from O'Brien v. Indiana Department of Correction

recognizing the availability of Rule 60(b) relief where statute upon which judgment was based was declared unconstitutional

Summary of this case from Marshall v. Board of Ed., Bergenfield, N. J

remanding case to district court for reconsideration after reversing district court denial of appellant's Rule 60 motion

Summary of this case from Templet v. Hydrochem Inc.

In Boughner v. Secretary of HEW, 572 F.2d 976 (3rd Cir. 1978), on the other hand, an elaborate showing was made that the prior counsel in the case had failed to file responsive pleadings in 52 similar cases (involving claims for benefits under the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act). That showing, the Third Circuit found, was "sufficiently exceptional and extraordinary to mandate relief."

Summary of this case from Lepkowski v. United States Dept. of Treasury

In Boughner, plaintiffs' attorney failed to file a response to six motions for summary judgment resulting in judgment being entered against each of the six clients on their claims for benefits brought under the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. A survey revealed that in fact counsel had failed to file a response to a total of 52 such motions for summary judgment.

Summary of this case from Doe v. Ritz Carlton Hotel Co.

In Boughner, the attorney simply did not respond to 52 motions for summary judgment which resulted in judgments against his clients on their claims for disability benefits.

Summary of this case from Doe v. Ritz Carlton Hotel Co.

cautioning that "relief from a judgment under Rule 60 should be granted only in exceptional circumstances"

Summary of this case from Gillon v. Eu Ting
Case details for

Boughner v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare

Case Details

Full title:LEON A. BOUGHNER, MARY LINDEMUTH, LENA KAKIEL, CLARA WILK, IRENE B…

Court:United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

Date published: Mar 8, 1978

Citations

572 F.2d 976 (3d Cir. 1978)

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