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Lasky v. Continental Products Corp.

filed as amended november 18 1986.: October 31, 1986.

LASKY, HARVEY, GUARDIAN AD LITEM LASKY, JESSE I. AND JAMIE NOVEMBER, HUSBAND AND WIFE, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS OF THEIR MINOR SON, GREGORY LASKY
v.
CONTINENTAL PRODUCTS CORPORATION CONTINENTAL GUMMI-WERKE, AKTIENGESELLSCHAFT NISSAN MOTOR CORPORATION IN USE, NISSAN MOTOR CORPORATION LIMITED (JAPAN) JAMIE NOVEMBER LASKY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENT AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF HER MINOR SON, GREGORY LASKY, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civ. No. 82-3415.

Author: Higginbotham

Before: HIGGINBOTHAM and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges, and TEITELBAUM, District Judge.*fn*

Opinion OF THE COURT

A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge.

This unfortunate appeal is again before us for resolution due to the parties' inability to reach a prompt settlement of their dispute. We must decide whether the district court erred in finding that it lacked jurisdiction to allocate settlement proceeds among the plaintiffs in the underlying personal injury action and, if so, whether its refusal to allocate constituted an abuse of discretion. For the reasons that follow we will reverse the order denying appellant's Rule 60(b) motion for lack of jurisdiction, and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

On February 11, 1986, this court heard oral argument on this appeal and was of the opinion that the parties should attempt to reach a prompt and equitable settlement of their claims. Decision in this matter was accordingly held in abeyance pending settlement negotiations mediated by Judge Rosenn.*fn1 Unfortunately, after months of negotiations the bitter rift between the parties could not be closed and we are again faced with the resolution of their dispute.

On August 6, 1982, Jesse Lasky instituted a products liability action against defendant Continental Products seeking to recover damages for injuries he sustained in an automobile accident on March 31, 1981. Lasky's wife, Jamie, and his minor son, Gregory, appellants in the instant appeal, joined as co-plaintiffs asserting claims for loss of consortium and companionship respectively. Due to Lasky's deteriorating condition, his brother, Harvey, was appointed guardian ad litem.

Prior to trial, plaintiffs and Nissan Motor Corporation in USA and Nissan Motor Corporation Limited (Japan) agreed to a compromise settlement. Following three days of jury trial Continental Products Corporation and Continental Gummi-Werke Aktiengesellschaft also entered into a compromise settlement with the plaintiffs. Pursuant to these settlement agreements plaintiffs were to receive a handsome lump sum settlement, the amount of which was to remain confidential.*fn2

Subsequently, the plaintiffs reported to the district court that although they had agreed that payment of the lump sum amount would settle their claims against the defendants, they had been unable to agree upon an equitable allocation of the funds among themselves. On December 6, 1984, the district court dismissed the action against Continental with prejudice pursuant to Local Rule 23(b).*fn3 Shortly thereafter, on or about January 16, 1985, Mrs. Lasky filed a divorce action in the Chester County Common Pleas Court seeking, inter alia, distribution of all marital property. Some two months later a consent order in the products liability action was submitted to and signed by the district judge. That order of March 18, 1985 approved the payment of counsel fees and expenses out of the settlement proceeds. Since no agreement had been reached among father, wife and son on the division of the funds, however, the court directed that the balance of the settlement fund be deposited in an interest bearing account in the court registry. Three separate deposits were duly made to the account for the benefit of the plaintiffs. To date, those funds remain in the registry of the court.

On June 7, 1985, after numerous attempts to negotiate a division of the settlement among the plaintiffs proved unsuccessful, Jamie Lasky, individually and as parent and natural guardian of her minor son, Gregory, filed a Rule 60(b) motion for an order allocating the settlement proceeds among the plaintiffs. Harvey Lasky as guardian ad litem for his brother, Jesse, opposed the motion arguing, inter alia, lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and filed a cross-motion requesting that the funds be transferred to the Chester County Court for further disposition. The district court denied the motion to allocate, on July 16, 1985, holding that it was without subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the conflicting claims for shares in the settlement. This appeal ensued. After oral argument this Court remitted the parties to further settlement negotiations. Those negotiations have also turned sour. We now consider the merits of appellant's appeal. We will reverse the order of the district court.

II.

At the outset, the question arises whether we may exercise appellate jurisdiction in this case because the district court has failed to dispose of the settlement funds and may still take further action. We find that this court may exercise appellate jurisdiction in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. First, under the "final order" rule, orders dismissing a complaint for lack of jurisdiction are typically considered final. See Knibb, Federal Court of Appeals Manual § 4.3 at 18 (1981). Moreover, and more specifically, "it is now well established that orders denying a motion for relief from a judgment under Civil Rule 60 are final." 15 C. Wright, A. Miller & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3916, at 610-11 (1976). On the facts of this case, it is clear that the district court intends to take no further action with regard to the settlement fund. Indeed, the court considers itself powerless to do so. Thus, there is no impediment to our exercise ...


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