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Harris v. Martin

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT


argued: July 16, 1987.

HARRIS, ROY, APPELLANT
v.
MARTIN, ROBERT L., SUPT., ALLENWOOD F.P.C.; HARRIS, ROY, APPELLANT V. UNITED STATES PAROLE COMMISSION

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (Scranton) C. A. Nos. 84-0823 and 84-0840.

Sloviter, Stapleton, and Hunter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Stapleton

Opinion OF THE COURT

STAPLETON, Circuit Judge.

This case presents the question of whether the "prior judgment" clause of Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5)*fn1 entitles a government agency to relief from a final and unappealed adverse judgment where the opinion supporting that judgment relies upon the holding in another case that the agency subsequently succeeds in overturning. The district court held that the agency was entitled to relief. We will reverse.

I.

Following conviction on narcotics offenses, Roy Harris was sentenced in 1981 to twelve years' imprisonment and a ten-year special parole term.*fn2 In 1984, the examiner panel, using the parole guidelines in effect at the time of the initial hearing, determined that Harris should be required to serve in excess of 100 months,*fn3 and finding no reason to go outside the guidelines, recommended that Harris be continued to the expiration of his sentence. In effect, this recommendation amounted to a requirement that Harris serve 96 months.*fn4 The examiners' recommendation was ultimately affirmed by the National Appeal Board of United States Parole Commission (the Commission).*fn5

At the time of Harris' initial parole hearing, we had decided in United States ex rel. Forman v. McCall, 709 F.2d 852, 862 (3d Cir. 1983) (Forman I), that the Commission's application of the parole guidelines in effect at the time of the hearing rather than the guidelines in effect at the time of the offense might violate the ex post facto clause of the Constitution if the guidelines were considered "laws." We remanded the case to the district court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania for a factual determination "on the fullest possible record" of whether the Commission retained "substantial flexibility" in exercising its discretion in applying the guidelines, which would demonstrate that the guidelines are not "law." Id.

Shortly after his initial parole hearing, Harris sought writs of habeas corpus and mandamus in the Middle District of Pennsylvania,*fn6 contending, on the basis of Forman I, that the Commission's use of the guidelines in effect at the time of Harris' hearing rather than those in effect at the time of his offense constituted an ex post facto violation.

By the time Harris had exhausted his administrative remedies, the district court had issued its opinion on remand in Forman holding that the guidelines were "laws" within the meaning of the ex post facto clause. Forman, Civil No. 81-0553 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 14, 1984) (Forman II). The Commission appealed that decision.

Relying on Forman II, the district court in Harris' case ordered the Commission to conduct "a new parole hearing and to employ therein the parole guidelines extant at the time of [Harris'] offense." Harris v. Martin, Civil Nos. 84-0823, 84-0840, slip op. at 5-6 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 12, 1984), App. at 30-31. Although the Commission's appeal of Forman II was then pending, the Commission did not appeal the December 12, 1984 injunctive judgment in Harris' case. Instead, the Commission complied with the December 12, 1984 order and conducted a new hearing for Harris on February 13, 1985, applying the guidelines existing at the time of Harris' offense. The examiner panel recommended service of 66 months before parole. Ultimately the National Commissioners voted to release Harris after 76 months.*fn7 Harris then appealed to this court and, finding that the Commission had not abused its discretion, we affirmed the district court. Harris v. Martin, 792 F.2d 52 (3d Cir. 1986).

In the interim, this court had reversed the district court's decision in Forman II and held that the guidelines were not "laws" within the meaning of the ex post facto clause. United States ex rel. Forman v. McCall, 776 F.2d 1156 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1119, 106 S. Ct. 1981, 90 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1986) (Forman III).*fn8 Thereafter, on April 1, 1986, at a point when the district court's December 12, 1984 judgment in Harris' case had been fully complied with and the 76 month decision had become final, the Commission moved the district court for relief from the December 12, 1984 judgment "on the ground that the prior judgment upon which it was predicated, the decision on remand in [ Forman ] ha[d] been reversed." App. at 9. In light of Forman III, the district court granted the Commission's motion, vacated the December 12, 1984 judgment, and reentered judgment for the Commission, thereby permitting the Commission to consider Harris' parole application under the more current guidelines.*fn9 The district court relied on the "prior judgment" clause of Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5).*fn10

Harris appeals from the district court's decision. This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. The standard of review of a district court's grant of relief under Rule 60(b) is abuse of discretion. See Browder v. Director, Illinois Department of Corrections, 434 U.S. 257, 263 n.7, 54 L. Ed. 2d 521, 98 S. Ct. 556 (1978); Inmates of Allegheny County Jail v. Wecht, 754 F.2d 120, 127 (3d Cir. 1985); Hodge v. Hodge, 621 F.2d 590, 593 (3d Cir. 1980) (per curiam).

II.

Motions under Rule 60(b) "may not generally substitute for an appeal." Marshall v. Board of Education of Bergenfield, NJ, 575 F.2d 417, 424 (3d Cir. 1978); see also Ackermann v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 198-99, 95 L. Ed. 207, 71 S. Ct. 209 (1950); Kock v. Government of the Virgin Islands, 811 F.2d 240, 246 (3d Cir. 1987); Page v. Schweiker, 786 F.2d 150, 154, 158 (3d Cir. 1986). Rather, relief under Rule 60(b) is available only under such circumstances that the "'overriding interest in the finality and repose of judgments may properly be overcome.'" Martinez-McBean v. Government of the Virgin Islands, 562 F.2d 908, 913 (3d Cir. 1977) (quoting Mayberry v. Maroney, 558 F.2d 1159, 1164 (3d Cir. 1977)); see also Inmates of Allegheny County Jail, 754 F.2d at 127; Hodge, 621 F.2d at 593. For these reasons, the "prior judgment" clause of Rule 60(b)(5) "does not contemplate relief based merely upon precedential evolution." Mayberry, 558 F.2d at 1164; see also 11 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2863 (1977); Comment, Federal rule of Civil Procedure 60(b); Standards for Relief from Judgments Due to Changes in Law, 43 U. Chi. L. Rev. 646, 652-56 (1976). Its operation "is limited to cases in which the present judgment is based on the prior judgment in the sense of res judicata or collateral estoppel." Marshall, 575 F.2d at 424 (quoting 11 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2863 (1973)).

We applied these principles in Marshall v. Board of Education of Bergenfield, NJ, 575 F.2d 417, 424 (3d Cir. 1978), a case that is controlling here. In Marshall, Secretary of Labor Marshall had successfully sued the Bergenfield school board during the reign of Maryland v. Wirtz, 392 U.S. 183, 20 L. Ed. 2d 1020, 88 S. Ct. 2017 (1968), to enforce compliance with federal wage and hour laws. Judgment had been entered against the board directing future compliance and the payment of $5,570.43 in withheld past wages. The judgment had been affirmed by this court and no effort had been made to seek review from the Supreme Court despite the fact that the controlling issue was then before the Court in National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833, 49 L. Ed. 2d 245, 96 S. Ct. 2465 (1976). After Wirtz was overruled by National League of Cities, the board moved under Rule 60(b) for relief from the judgment. The district court granted relief from the prospective operation of the injunction but declined to modify the monetary award. We affirmed, holding that no further relief was authorized by Rules 60(b)(4), 60(b)(5), or 60(b)(6).

We specifically held in Marshall that when a party suffers an adverse judgment, an appeal is necessary to preserve his or her rights even when the same issue is currently before the appellate court in another case. 575 F.2d at 424. In the absence of an appeal, the party who has suffered an adverse judgment may secure relief only from the prospective aspects of that judgment in the event it turns out to rest on an erroneous view of the law. Id. at 425.

In this case, neither res judicata nor collateral estoppel bound the Commission to the Forman II result. Since the parties opposing the Commission were different, the only possible basis for preclusion would have been by application of offensive nonmutual collateral estoppel, a doctrine the Supreme Court has held inapplicable in suits against the government. See United States v. Mendoza, 464 U.S. 154, 78 L. Ed. 2d 379, 104 S. Ct. 568 (1984). Thus, Forman's only role in the Harris case was one as precedent. Moreover, like the Wirtz case in Marshall, Forman II was a controlling precedent that was not overturned until after the judgment had been entered and the appeal period had expired. Since the Commission failed to appeal the Harris decision, and since the judgment against the Parole Commission in this case had no prospective effect as of the time the Commission filed its motion,*fn11 Marshall dictates that the district court erred in granting Rule 60(b)(5) relief.

The fact that the party who failed to appeal from the adverse judgment in Harris was a government agency that was actively litigating the controlling issue in another case does not meaningfully distinguish this case from Marshall. While the school board in Marshall did not have the opportunity to litigate the controlling issue in another case, and Marshall to that extent differs from this case, the distinction is unpersuasive. If the government could overcome the finality of an adverse judgment by continuing to litigate unrelated cases addressing similar issues, then anyone trying to make plans on the basis of having defeated the government in litigation would have to wait until all ongoing cases relied on by the court in entering the judgment have been concluded, a process that in some instances could take years. Nothing can be found in Rule 60 to support the proposition that those who successfully litigate against the government must receive judgments less final than those received by other litigants.

It is true that in United States v. Mendoza, 464 U.S. 154, 78 L. Ed. 2d 379, 104 S. Ct. 568 (1984), the Supreme Court distinguished between the government and private litigants in refusing to allow the use of an unappealed district court judgment as a basis for a nonmutual, offensive collateral estoppel against the government. But the issue in Mendoza was whether the government's failure to appeal an adverse district court judgment would redound to the benefit of a litigant in a subsequent case. The Court was careful to point out that its holding took nothing away from the finality of the judgment as between the parties to the original suit:

The Government of course may not now undo the consequences of its decision not to appeal the District Court judgment in the [original] case; it is bound by that judgment under the principles of res judicata. But we now hold that it is not further bound in a case involving a litigant who was not a party to the earlier litigation.

464 U.S. at 162. Similarly, the Commission is bound by its decision not to appeal Harris.

Moreover, the concern in Mendoza was to allow the government freedom to pursue only those appeals it chooses to pursue, taking into account political and economic considerations prevailing at the time. Allowing nonmutual offensive collateral estoppel against the government would force the government to appeal all adverse decisions, including those cases it does not want to appeal for political or economic reasons, "in order to avoid foreclosing further review." Id. at 161. In Harris, by contrast, the Commission wanted the possible benefits of an appeal, but wanted its appeal in Forman to substitute for an appeal in Harris. Requiring the government to appeal in all cases where the potential benefits would, in its judgment, justify the cost, forces the government to make precisely the kinds of economic and political determinations favored by Mendoza.

Finally, an appeal in Harris' case would not have involved any substantial effort for the Commission or the courts. If the Commission had filed an appeal and had asked for a stay of the appeal pending the Forman III decision, it would in all likelihood have received a stay with very little investment of Commission or judicial resources. In any event, if the saving of the minimal effort required to file an appeal and secure a stay pending disposition of Forman II were sufficient to excuse an appeal in the Harris case, the saving of the effort required to seek Supreme Court review would have excused the failure to take that step in Marshall.*fn12

III.

The finality of judgments is a cornerstone of our judicial system. While judgments are subject to being opened and retroactively modified in certain extraordinary situations where justice demands, a change in precedent is not one of those extraordinary circumstances. Because there is no basis in the text of Rule 60 for affording relief in the situation before us and because affording relief would result in undesirable uncertainty in the law of judgments, we will reverse and remand to the district court with instructions to deny the Commission's motion.

SLOVITER, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

If this case involved only the issue whether a reversal of the precedent of an unrelated case can serve as the basis of a Rule 60(b)(5) motion, then the majority's conclusion would be unremarkable. But the procedural history of this action and the record before us establish that the district court always considered that Harris's right to be evaluated under the more favorable parole guidelines was inextricably interwoven with the Forman litigation that was winding its way up to and back from this court several times. Because the Parole Commission undertook, for Harris's benefit, to follow this court's intermediate ruling in Forman I rather than unecessarily duplicating proceedings on an issue which it was actively litigating, the majority holds that this court's Forman III decision cannot be applied to Harris. I do not believe that Rule 60(b)(5) should be interpreted so narrowly as to mandate this result.

Counsel and the court continuously treated the Harris and Forman cases, both of which were being litigated in the same district court at about the same time, as intertwined. Harris's original petitions for writs of habeas corpus and mandamus filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania expressly relied on this court's decision in Forman I for his claim that the Commission's use of the guidelines in effect at the time of Harris' hearing, rather than those in effect at the time of his offense, constituted an ex post facto violation.

Similarly, in its opinion in support of its December 12, 1984 order requiring redetermination of Harris' parole, the district court referred to the Commission's "refusal . . . to follow the law as it now stands relative to which standards must be used to determine when a given inmate becomes eligible for parole." Harris v. Martin, Civil No. 84-0823, slip op. at 2 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 12, 1984), App. at 28. This, law, the court stated, "is set out in United States ex rel. Forman v. McCall, M.D. Pa. Civil No. 81-0553, a decision rendered by this Court on September 14, 1984." Id., App. at 28. The court reprimanded the Commission for its failure to follow that law, stating:

We would remind the [Commission] that the law provides otherwise until such time as our decision in Forman is reversed. It is a familiar principle that" ... it has become clear in the federal courts that res judicata ordinarily attaches to a final lower court judgment even though an appeal has been taken and remains undecided."

Id. at 3 (quoting C. Wright, A. Miller & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure: Jurisdiction § 44227 at 270 (1977)), App. at 29. "In accord with this concept," the court issued its order requiring a new hearing for Harris. Id., App. at 29.

Thus, the district court's December 12, 1984 judgment was clearly based on the court's prior judgment in Forman within the meaning of Rule 60(b)(5). Forman was not relied on solely as precedential support, as the majority states. Rather, the district court relied on Forman as creating the cause of action asserted by Harris, namely a cause of action based on the ex post facto clause as precluding retroactive application of the guidelines. In fact, Forman was the sole basis for the court's decision in Harris.

Although the district court may have erred in believing, as it stated, that its Forman decision had a " res judicata " effect on Harris' case, its statement is further evidence that it was giving its prior decision in Forman more weight than mere legal precedent in its decision in Harris and indeed was relying on Forman as a "prior judgment." Our reversal of Forman II in effect removed the sole basis for that court's December 12, 1984 judgment.

Concededly, the Commission did not appeal the district court's December 12, 1984 order requiring it to redetermine Harris' parole eligibility date in conformance with Forman II. However, such an appeal would have been duplicative. The exact issue presented in Harris was before this court on the Commission's appeal of Forman II where the district court had held the guidelines were "laws" within the meaning of the ex post facto clause. It was apparent that our decision when announced would bind the district courts and the Commission within this circuit.

In such circumstances, there is no sound policy basis for requiring the Commission to appeal or seek a stay in every intermediate decision entered during the pendency of its own appeal. Such a requirement would create a backlog for the Commission of uncompleted and uncompletable parole decisions, delay parole determinations for any inmates whose hearings were put off pending the appellate decision, and clog the courts with essentially meaningless paperwork. Instead of appealing, the Commission proceeded to conduct a new hearing for Harris, at the same time explicitly advising him in its notice of action that his case might be reopened if the district court's decision in Forman is overturned. When Harris appealed his new parole release date to this court we found that the Commission had not abused its discretion, and expressly noted the Commission's reservation since by then Forman III had been announced. Harris v. Martin, 792 F.2d 52 (3d Cir. 1986).

The Commission's action in this case was much preferable than an unnecessary appeal, which as the majority notes would have undoubtedly resulted in a stay of further action. This is thus not a case like Ackermann v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 95 L. Ed. 207, 71 S. Ct. 209 (1950), relied on in Marshall v. Board of Education of Bergenfield, N.J., 575 F.2d 417, 424 (3d Cir. 1978), where the party's failure to appeal represented a "calculated and deliberate" risk based on a belief that the appeal would not "prove to be worth what [the prospective appellant] though was a required sacrifice." 340 U.S. at 198. The Commission's decision not to appeal but to comply with the district court's directive to redetermine Harris' parole status until the legal issue was finally resolved by the appeal of Forman II not only saved the Commission the effort of an appeal but also served the interests of the courts. Moreover, the failure to appeal did not harm Harris. Rather, his interests were served better by reopening his parole decision than by an appeal. In such special circumstances, the Commission's failure to appeal should not be held against it in its subsequent motion for relief.*fn1

Because I see no reason why Harris' parole eligibility should be determined under guidelines which this court has held are inapplicable, I respectfully dissent.*fn2


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