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Sawka v. Healtheast

filed: March 26, 1993.

ANDREA SAWKA, APPELLANT
v.
HEALTHEAST, INC. AND RICHARD DUNCAN



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA. (D.C. Civil No. 89-07620)

Before: Mansmann and Nygaard, Circuit Judges and Rodriguez, District Judge*fn*

Author: Nygaard

Opinion OF THE COURT

NYGAARD, Circuit Judge.

Andrea Sawka contends the district court erred first by denying her petition to reinstate her action, and second by enforcing the settlement agreement between the parties. Because the district court correctly held that Sawka's motion to reinstate her case was untimely, we will affirm that part of its order. However, the district court erred when it enforced the settlement agreement. We will vacate that portion of its order.

I.

This case began as a Title VII/ADEA action in October, 1989. After Sawka's first counsel withdrew, her second attorney negotiated a settlement agreement. The court dismissed the case with prejudice on February 21, 1991, in accordance with Local Rule 23(b).*fn1

Later Sawka decided she could not accept certain terms of the settlement contending that certain matters at issue were not addressed in the agreement. Her attorney so notified the court at a conference on April 11, 1991, but did not file a motion to vacate the order dismissing the case. A few months later, her second attorney also withdrew from the case and her third and current attorney, Peter G. Loftus, Esq., entered an appearance.

On February 17, 1992, Attorney Loftus moved on behalf of Sawka to reinstate the case and vacate the settlement agreement. Healtheast filed a brief in opposition and a cross-motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The district court denied the motion to reinstate, and because Attorney Loftus filed no response to Healtheast's motion to enforce, the court deemed it uncontested under Local Rule 20(c),*fn2 and granted it. Loftus then moved the district court to reconsider its April 6 order, which the court denied. Sawka appeals.

II

This case requires that we first resolve a procedural problem: whether Sawka's "petition to reinstate the case" was timely. The district court found, and we agree, that Sawka's petition is clearly late under and not saved by Local Rule 23(b), which requires that a petition to reinstate be filed within ninety days.

A petition under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) is timely if "made within a reasonable time and for reasons under (1), (2) and (3) not more than one year after the judgment . . . was entered." Although the ninety-day limit of Local Rule 23(b) may properly inform the district court's evaluation of what is "reasonable," Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) takes precedence over the local rule. Lasky v. Continental Products Corp., 804 F.2d 250, 255 & n.8 (3d Cir. 1986). We said in Halderman v. Pennhurst State School and Hospital, 901 F.2d 311, 320 (3d Cir. 1990), "any time a district [court] enters a judgment, even one dismissing a case by stipulation of the parties, [it] retains, by virtue of Rule 60(b), jurisdiction to entertain a later motion to vacate the judgment on the grounds specified in the rule[.]" (quoting McCall-Bey v. Franzen, 777 F.2d 1178, 1186 (7th Cir. 1985)). Accordingly, the district court erred by denying Sawka's petition based solely on failure to comply with Local Rule 23(b) and without analyzing whether her delay in filing it was reasonable.

Notwithstanding this analytical error, the district court reached the correct result. Rule 60(b) provides six bases for relief from a judgment. Sawka argues that only two of these might plausibly apply: (1) "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect," and (6) "any other reason justifying relief[.]" We conclude that neither applies.

In her appellate brief, Sawka argues that the settlement agreement "obviously needs clarification." We think Sawka has waived this argument, ...


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