IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
July 19, 2012
CHARLES KELLER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.
Plaintiff, Julian Adams, seeks to have his case re-opened under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 60(b). (Doc. No. 149). Plaintiff argues that Judge Jones, who previously presided over this matter, should have recused himself due to his bias against Plaintiff's attorney, Don Bailey. Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to show the necessary elements for relief under Rule 60 due to the fact that Plaintiff settled the case. For the reasons set forth, I will find no extraordinary circumstances warranting relief from a judgment, and will deny Plaintiff's Motion.
The Plaintiff is a former Officer of the Harrisburg Police Department. The defendants are Charles Kellar, who at all material times was the Chief of the Harrisburg Bureau of Police, and the City of Harrisburg. The action began when plaintiff was terminated from his employment by defendant Kellar. Plaintiff filed the Complaint in federal court on June 21, 2007. (Doc. No. 1). Originally, the action was in front of Judge Jones. The Complaint alleged retaliation claims, § 1983 claims, and equal protection violations. The Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint shortly thereafter. (Doc. No. 8). After discovery, Defendants' filed a motion for summary judgment which the court granted, in part, and denied, in part. (Doc. No. 123).
Following the denial of summary judgment, the parties entered into mediation with Mr. Joseph A. Barrett. Mr. Barrett reported to the District Court that the case settled on January 21, 2011. Thereafter, Plaintiff repudiated the settlement agreement and after some disagreement, the Court reopened the case. In March, the case was reassigned to Judge Stengel after Judge Jones recused himself.*fn1 An additional settlement agreement was negotiated and signed on April 22, 2011. Plaintiff signed the Release and received the settlement proceeds shortly thereafter.
Plaintiff now seeks to re-open the case with supporting authorities. (Doc. No. 149). Plaintiff states that during the course of the litigation, he was represented by Don Bailey. He claims that Mr. Bailey has been targeted and treated prejudicially due to the area of law in which he practices. Plaintiff believes that Judge Jones' recusal from reviewing cases brought by Attorney Don Bailey is evidence of that discrimination and, therefore, the case should be re-opened for review.
Rule 60(b)(6) is "intended to be a means for accomplishing justice in extraordinary situations." Kock v. Government of the Virgin Islands, 811 F.2d 240, 246 (3d Cir.1987); Perry v. Del. River Port Auth., 208 Fed. Appx. 122 (3d Cir. 2006). It is well settled that relief under Rule 60(b)(6) is "extraordinary and may be granted only upon a showing of 'exceptional circumstances.'" United States Steel Corp. v. Fraternal Assoc. of Steel Haulers, 601 F.2d 1269, 1274 (3d Cir. 1979). Relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) is justified where "absent such relief an 'extreme' and 'unexpected' hardship will result." Mayberry v. Maroney, 558 F.2d 1159, 1163 (3d Cir.1977). Further, Rule 60(b)(6) "generally requires that the petitioners make 'a more compelling showing of inequity or hardship' than normally would be required to reopen a case under subsections (1) through (5)."*fn2 Project Management Institute, Inc. v. Ireland, 144 Fed. Appx. 935, 937 fn.1 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Landano v. Rafferty, 897 F.2d 661, 682 (3d Cir.1990).
Further, the moving party's burden is even greater when the order of dismissal, as here, stems from a settlement because "the broad power granted by clause (6) is not for the purpose of relieving a party from free, calculated, and deliberate choices he has made." 11 Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary K. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure Civil 2d § 2864 (1995). Finally, "[t]he decision to grant or deny relief pursuant to Rule 60(b) lies in the sound discretion of the trial court guided by accepted legal principles applied in light of all the relevant circumstances." Ross v. Meagan, 638 F.2d 646, 648 (3d Cir.1981).
Plaintiff cites Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corporation 486 U.S. 847 (1988), in support of having his case reopened under § 455. In that case, the plaintiff-a Health Services Acquisition Corporation-brought declaratory judgment against defendant John Liljeberg seeking declaration of ownership of a corporation known as St. Jude Hospital. Id. at 848. Following a bench trial, Judge Robert Collins found in favor of Defendant and the appellate court affirmed. Almost a year later, Health Services discovered Judge Collins had been a member of the Board of Trustees of Loyola University while Defendant was negotiating with it to purchase a parcel of land for the hospital. Id. at 848-49. Upon review, the Supreme Court considered: (1) risk of injustice to parties in particular case, (2) risk that denial of relief will produce injustice in other cases, and (3) risk of undermining public's confidence in judicial process. Id. at 864. The court then affirmed the appellate court's ruling vacating the judgment for the judge's failure to recuse himself under § 455.
Here there is little evidence to support a Rule 60(b) motion. Unlike Liljeberg, Mr. Adams simply claims that Judge Jones' recusal is evidence of "a long-term bias and prejudice against Mr. Bailey which clearly overlapped with the handling of [the] case." (Doc. No. 149 at ¶ 3). Mr. Adams claims that this prejudice resulted in an improper dismissal and an inadequate settlement. (Id. at ¶ 3).
Plaintiff has not brought forth any evidence of fraud or misconduct on the part of Defendant which caused the dismissal to occur. The parties proceeded before an independent mediator, Mr. Barrett. After Plaintiff repudiated the initial settlement, the Judge Jones reopened the case on February 11, 2011, despite Defendant's opposition.
Thereafter, the Plaintiff settled for a higher sum. Judge Jones had no part in the final settlement agreement and had recused himself from Mr. Bailey's cases by March 2011, which was prior to the final settlement agreement. Plaintiff does not claim that he or his attorney misunderstood and or involuntarily agreed to the terms of settlement.*fn3 Mr. Adams, therefore, has not demonstrated any "extraordinary circumstances" to warrant reopening.*fn4
For the reasons set forth above, I do not find the extraordinary circumstances that would justify relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6) and will deny Plaintiff's motion.
An appropriate Order follows.