Reaves v. Colvin
ORDER GRANTING #17 PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO SET ASIDE JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 60(b)(1). Signed by Judge J. Daniel Breen on 7/5/17. (Breen, J.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO SET ASIDE JUDGMENT
PURSUANT TO FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 60(b)(1)
Before the Court is the June 14, 2017 motion of Plaintiff, Oburla Reaves, to set aside the
judgment in this case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1).
(“D.E.”) 17.) On April 14, 2016, Reaves initiated this action in federal court, seeking review of
the final decision of Defendant, Commissioner of Social Security, denying her claim for
disability insurance benefits.
On February 17, 2017, an administrative track
scheduling order was entered by the Deputy Clerk, ordering Reaves to file her brief in support of
the appeal within thirty days of entry of the order. (D.E. 12.) Plaintiff missed that deadline, and
to date, no brief has been filed.
On April 27, 2017, this Court ordered the claimant to show
cause why her case should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 41. (D.E. 14.) She also did not respond to that order, which advised her that the
lawsuit was subject to dismissal if she did not provide a prompt response. Consequently, on May
15, 2017, this Court dismissed the complaint without prejudice in accordance with Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 41(b), (D.E. 15), and judgment was entered two days later (D.E. 16).
Approximately one month later, Plaintiff moved to set aside the judgment, seeking relief
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1).
(D.E. 17.) Although Reaves had initially filed
her complaint pro se, an attorney entered an appearance on April 8, 2017. (D.E. 13.) In the
motion, counsel averred that the claimant did not receive the February 17, 2017 administrative
track scheduling order.
(Id. at PageID 606.) Additionally, although the show cause order was
filed on April 27, 2017, and sent electronically to claimant’s attorney, counsel claimed that she
“did not see it until June 13, 2017.” (Id.) According to Reaves’s attorney, she also did not see
the order of dismissal for failure to prosecute or the judgment until June 13. Counsel attributes
this lapse to either “a malfunction of her email service or an excusable mistake on [her] part.”
Rule 60(b) provides in pertinent part that “[o]n motion and just terms, the court may
relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the
following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; . . . or (6) any other
reason that justifies relief.”
A Rule 60(b) motion may only be granted for one of the reasons
specifically identified in the rule. Feathers v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 141 F.3d 264, 268 (6th Cir.
1998). A party relying on 60(b) “must show the applicability of the rule.” Jinks v. AlliedSignal,
Inc., 250 F.3d 381, 385 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Stated differently, “[a]s a prerequisite
to relief under Rule 60(b), a party must establish that the facts of its case are within one of the
enumerated reasons contained in [the rule] that warrant relief from judgment.”
Unknown Dellatifa, 357 F.3d 539, 543 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting Lewis v. Alexander, 987 F.2d
392, 396 (6th Cir. 1993)). “[R]elief under Rule 60(b) is circumscribed by public policy favoring
finality of judgments and termination of litigation.” Tyler v. Anderson, 749 F.3d 499, 509 (6th
Cir. 2014) (citing Thompson v. Bell, 580 F.3d 423, 442 (6th Cir. 2009)), cert. denied sub nom.
Tyler v. Lazaroff, 135 S. Ct. 370 (2014).
Relief under Rule 60(b)(1) is proper “in only two situations: (1) when a party has made
an excusable mistake or an attorney has acted without authority, or (2) when the judge has made
a substantive mistake of law or facts in the final judgment or order.” United States v. Reyes, 307
F.3d 451, 455 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing Cacevic v. City of Hazel Park, 226 F.3d 483, 490 (6th Cir.
In the instant case, Plaintiff claims that her counsel committed an excusable mistake.
(D.E. 17 at PageID 606.)
“In determining whether relief is appropriate under Rule 60(b)(1),”
three factors control the analysis: “(1) culpability—that is, whether the neglect was excusable;
(2) any prejudice to the opposing party; and (3) whether the party holds a meritorious underlying
claim or defense.
A party seeking relief must first demonstrate a lack of culpability before the
court examines the remaining two factors.” Yeschick v. Mineta, 675 F.3d 622, 628-29 (6th Cir.
2012) (quoting Flynn v. People’s Choice Home Loans, Inc., 440 F. App’x 452, 457-58 (6th Cir.
2011)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Because the “acts and omissions” of attorneys are
attributable to their clients, “the proper focus is upon whether the neglect of [the parties] and
their counsel was excusable.” Id. at 629 (alteration in original) (citation omitted). The United
States Supreme Court has identified four relevant factors for courts to use in “determining
whether a party’s neglect of a deadline is excusable”: (1) “the danger of prejudice to [the nonmoving party],” (2) “the length of delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings,” (3)
“the reason for the delay, including whether it was within the reasonable control of the movant,”
and (4) “whether the movant acted in good faith.” Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs.
Ltd. P’ship, 507 U.S. 380, 395 (1993); see also Yeshick, 675 F.3d at 629.
The Court first considers whether counsel’s neglect is excusable.
The government has
indicated that it has no position on the claimant’s motion, and the Court perceives no great
prejudice to Defendant in granting Plaintiff’s request. (D.E. 17-1 at PageID 609.) With respect
to the impact on judicial proceedings, the claimant’s brief is over three months late. (See D.E. 12
at PageID 598) (“Appellant shall file a brief in support of the asserted claim within 30 days [of
February 17, 2017].”)
Although that delay certainly frustrates the Court’s duty to resolve
litigation expeditiously, it is not an inordinate amount of time.
Further, there is no evidence that
Reaves acted in bad faith.
On the other hand, the fault for the delay is entirely attributable to
On balance, these factors favor a finding that the delay in this case was
caused by excusable neglect.
Before granting Reaves the relief she seeks, the Court must next assess the prejudice to
the opposing party and the merit of Plaintiff’s claim.
See Yeschick, 675 F.3d at 628-29.
noted above, the government has no position on the motion and the potential for prejudice is
minimal. Without the aid of a brief in support of her claim, it is difficult to completely assess the
merit of the claimant’s case.
Frankly, the Court is not impressed with counsel’s failure to
respond to its directives or the excuses offered to explain that failure.
However, the Court
concludes that Reaves should not lose the right to pursue her case solely based on counsel’s
carelessness. See Sam v. Cnty of Wayne, No. 2:10-CV-10332, 2010 WL 3122830, at *1 (E.D.
Mich. May 27, 2010) (granting motion to set aside judgment under analogous circumstances);
Carter at Main, LLC v. Acuity Ins. Co., No. 2:07-CV-296, 2009 WL 529853, at *1-2 (E.D. Tenn.
Mar. 3, 2009) (same).
Counsel is admonished to be more diligent in reviewing e-mails and
keeping up with the filings in this case; further lapses of this nature will not be tolerated.
Plaintiff shall file a brief in support of her claim within seven days of entry of this order. 1
IT IS SO ORDERED this 5th day of July 2017.
s/ J. DANIEL BREEN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Reaves specifically requested a seven-day period to file her brief in support. (D.E. 17 at
Given this case’s history, further extensions will not be granted absent
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