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Jones v. Swanson - 241 F.R.D. 625 (D.S.D. 2007)

Rule:

As a general rule, the district court's initial entry of judgment starts the limitations period for a motion to vacate that judgment. The clock is not tolled during the pendency of an appeal of the judgment because Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motions can be made even though an appeal has been taken and is pending. If the appellate court substantially alters the judgment, however, then the limitations period starts anew upon the filing of new judgment after the appeal. The appellate court substantially alters the judgment when it has disturbed or revised legal rights and obligations which, by the prior judgment, had been plainly and properly settled with finality.

Facts:

Richard M. Jones (Richard) filed an action for alienation of affections against defendant, Todd V. Swanson. Following a jury trial, Swanson was found liable for alienating the affections of Richard's wife, Donna Jones (Donna). The jury awarded Jones $ 450,000 in compensatory damages and $ 500,000 in punitive damages. The court entered a judgment based upon the jury award on February 19, 2002. Swanson appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the finding of liability but concluded that neither the compensatory damage award nor the punitive damage award was supported by the evidence. The Eighth Circuit thus conditionally affirmed the judgment against Swanson subject to Richard's acceptance of a remittitur that reduced the compensatory damage award to $ 150,000 and the punitive damage award to $ 250,000. Richard accepted the remittitur, and a judgment was entered in his favor in the amount of $ 400,000 on November 21, 2003. In September of 2004, Richard assigned his interest in the judgment to Christenson, his attorney's law firm. After the assignment, Richard filed for bankruptcy. Subsequently, Swanson filed a motion asking the court to determine the validity of this assignment, and Christenson assigned its interest in the judgment to the debtor's estate. In October of 2004, Donna initiated contact with Swanson. During a telephone conversation held on October 14, 2004, Donna allegedly stated to Swanson that her testimony at trial was the result of being under substantial stress. Swanson then met with Donna on October 26, 2004. During their conversation, which Swanson secretly recorded, Donna indicated that her testimony at trial was inaccurate. Based on his conversations with Donna, Swanson sought relief from the judgment against him. Richard contended that the motion was untimely. 

Issue:

Was Swanson’s motion to vacate the judgment against him timely, thereby, warranting its grant?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court first determined that the clock started to run from the initial judgment, not the second judgment with the reduced award, because the new evidence went to liability, which was not changed by the appellate court ruling. According to the Court, the motion was not timely under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1),(2), or (3), because the motion was not filed within one year of the initial judgment. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the motion was also untimely under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6) because the court concluded that defendant did not file the motion within a reasonable amount of time.

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