DTCI: Protecting a Final Judgment from Rule 60(B)

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huettner-samantha-mug-bw By Samantha A. Huettner

Our justice system prizes finality. A court’s final judgment is binding on all parties, and preclusion doctrines kick in after the judgment to ensure that the same dispute or issue is not twice litigated. Even given this framework, however, a favorable judgment may not mark litigation’s end. A judgment is susceptible to attack through invocation of the appellate process or Indiana’s Rules of Trial Procedure. The length of time it remains vulnerable depends on the nature of the challenge.

Young lawyers seeking to protect a judgment from one such form of attack — a motion brought under Indiana Trial Rule 60(B) — may consider the following information.

1. What is a Rule 60(B) motion? Rule 60(B) is an equitable mechanism that allows a trial court to relieve a party from a judgment for eight different reasons. Rule 60(B) does not challenge the substantive legal merits of a judgment, only the procedural and equitable grounds justifying relief from that judgment.

2. Under what circumstances can a court set aside a judgment? A court can set aside a judgment for a host of reasons, including:

(1) mistake, surprise, or excusable neglect;

(2) any ground for a motion to correct error, including newly discovered evidence;

(3) fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party;

(4) entry of default or default judgment against a person served only by publication and who was without actual knowledge of the action and judgment;

(5) avoidance of judgment by an infant or incompetent;

(6) the judgment is void;

(7) a satisfaction, release, or discharge of the judgment; and

(8) any other reason which in the view of the court justifies relief from judgment.

A party seeking relief under Rule 60(B) (1-4) and (8) must make a prima facie showing of a “meritorious claim or defense” and present evidence that, if credited, demonstrates that a different result would be reached if the case were retried on the merits and that it is unjust to allow the judgment to stand. The trial court will determine on a case-by-case basis whether a movant has succeeded in making this prima facie allegation.

3. What time limits apply? A party may file a Rule 60(B) motion at a point subsequent to the expiration of time allowed for filing a motion to correct error or initiating a direct appeal. There is a one-year time limit for filing a motion for relief from judgment under subsections 1-4 of Rule 60(B). Motions under the remaining subsections must be filed within a “reasonable time from a judgment.” A Rule 60(B) motion cannot be used as a substitute for a direct appeal.

4. What will the judge consider? Reinstatement is, ultimately, a matter of equity. Judges considering Rule 60(B) motions must balance the alleged injustice suffered by the party moving for relief against the interests of the winning party and societal interest in the finality of the litigation. In considering a Rule 60(B) motion, the court shall hear any pertinent evidence, allow new parties to be served with summons, and allow discovery.

5. What strategy do I employ to protect my judgment? This answer to this depends on the facts and circumstances of your case, but make sure your checklist includes the following: (1) make note of the Rule 60(B) subsection(s) upon which the motion is based; (2) ensure the motion was timely filed under Rule 60(B)’s applicable subsection(s); (3) conduct additional discovery if necessary; (4) prepare your written response once you are satisfied you have sufficient facts to do so; (5) request a hearing if warranted when you file your response.

As with all procedural rules, knowing Rule 60(B)’s parameters and capabilities will allow you to respond efficiently to this attack on your judgment. And good familiarity with case law construing the rule will let you benefit from your colleagues’ past strategies, fitting them to your facts as you formulate a response.•

Ms. Huettner is an associate in the Bloomington firm of Clendening Johnson & Bohrer and is a member of DTCI. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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