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Jones v. Higgins

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

May 8, 2018

JUDY E. JONES, as Executor of the Estate of Talmage Lee Jones, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
JASON ANTHONY HIGGINS and G & R TRUCKING COMPANY, INC., Defendants.[1]

          ORDER

          Dennis L. Howell, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Relief from Judgment (# 104) filed by Jason Anthony Higgins and G & R Trucking Company, Inc. (hereafter “Defendants”). The Court held a hearing on the motion on March 30, 2018, and the issues have been fully briefed. The matter is now ripe for ruling. For the reasons addressed below, Defendants' Motion for Relief from Judgment is GRANTED IN PART.

         I. Factual Background

         The facts relevant to the instant motion are the following: This action was removed to this Court on December 28, 2016.[2] See Not. Rem. (# 1). The case was originally assigned to the Honorable Martin Reidinger, United States District Judge. On June 30, 2017, the parties consented to the undersigned serving as the presiding judge. See J. Cons. (# 42.)

         On February 9, 2018, Defendants G & R Trucking Co., Inc. and Jason Anthony Higgins, by United States mail, served an Offer of Judgment on Plaintiff for the sum of $50, 000.00. The Offer of Judgment stated that “if not accepted within ten days of service the offer is automatically withdrawn.” (# 88-1) This Offer was in contravention of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68(a), which allows fourteen days for acceptance.

         On February 14, 2018, at 9:52 a.m., Plaintiff's counsel sent an e-mail to Defendants' counsel stating: “Further presuming the 50K Offer of Judgment is the most Northland intends to offer on this case, then please communicate to Mr. Higgins that the Plaintiff would be willing to accept Northland's 50K to settle all issues if Mr. Higgins is willing to pay an additional $25, 000.00 out of his personal funds for a total settlement of 75K.” (# 98-2) Defendants' counsel responded on February 14, 2018, at 11:02 a.m., to Plaintiff's attorney as follows: “In light of your rejection and counteroffer our Offer of Judgment is withdrawn.” (# 98-2)

         The next day, February 15, 2018, Defendants' counsel, by facsimile, sent to Plaintiff's counsel an Offer of Judgment from only one Defendant, that being G & R Trucking Co., Inc., which was also in the amount of $50, 000.00. (# 87-1) Again, the Offer of Judgment was in contravention of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68(a), which allows fourteen days for acceptance and not the ten days as stated in Offer of Judgment.

         On February 19, 2018, Plaintiff's counsel filed two Acceptances, one of each of the two Offers of Judgment. (# 87, 88.) On March 14, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Set Aside Judgment (# 98). A hearing was held on March 16, 2018, where the Motion to Set Aside Judgment (# 98) was addressed. On March 19, 2018, this Court entered an Order (# 101), which explained that for at least two reasons Defendants' motion would be denied. In particular, first, Defendants were seeking to set aside a judgment that had not yet been entered. Second, Defendants' motion failed to comply with this Court's Local Civil Rule 7.1.

         Consistent with the two Offers of Judgment, on March 21, 2018, the Clerk of Court entered Judgment against both Defendants (# 102) in the amount of $50, 000.00 (“First Judgment”). On the same day, the Clerk also entered Judgment solely against Defendant G & R Trucking Co., Inc. (# 103) in the amount of $50, 000 (“Second Judgment”). The entry of these two judgments was consistent with the Offers of Judgment served by Defendants' counsel upon Plaintiff's counsel.

         Two days later, on March 23, 2018, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Relief from Judgment (# 104). Plaintiff filed a timely Opposition (# 108). In Defendants' Brief (# 104 at 3) Defendants' counsel states “on March 23, 1018, Defendants mailed the Plaintiff, via FedEx, a check in the amount of $50, 000, as full and final satisfaction of the First Judgment. Also enclosed was a proposed Satisfaction of Judgment for Plaintiff to file.” On March 30, 2018, the Court conducted a hearing on Defendants' Motion for Relief from Judgment (# 104).

         II. Legal Standard

         To obtain relief from a final judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), the movant must show timeliness, a meritorious defense, a lack of unfair prejudice to the opposing party, and exceptional circumstances. Werner v. Carbo, 731 F.2d 204, 206-07 (4th Cir. 1984) (citing Compton v. Alton S.S. Co., Inc., 608 F.2d 96, 102 (4th Cir. 1979)). Then, Rule 60(b) allows the court to “relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or Compl. (# 1-2) at 4. On November 28, 2016, Plaintiff stated that the amount of monetary relief sought was $300, 000 to $350, 000. (# 1-1) Ex. A. proceeding” for any of the following reasons:

(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect:
(2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new ...

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