Which Post-Trial Motion You Choose Can Make all the Difference

February 25, 2014 § 3 Comments

James Loftin was notified that his contract for employment as school superintendent would not be renewed, and he filed a request with the chancery court for a hearing, as provided in MCA 37-9-101 through -113.

On April 16, 2012, Loftin filed a public records request with the school district.

The non-renewal hearing went forward on April 27, 2012, despite a pre-hearing motion that Loftin had filed asking that it be delayed so that his public records request could be addressed. On July 12, 2012, the judge ruled that Loftin had waived the public records request because he had allowed the hearing to go forward. The ruling on the non-renewal was not in his favor.

Loftin filed a motion for reconsideration [you can read another post at this link on whether there is such a creature in Mississippi procedure] on July 24, twelve days after the court’s ruling.

On October 24, 2012, more than 100 days after the final ruling on the merits, the court overruled the motion for reconsideration, and Loftin filed his notice of appeal on November 2, 2012.

In the COA case of Loftin v. Jefferson Davis County School District, handed down February 18, 2014, the court affirmed the chancellor’s denial of the motion to reconsider. Judge Fair, for the majority, explained:

¶4. “A timely-filed notice of appeal is a jurisdictional prerequisite to invoking [appellate] review, and we review jurisdictional matters de novo.” Calvert v. Griggs, 992 So. 2d 627, 631 (¶9) (Miss. 2008). “[T]he time to file a notice of appeal is a jurisdictional issue that cannot be waived by the parties.” Dawson v. Burt Steel Inc., 986 So. 2d 1051, 1052 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008).

¶5. At issue is what effect Loftin’s motion for reconsideration had on the timeliness of his notice of appeal. Motions for reconsideration are filed every day in Mississippi, but the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure do not specifically provide for them. McBride v. McBride, 110 So. 3d 356, 359 (¶15) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013). This Court recently summarized how they should be treated:

The Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure provide two avenues to move the trial court to reconsider its judgment. The aggrieved party may (1) file a motion for a new trial or to alter or amend under Rule 59 or (2) file for a relief from a final judgment under Rule 60(b). The timing of the motion to reconsider determines whether it is a Rule 59 or Rule 60(b) motion.

A motion to reconsider filed within ten days of the entry of the judgment falls under Rule 59 and tolls the thirty-day time period to file a notice of appeal until the disposition of the motion. Consequently, a notice of appeal following the denial of a Rule 59 motion to reconsider encompasses both the denial of reconsideration and the underlying judgment.

But a motion to reconsider filed more than ten days after the entry of the judgment falls under Rule 60(b). And a Rule 60(b) motion does not toll the thirty-day time period to file a notice of appeal. So a notice of appeal following the denial of a Rule 60(b) motion to reconsider limits this court’s review to whether reconsideration was properly denied under Rule 60(b). This court has no jurisdiction to consider the merits of the underlying judgment.

Woods v. Victory Mktg. LLC, 111 So. 3d 1234, 1236-37 (¶¶6-8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013) (citations omitted). The last day for Loftin to file his motion for reconsideration under Rule 59 was Monday, July 23, 2012. See M.R.C.P. 6(a). Loftin’s motion, filed on July 24, must be taken under Rule 60(b).

¶6. Rule 60(b) provides six bases for relieving a party from a final judgment:

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

(2) accident or mistake;

(3) newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b);

(4) the judgment is void;

(5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application;

(6) any other reason justifying relief from the judgment.

Loftin’s motion for reconsideration makes none of those arguments. Instead, it simply contends that the petition should not have been dismissed under the facts and the controlling substantive law. Loftin obviously intended the motion to be considered under Rule 59(e), but because it was untimely, that ship has sailed. “An appeal from denial of Rule 60(b) relief does not bring up the underlying judgment for review.” Bruce v. Bruce, 587 So. 2d 898, 903-04 (Miss. 1991). Instead, “Rule 60(b) is for extraordinary circumstances, for matters collateral to the merits, and affords a much narrower range of relief than Rule 59(e).” Id. at 903. “Rule 60(b) motions should not be used to relitigate cases.” S. Healthcare Servs. Inc. v. Lloyd’s of London, 110 So. 3d 735, 742 (¶16) (Miss. 2013). Nor is a Rule 60(b) motion a substitute for a timely appeal. Id. at (¶14).

¶7. Loftin is not entitled to relief from judgment under Rule 60(b). We therefore affirm the trial court’s judgment denying Loftin’s motion for reconsideration.

Comments:

  • A R59 motion for a new trial or rehearing will stop the appeal deadline from running, but it must be filed within ten days of entry of the judgment.
  • A R60 motion does not stop the running of the appeal deadline.
  • Even if you style your motion as a R59 motion and ask for R59 relief, if you file it more than ten days after entry of the judgment, it will be treated as a R60 motion.
  • If you ask for relief under R60, you should spell out exactly what provisions of R60 you are invoking.
  • Remember that, as between R59 and R60(b), only a R59 motion will allow the appellate court to review the merits of the underlying judgment. An appeal from denial of a R60(b) motion limits the appellate court to a review of the denial of the R60(b) motion only.

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§ 3 Responses to Which Post-Trial Motion You Choose Can Make all the Difference

  • John Shirley says:

    Great article. I often wondered why appellate cases would reference a motion to reconsider and no one on the other side raised the appropriateness of the motion.

  • Bob Wolford says:

    So is the old “motion to reconsider” a relic of pre-rules practice, sort of a thing that lawyers just did that apparently gained acceptance from the bench, or was it a creature of statute that was supplanted by the rules? Excellent points raised in this article, by the way.

    • Larry says:

      I thought at first that reconsideration was a relic of the pre-rules era, but in looking at Griffith, Section 632, he refers to it as a motion for rehearing. As far back as I can remember, though, lawyers have been calling them motions for “reconsideration,” and there are plenty of appellate cases (including this latest) that use the same vernacular. So I guess we might as well sit back, relax, and enjoy it.

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