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McDonald v. City of Wichita

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 11, 2017

MARY McDONALD, Plaintiff,


          GWYNNE E. BIRZER United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court[1] on Movants Derek Casey and Amy Fellows Cline's Unopposed Motion for Relief from the Court's Disqualification Orders (ECF No. 191) and their Renewed Unopposed Motion for the same relief (ECF No. 194). For the reasons set forth below, Movants' motions are GRANTED.

         I. Procedural Background

         In January 2016, the parties to this matter consented to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Magistrate Judge (ECF No. 90), and this employment discrimination case was scheduled for trial in February 2016. On the eve of trial, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking disqualification of Defendants' counsel (ECF No. 98). The basis of the motion was thoroughly examined and need not be repeated here. After a formal hearing, this Court entered an order disqualifying the law firm of Triplett Woolf Garretson, LLC (ECF No. 110), including Mr. Casey and Ms. Cline. The Court later denied motions to reconsider that order and permitted Movants to proceed with an interlocutory appeal (ECF No. 120). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the attorneys and law firm's request for interlocutory appeal, finding appellate review of the issue must wait until after the entry of final judgment (ECF No. 122).

         After interlocutory appeal was denied, substitute counsel entered their appearances for Defendants and this case went to jury trial in January 2017. The case was concluded on the merits with a defense verdict on January 25, 2017 (Verdict, ECF No. 166, Judgment, ECF No. 167).

         Following the trial, Plaintiff appealed the judgment (ECF No. 169), [2] and both Defendants and Movants' filed cross-appeals on the earlier disqualification order (ECF Nos. 179, 180).[3] Until recently, the jurisdiction of this Court has been suspended pending the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals' consideration of both appeals.

         II. Motion for Relief from Disqualification Order (ECF No. 191)

         During the appeal process, the parties engaged in mediation through the Tenth Circuit Mediation Office. As part of that process, Plaintiffs' appeal of the judgment was not resolved, but the parties reached a verbal and conditional settlement of Movants' appeal from the disqualification orders. Pursuant to the conditional settlement, Movants agreed to dismiss their cross-appeal and not enter an appearance on behalf of Defendants, contingent upon the Court vacating its disqualification orders under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b).

         In conformity with the settlement agreement, on June 2, 2016, Movants asked this Court to consider its Motion for Relief from the order of disqualification (ECF No. 191). Because the matter is on appeal, this Court reviewed the request under Fed.R.Civ.P. 62.1[4] and issued an indicative ruling, finding “no reason, at this time, to believe it would not grant an unopposed motion” made after remand (Order, ECF No. 192). On June 26, 2017, the Tenth Circuit remanded this case (Order of 10CCA, ECF No. 193) for the limited purpose of allowing this Court to rule on Movants' request for relief, and the issue is now properly before this Court for decision.

         A. Legal Standard

         Movants seek relief from the earlier orders of disqualification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1)-(6), a party may seek relief from a judgment or order for a number of reasons, including mistake, newly discovered evidence, fraud, or, under Rule 60(b)(6), for “any other reason that justifies relief.” Because Movants ask the Court to vacate its order due to the parties' settlement, their request is examined under Rule 60(b)(6).

         When faced with a motion to vacate a judgment based upon the parties' settlement, the U.S. Supreme Court found that, although settlement alone does not justify vacatur of a district court's decision currently under appellate review, the decision by the district court is “an equitable one, and exceptional circumstances may conceivably counsel in favor of” vacatur of judgment upon the parties' settlement.[5] The district court has “substantial discretion to grant relief as justice requires, ”[6] but vacatur is “extraordinary and may only be granted in exceptional circumstances.”[7]

         B. Analysis

         To determine whether circumstances are sufficiently exceptional to support relief from judgment, courts in this District have analyzed multiple factors.[8] Of those factors, Movants contend relief from ...

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