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Pierce v. Cook & Co.

Citation. 518 F.2d 720 (10th Cir. 1975)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs bring suit against Defendant for injuries sustained during a crash. The ruling does not go two of the Plaintiffs’ favor and they attempt to be relieved from the judgement under FRCP 60(b).

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Under FRCP 60(b) the court may grant relief from final judgement for any reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgement.

Facts.

Ted Pierce was killed and two passengers, Davis and Ellenwood, were injured when a tractor hit them. Decedent’s wife, Claudiatte Pierce, Davis, and Ellenwood filed suit in Oklahoma state court against defendant Cook & Co. who was the employer of the trucker working as an independent contractor and was driving the tractor at the time of the accident. Cook removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. Davis dismissed his suit and his guardians refiled in Oklahoma state court to destroy diversity. Defendant Cook filed a motion for summary judgement which the court granted for the two remaining Plaintiffs Pierce and Ellenwood. The court’s decision was based on Marion Machine, Foundry & Supply Co. v. Duncan, which held that shippers were not liable for the torts committed by independent contractors. Plaintiffs appealed arguing that the federal Motor Carrier Act applied which would have allowed for Defendant Cook to be liable. The court appeals affirmed summary judgement, finding that state law applied. Final judgement was filed in 1971. Plaintiff Davis lost in state court at trial, but the court of appeals on appeal overturned Marion and found that shippers could be liable for the torts of their independent contractors. The state appeals court remanded Davis’s case and it settled in favor of Davis in 1974.  Pierce and Ellenwood thereafter filed a FRCP 60(b) motion to be relieved of the federal court’s judgement.

Issue.

Does FRCP 60(b) allow a court to grant relief from final judgement for any reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgement?

Held.

Yes,  FRCP 60(b) does allow a court to grant relief from final judgement for any reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgement. Plaintiffs’ motion for relief from judgement is granted and the case is remanded with directions.

Discussion.

1. Motions filed under FRCP 60(b) are not subject to the one-year limitation that applies to other parts of the rule.
2. It is in the interest of justice to grant Plaintiffs motion.
3. Under Erie, suits dealing with the same transaction or occurrence brought in a federal court sitting in diversity should produce a similar result to the case brought in state court.
4. Plaintiffs in federal court were held to a state case that was overturned in the state court, producing very different results.
5. Therefore the court advises Plaintiffs Pierce and Ellenwood to file a FRCP 60(b) motion for this court to set aside the judgement of the trial court.
6. The judgement below is vacated and the case is remanded.


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