Does Rule 60(b) allow relief from a Rule 41 voluntary dismissal?

Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed a Texas suit under Rule 41, refiled in New York, and then voluntarily dismissed that action as well.  Because the second dismissal was with prejudice under the Federal Rules, Plaintiff sought relief under Rule 60(b) to allow reinstatement of the original case.  Yesh Music v. Lakewood Church, No. 12-20520 (August 14, 2013). Defendant argued that a voluntary dismissal is not a “final proceeding” for Rule 60 purposes.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the grant of 60(b) relief.  The Court acknowledged Harvey Specialty & Supply, Inc. v. Anson Flowline Equipment, Inc., 434 F.3d 320 (5th Cir. 2005), which found no preclusive effect for a Rule 41 voluntary dismissal, but concluded that one was still a “final . . . proceeding” within Rule 60 because of its practical effect.  The Court noted that the weight of authority from other Circuits agreed with this conclusion.

Markholder must join trademark infringement suit

In Escamilla v. M2 Technology, the individual owner of a business sued to enforce the “M2” trademark owned by his business.  No. 12-41183 (July 16, 2013, unpublished).  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claim for failure to join a necessary party, as the individual did not join his company as a party plaintiff, thus exposing the defendant to potential repetitive future litigation.  (This decision appears to have been rooted in avoiding the cost of having counsel appear for the company.)  The Court rejected the individual’s argument that a future suit would be barred by claim preclusion, noting the clear separation in Delaware corporate law between a business entity and its shareholders.

Res judicata from arbitration

The parties arbitrated whether certain offshore oil dealings violated RICO.  Grynberg v. BP, PLC, No. 12-20291 (June 7, 2013, unpublished).  The arbitrator found that the claimant did not establish damage and dismissed that claim, noting that he lacked authority to determine whether any criminal violation of RICO occurred. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a subsequent RICO lawsuit on the grounds of res judicata, finding that the arbitrator’s ruling was on the merits and not jurisdictional.

Global warming suit is still dismissed.

The original lawsuit in Comer v. Murphy Oil alleged tort claims against several oil companies about the effect of global warming on Hurricane Katrina.  The district court dismissed the claims in that original suit on standing and political question grounds; then, after a Fifth Circuit panel initially reversed in part; the appeal was dismissed after recusals made en banc review impossible after a vote to grant review by the full Court.  In this new case, the plaintiffs refiled, the district court dismissed on the grounds of res judicata since its original ruling was not affected by the appeal, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.  No. 12-60291 (May 14, 2013).  The Court reviewed the policies behind the doctrine of res judicata and declined to create an equitable exception to the doctrine for this case.

“Independent action in equity” avoids res judicata bar

The case of Turner v. Pleasant presented a rare attack on a judgment by an “independent action in equity.”  The underlying dispute involved a personal injury case implicated by the misconduct surrounding disgraced former judge Thomas Porteous.  Op. at 2-5.  After a clearly-written summary of the pleading requirements of Twombly and Iqbal, op. at 6-7, the Court considered whether the action could proceed, even though similar allegations were made and rejected in an earlier request for relief.   The Court reversed the dismissal of the claim and remanded, concluding that the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged: (1) a prior judgment which ‘in equity and good conscience’ should not be enforced, (2) a meritorious claim in the underlying case, (3) fraud, accident, or mistake which prevented the party from obtaining the benefit of that claim, (4) lack of fault or negligence by the party, and (5) absence of an adequate remedy at law.  Op. at 5-10 (citing and contrasting Addington v. Farmer’s Elevator Mutual, 650 F.3d 663 (5th Cir. 1981)).

Claim preclusion found in guaranty suit

The case of Weaver v. Texas Capital Bank first presented a jurisdictional question under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.  Texas Capital Bank had obtained a state court default judgment against a guarantor, and contended that the guarantor’s later adversary proceeding attacking the basis for that liability was an impermissible federal attack on a final state court judgment.  The Court disagreed, finding that Rooker-Feldman was not implicated.  Op. at 5-7.  The Court went on to reverse, however, finding that the guarantor’s arguments to the bankruptcy court were defenses to the earlier state court action and thus barred by claim preclusion.  Op. at 8-11.  The opinion thoroughly reviews Texas claim preclusion law and its “transactional” approach to the application of the compulsory counterclaim rule.