252 F.3d 1260 (11th Cir. 2001), 00-15088, Burke v Smith

Docket Nº:00-15088.
Citation:252 F.3d 1260
Party Name:Tammy BURKE, Royal Insurance Company, Plaintiffs-Appellees, Linda Burke Daniels, Plaintiff-Third-Party Defendant-Appellee, v. John SMITH, Heyl Truck Lines, Inc., Defendants-Third-Party Plaintiff-Appellants.
Case Date:May 31, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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252 F.3d 1260 (11th Cir. 2001)

Tammy BURKE, Royal Insurance Company, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

Linda Burke Daniels, Plaintiff-Third-Party Defendant-Appellee,

v.

John SMITH, Heyl Truck Lines, Inc., Defendants-Third-Party Plaintiff-Appellants.

No. 00-15088.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

May 31, 2001

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.(No. 95-01329-CV-AR-M), William M. Acker, Jr., Judge.

Before DUBINA and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges, and DUPLANTIER[*], District Judge.

KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge:

John Smith and Heyl Truck Lines, Inc. (collectively, the "Defendants") appeal the district court's order setting aside the dismissal of a wrongful death action filed against them by four plaintiffs. The district court initially dismissed the action pursuant to a voluntary settlement agreement and release. Subsequently, Tammy Burke ("Tammy"), one of the plaintiffs in the action, filed a motion for relief from judgment of dismissal, which the court granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4). For reasons expressed below, we affirm in part and vacate in part, holding that the district court properly found the judgment void, but that it should have set aside the dismissal as to all parties, not merely as to Tammy.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 25, 1995, four plaintiffs commenced an action against the Defendants for the wrongful death of Dennis Burke, who was killed in a trucking accident on April 17, 1995. The plaintiffs named in the complaint are (1) Linda Burke,1 individually as the wife of Dennis Burke; (2) Linda Burke, as administratrix of Dennis Burke's estate; (3) Tammy Burke, Dennis Burke's daughter, by and through her mother and next friend, Linda Burke; and (4) Royal Insurance Company.2 Tammy was seventeen years old at the time of her father's death and a minor under Alabama law.

Less than two months after the filing of the complaint, the Defendants settled the case for $987,500. In accordance with the settlement, Linda Burke ("Linda") released the Defendants from all claims brought by, inter alia, "the dependents of Dennis Robert Burke." The release, however, was signed solely by "Linda S. Burke, as Administratrix of the Estate of Dennis Burke" and by "Linda S. Burke, individually." Tammy did not sign the release, nor did Linda execute her signature in her capacity as "Next Friend" of Tammy. Pursuant to the settlement and a stipulation of dismissal, the district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. It is undisputed that the district court neither appointed a guardian ad litem to represent Tammy nor conducted a fairness

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hearing with respect to the settlement agreement.

After reaching the age of majority, Tammy filed a motion in the original lawsuit pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4), claiming the judgment of dismissal was void because no guardian ad litem had been appointed on her behalf and no hearing was held to determine the fairness of the settlement.3 The district court granted the motion and reinstated the case. In a subsequent order, the district court clarified that the judgment of dismissal was set aside only as to Tammy, not as to the other original plaintiffs.4 Defendants timely filed this interlocutory appeal, which we permitted under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court typically reviews a district court's ruling upon a Rule 60(b) motion for abuse of discretion. See American Bankers Ins. Co. v. Northwestern Nat'l Ins. Co., 198 F.3d 1332, 1338 (11th Cir.1999). However, "[u]nlike motions pursuant to other subsections of Rule 60(b), Rule 60(b)(4) motions leave no margin for consideration of the district court's discretion as the judgments themselves are by definition either legal nullities or not." Carter v. Fenner, 136 F.3d 1000, 1005 (5th Cir.1998). Therefore, "[w]e review de novo ... a district court's ruling upon a Rule 60(b)(4) motion to set aside a judgment as void, because the question of the validity of a judgment is a legal one." Export Group v. Reef Indus., Inc., 54 F.3d 1466, 1469 (9th Cir.1995); see also Combs v. Nick Garin Trucking, 825 F.2d 437, 441 (D.C.Cir.1987) ("[T]here is no question of discretion on the part of the court when a motion is under Rule 60(b)(4).") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

A.

Pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4), a court may relieve a party from a final judgment or order based on a finding that the judgment is void. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4). Generally, a judgment is void under Rule 60(b)(4) "if the court that rendered it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter, or of the parties, or if it acted in a manner inconsistent with due process of law." In re Edwards, 962 F.2d 641, 644 (7th Cir.1992) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Rice v. Ford Motor Co., 88 F.3d 914, 918 n. 7 (11th Cir.1996). A judgment also is void for Rule 60(b)(4) purposes if the rendering court was powerless to enter it. Gschwind v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 232 F.3d 1342, 1346 (10th Cir.2000). Accordingly, at least one other circuit has held that a consent judgment is void where the parties fail to follow state requirements regarding the settlement of a minor's claim. See Carter, 136 F.3d at 1009.

In the present case, the district court set aside the judgment of dismissal because (1) the court failed to appoint or consider the necessity of appointing a guardian ad litem to represent Tammy and (2) the court failed to hold a fairness hearing before

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