427 F.3d 129 (1st Cir. 2005), 05-1306, Roger Edwards, LLC v. Fiddes & Son Ltd.

Docket Nº:05-1306.
Citation:427 F.3d 129
Party Name:ROGER EDWARDS, LLC, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. FIDDES & SON LTD., Defendant, Appellee.
Case Date:October 31, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 129

427 F.3d 129 (1st Cir. 2005)

ROGER EDWARDS, LLC, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

FIDDES & SON LTD., Defendant, Appellee.

No. 05-1306.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

October 31, 2005

Heard Aug. 3, 2005.

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MAINE, Hon. David M. Cohen, U.S. Magistrate Judge

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Thomas F. Hallett with whom Thomas F. Hallett Law Offices, P.A. was on brief for appellant.

Ronald W. Schneider, Jr. with whom David A. Soley and Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson were on brief for appellee.

Before Boudin, Chief Judge, Selya, Circuit Judge, Siler, [*] Senior Circuit Judge.

BOUDIN, Chief Judge.

In the district court, plaintiff-appellant Roger Edwards, LLC ("Roger Edwards"), a Maine limited liability company, sought to undo a previous defeat, see Roger Edwards, LLC v. Fiddes & Sons, Ltd., 387 F.3d 90 (1st Cir. 2004), by alleging fraudulent conduct on the part of defendant-appellee Fiddes & Son, Ltd. ("Fiddes"), a British corporation. The district court denied Roger Edwards' motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60 (b) for relief from the original judgment. Roger Edwards then filed this new appeal. The background events follow.

Roger Edwards is a distributor of wax products (primarily furniture wax). Fiddes manufactures such products, some of which are imported into this country. On March 14, 2002, Roger Edwards filed a complaint in a Maine state court claiming that Fiddes breached the terms of an alleged distribution agreement between the parties by selling its wax products directly into Roger Edwards' "protected territory" or allowing others to do so. Fiddes removed to federal court, invoking diversity jurisdiction.

Fiddes then defended against Roger Edwards' claim by arguing that there was no contract between the two parties or, in the alternative, that if there were a contract Fiddes did not breach it and it had been terminated. Fiddes also counterclaimed for amounts owed to it on unpaid invoices; Roger Edwards defended against Fiddes' counterclaim by arguing that it had revoked acceptance of the invoiced goods in December 2002 because of "violation by Fiddes of multiple U.S. laws and regulations."

After extensive discovery, the magistrate judge (presiding over the case with the consent of the parties, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (2000)) granted partial summary judgment to Fiddes on February 14, 2003. The judge ruled that if there were a dealership agreement (a question left for the jury), Roger Edwards had terminated it on November 19, 2001, and Fiddes had acquiesced in the termination. The magistrate judge also granted summary judgment to Fiddes on its counterclaim for unpaid invoices for past deliveries: he found that Roger Edwards' "attempted revocation of acceptance more than a year after the plaintiff discovered the asserted basis for the revocation, and seven months after this action was filed, is untimely and thus ineffective."

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This disposition left open Roger Edwards' breach of contract claim for the period prior to the November 19, 2001, termination. A second grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Fiddes shortly before trial in July 2003 sharply limited Roger Edwards' possible theories of recovery as to this claim. Ultimately, the jury found after trial that an agreement had existed between the parties but that Fiddes had not breached it. Judgment was entered in favor of Fiddes on its counterclaim for $17,286 plus interest and costs.

Roger Edwards appealed certain aspects of the judgment (but not the partial summary judgment against it on Fiddes' counterclaim). This court affirmed, saying--with misplaced optimism--that it was "put[ting] this litigation to a well-deserved rest." Roger Edwards, 387 F.3d at 97. While the original appeal was pending, Roger Edwards filed a Rule 60(b) motion seeking relief from the judgment on grounds of fraud. After our affirmance, the magistrate judge denied the motion, prompting the new appeal by Roger Edwards that is now before us.1

Nominally, the standard of review for decisions granting or denying Rule 60(b) motions is abuse of discretion. United States v. $23,000 in U.S. Currency, 356 F.3d 157, 165 (1st Cir. 2 0 0 4); Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers Union, Local No. 59 v. Superline Transp. Co., 953 F.2d 17, 19 (1st Cir. 1992); Anderson v. Cryovac, Inc., 862 F.2d 910, 923 (1st Cir. 1988) . But in practice this means de novo review on issues of abstract law and clear error as to fact findings, deferential review associated with the phrase "abuse of discretion" otherwise being reserved for what might be termed judgment calls (e.g., law application, procedural rulings).2

Rule 60(b) permits a district court to reopen a final judgment for any of six stated reasons, two of which were invoked by Roger Edwards: (3) "fraud . . ., misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party" and (6) "any other reason justifying relief," a catchall sometimes taken to include what is called "fraud on the court." Whatever the precise quality or quantity of misconduct needed to constitute "fraud on the court," it is not remotely present in this case so we need not consider whether, if it were, it would be properly presented under subsection (3) or subsection (6) or both. Compare Simon v. Navon, 116 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1997), with United States v. Parcel of Land and Residence at 18 Oakwood Street, Dorchester, Mass., 958 F.2d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 1992) .

The usual reason why litigants urge that their claim is one for "fraud on the court," and arises under Rule 60 (b) (6), is that if...

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