Ackermann v. United States

Citation71 S.Ct. 209,95 L.Ed. 207,340 U.S. 193
Decision Date11 December 1950
Docket NumberNos. 35,36,s. 35
PartiesACKERMANN v. UNITED STATES (two cases)
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Mr. E. M. Grimes, Taylor, Tex., for petitioners.

Mr. James L. Morrisson, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice MINTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Hans Ackermann filed a motion in the District Court for the Western District of Texas to set aside a judgment entered December 7, 1943, in that court cancelling his certificate of naturalization. The motion was filed March 25, 1948, pursuant to amended Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., which became effective March 19, 1948.1 The United States filed a motion to dismiss petitioner's motion. The District Court denied petitioner's motion and the Court of Appeals affirmed. 178 F.2d 983. We granted certiorari. 339 U.S. 962, 70 S.Ct. 997.

The question is whether the District Court erred in denying the motion for relief under Rule 60(b).

Petitioner and his wife Frieda were natives of Germany. They were naturalized in 1938. They resided, as now, at Taylor, Texas, where petitioner and Max Keilbar owned and operated a German language newspaper. Frieda Ackermann wrote for the paper. She was a sister of Keilbar, who was also a native of Germany and who had been naturalized in 1933.

In 1942 complaints were filed against all three to cancel their naturalization on grounds of fraud. Petitioner and Keilbar were represented by counsel and answered the complaints. After an order of consolidation, trial of the three cases began November 1, 1943, and separate judgments were entered December 7, 1943, cancelling and setting aside the orders admitting them to citizenship. Keilbar appealed to the Court of Appeals, and by stipulation with the United States Attorney his case in that court was reversed, and the complaint against him was ordered dismissed. The Ackermanns did not appeal.

Petitioner in his motion here under consideration alleges that his 'failure to appeal from said judgment is excusable' for the reason that he had no money or property other than his home in Taylor, Texas, owned by him and his wife and worth $2,500, 'and the costs of transcribing the evidence and printing the record and brief on appeal were estimated at not less than $5,000.00.' On December 11, 1943, petitioner was detained in an Alien Detention Station at Seagoville, Texas. Before time for appeal had expired, petitioner was advised by his attorney that he had his wife could not appeal on affidavits of inability to pay costs until they had 'appropriated said home to the payment of such costs to the full extent of the proceeds of a sale thereof'; that this information distressed them, and they sought advice from W. F. Kelley, 'Assistant Commissioner for Alien Control, Immigration and Naturalization Department,' in whose custody petitioner and his wife were being held, 'and he being a person in whom they had great confidence'; that Kelley on being informed of their financial condition and the advice of their attorney that it would be necessary for them to dispose of their home in order to appeal, advised them in substance to 'hang on to their home,' and told them further that they had lost their American citizenship and were stateless, and that they would be released at the end of the war; that relying upon Kelley's advice, they refrained from appealing from said judgments; that on April 29, 1944, after time for appeal had expired, they were interned, and on January 25, 1946, the Attorney General ordered them to depart within thirty days or be deported. They did not depart, and they have not been deported, although the orders of deportation are still outstanding. Petitioner further alleged that he would show that the judgment of December 7, 1943, was unlawful and erroneous by producing the record in the Keilbar case (Keilbar v. United States, 5 Cir., 144 F.2d 866).

The District Court on September 28, 1948, denied petitioner's motion to vacate the judgment of denaturalization, the court stating in the order that 'there is no merit to said motion.'

It will be noted that petitioner alleged in his motion that his failure to appeal was excusable. A motion for relief because of excusable neglect as provided in Rule 60(b)(1) must, by the rule's terms, be made not more than one year after the judgment was entered. The judgment here sought to be relieved from was more than four years old. It is immediately apparent that no relief on account of 'excusable neglect' was available to this petitioner on the motion under consideration.

But petitioner seeks to bring himself within Rule 60(b)(6), which applies if 'any other reason justifying relief' is present, as construed and applied in Klapprott v. United States, 335 U.S. 601, 69 S.Ct. 384, 389, 93 L.Ed. 266. The circumstances alleged in the motion which petitioner asserts bring him within Rule 60(b)(6) are that the denaturalization judgment was erroneous; that he did not appeal and raise that question because his attorney advised him he would have to sell his home to pay costs, while Kelley, the Alien Control officer, in whom he alleges he had confidence and upon whose advice he relied, told him 'to hang on to their home' and that he would be released at the end of the war; and that these circumstances justify failure to appeal the denaturalization judgment.

We cannot agree that petitioner has alleged circumstances showing that his failure to appeal was justifiable. It is not enough for petitioner to allege that he had confidence in Kelley. On the allegations of the motion before us, Kelley was a stranger to petitioner. In that state of the pleadings there are two reasons why petitioner cannot be heard to say his neglect to appeal brings him within the rule. First, anything said by Kelley could not be used to relieve petitioner of his duty to take legal steps to protect his interest in litigation in which the United States was a party adverse to him. Munro v. United States, 303 U.S. 36, 58 S.Ct. 421, 82 L.Ed. 633; Burnham Chemical Co. v. Krug, D.C., 81 F.Supp. 911, 913, affirmed per curiam sub nom Burnham Chemical Co. v. Chapman, 86 U.S.App.D.C. 412, 181 F.2d 288. Secondly, petitioner had no right to repose confidence in Kelley, a stranger. There is no allegation of any fact or circumstance which shows that Kelley had any undue influence over petitioner or practiced any fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or duress upon him. There are no allegations of privity or any fiduciary relations existing between them. Indeed, the allegations of the motion all show the contrary. However, petitioner had a confidential adviser in his own counsel. Instead of relying upon that confidential adviser, he freely accepted the advice of a stranger, a source upon which he had no right to rely. Petitioner made a considered choice not to appeal, apparently because he did not feel that an appeal would prove to be worth what he thought was a required sacrifice of his home. His choice was a risk, but calculated and deliberate and such as follows a free choice. Petitioner cannot be relieved of such a choice because hindsight seems to indicate to him that his decision not to appeal was probably wrong, considering the outcome of the Keilbar case. There must be an end to litigation someday, and free, calculated, deliberate choices are not to be relieved from.

As further evidence of the inadequacy of petitioner's motion to bring himself within any division of Rule 60(b) which would excuse him from not having taken an appeal, we call attention to the fact that Keilbar got the record before the Court of Appeals, and it contained all the evidence that was introduced as to petitioner and his wife, who were tried together with Keilbar. The Ackermanns and Keilbar were related, yet no effort was made to get into the Court of Appeals and use the same record as to the evidence that Keilbar used. It certainly would not have taken five thousand dollars or one-tenth thereof for petitioner and his wife to have supplemented the Keilbar record with that pertaining to themselves and to prepare a brief, even if all of it were printed. We are further aware of the practice of the Courts of Appeals permitting litigants who are poor but not paupers to file typewritten records and briefs at a very small cost to them. With the same counsel representing petitioner as represented his kinsman Keilbar, and with Frieda Ackermann having funds sufficient to employ separate counsel, failure to appeal because of the fear of losing his home in defraying the expenses of the brief and record, makes it further evidence that Rule 60(b) has no application to petitioner in this setting.

The Klapprott case was a case of extraordinary circumstances. Mr. Justice Black stated in the following words why the allegations in the Klapprott case, there taken as true, brought it within Rule 60(b)(6): 'But petitioner's allegations set up an extraordinary situation which cannot fairly or logically be classified as mere 'neglect' on his part. The undenied facts set out in the petition reveal far more than a failure to defend the denaturalization charges due to inadvertence, indifference, or careless disregard of consequences. For before, at the time, and after the default judgment was entered, petitioner was held in jail in New York, Michigan, and the District of Columbia by the United States, his adversary in the denaturalization proceedings. Without funds to hire a lawyer, petitioner was defended by appointed counsel in the criminal cases. Thus petitioner's prayer to set aside the default judgment did not rest on mere allegations of 'excusable neglect.' The foregoing allegations and others in the petition tend to support petitioner's argument that he was deprived of any reasonable opportunity to make a defense to the criminal charges instigated by officers of the very United States agency which supplied the secondhand information upon which his...

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