Hernandez v. Results Staffing, Inc., 102418 FED5, 17-11201

Docket Nº:17-11201
Opinion Judge:JERRY E. SMITH, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party Name:JOSE LUIS HERNANDEZ, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. RESULTS STAFFING, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before SMITH, CLEMENT, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:October 24, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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JOSE LUIS HERNANDEZ, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

RESULTS STAFFING, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 17-11201

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 24, 2018

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

Before SMITH, CLEMENT, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.

JERRY E. SMITH, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

"If this case is an example, the term 'civil procedure' is an oxymoron." Green v. GTE Cal., Inc., 34 Cal.Rptr.2d 517, 518 (Cal.Ct.App. 1994). It comes before us for a second time, more than five years after Results Staffing, Incorporated ("RSI"), fired Jose Hernandez for failing to report to work. Hernandez appeals the interlocutory order granting RSI's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) motion for relief from our prior judgment. See Hernandez v. Results Staffing,

Inc., 677 Fed.Appx. 902 (5th Cir. 2017). We affirm.

I.

RSI, which provides unskilled day laborers to third parties, employed Hernandez, an Army reservist, beginning in early 2013. After attending a weekend military training session July 12-14, 2013, Hernandez failed to appear for work on Monday, July 15, and instead visited a local emergency room complaining of a headache and lower back pain. RSI fired Hernandez for violating the company's "no call/no show" policy, which "requires employees to call in four hours before a scheduled start time if they are unable to report to work." Hernandez sued in 2014, alleging that RSI had violated his rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 ("USERRA").

RSI served Hernandez with two requests for production concerning medical records from his July 15 visit to the emergency room. The first request ("No. 12") sought "[a]ll documents related to any visits [Hernandez] had with civilian medical personnel in July 2013, including all documents related to [Hernandez's] visit to the hospital on July 15, 2013, as alleged in [his] [p]etition." The second request ("No. 19") sought "[a]ll documents relating to any medical treatment that [Hernandez] underwent for the injury alleged in [his] [p]etition."

Hernandez objected to these requests but nonetheless produced a one-page doctor's note in which the attending physician wrote that Hernandez was under his care on July 15, 2013, and would be able to work the next day. Neither Hernandez nor his counsel gave any indication that additional medical records existed. RSI later provided Hernandez with an authorization for release of protected health information, which Hernandez signed on March 12, 2015. RSI did not make use of the signed authorization to obtain the relevant medical records.

Hernandez's counsel received copies of Hernandez's medical records from July 15 on (in his words) "either Friday, May 15th or Monday, May 18th [2015]," shortly before trial.1 Hernandez's lawyer claims that he then "attempted to fax them to [RSI's] counsel, even though [RSI's] counsel already had an authorization to obtain the records from the hospital." The fax allegedly failed to transmit.2

Following a non-jury trial in May 2015, the district court denied Hernandez any relief. We reversed, rendering "judgment in favor of Hernandez" and remanding "the case to the district court to determine [his] damages." Id. at 908.

On remand, RSI discovered that "[Hernandez] and his wife had given false testimony at trial concerning [his] service-related back condition and his reason for going to the emergency room." Additionally, as the district court explained, RSI also found that "[Hernandez] and his counsel had in their possession in advance of the trial hospital records, which should have been, but were not, disclosed to [RSI] before the trial that showed the true reason for [Hernandez's] trip to the emergency room [on] the morning of July 15, 2013."

After that discovery, RSI filed a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment, attaching Hernandez's July 15 emergency room records, which demonstrated that the primary reason for Hernandez's visit was a headache (not a back injury, aggravated by his weekend military service, as he had claimed).3 In opposition, Hernandez contended that, inter alia, the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider the motion for relief from judgment, the records "confirm that [Hernandez] was treated for a back injury," RSI had failed to exercise diligence in obtaining the records, and counsel's "failure to disclose was inadvertent."

The district court granted the Rule 60(b) motion, finding that [Hernandez's] visit to the emergency room [on] the morning of July 15, 2013, was not for care or treatment of an aggravation of a back condition he suffered while on military duty over the preceding weekend but, instead, was for treatment of a severe headache, probably a migraine in character, that had its onset after he arrived home the morning of July 15, 2013, and that the low back pain he mentioned upon his hospital admission as an associated symptom was not the cause of his visit to the hospital but was a non-disabling chronic back pain that [Hernandez] had been suffering for years.

The court also determined that Hernandez and his wife gave intentionally false testimony "in order to disadvantage and mislead [RSI] in its trial preparation and presentation, and that [this testimony] ultimately misled [the Fifth Circuit] in [Hernandez's initial] appeal." Furthermore, the district court found that Hernandez's lawyer failed to "take appropriate steps to supplement an incomplete and misleading response [Hernandez] had made to [RSI's] previously served discovery request . . . seeking production of all documents related to [Hernandez's] visit to the emergency room." The court determined that Hernandez's purpose in doing so was to "mislead[] [RSI] and its counsel into believing that [Hernandez's] July 15, 2013 visit to the emergency room was for care and treatment of an aggravation of a back condition that he suffered over the weekend [of July 12-14, 2013] while performing military duties."

In granting the Rule 60(b) motion, the district court ultimately concluded, inter alia, that Hernandez's actions placed "[RSI] at an unfair disadvantage in defending itself at the trial" and "put the Fifth Circuit at an unfair disadvantage in evaluating . . . the true facts [of this case]." The court also determined, however, that there was "substantial ground for difference of opinion" concerning whether providing a signed authorization for release of protected health information is sufficient to satisfy the signing party's ongoing discovery obligations under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 34, 26(b), and 26(e). Consequently, the court certified that question for interlocutory review under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). We granted Hernandez's unopposed motion for leave to appeal the interlocutory order.

II.

Hernandez contends that the district court lacked jurisdiction to grant relief per Rule 60(b)(3) because it effectively set aside the judgment of this court. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we disagree.4

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) provides grounds by which a "court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding," including in cases involving fraud, misconduct, or misrepresentation by an adverse party.5 In Standard Oil Co. of California v. United States, 429 U.S. 17, 17 (1976) (per curiam), the Court held that a district court may entertain a Rule 60(b) motion without first obtaining leave of the appellate court.6 The Court found "the arguments in favor of requiring appellate leave . . . unpersuasive," noting that such a requirement "adds to the delay and expense of litigation and . . . burdens the increasingly scarce time of the federal appellate courts." Id. at 18.

Because Standard Oil did not explicitly state whether its ruling was limited to cases in which the court of appeals affirms, Hernandez asserts that where the appellate court reverses, the district court is not permitted to entertain a Rule 60(b) motion unless "the court of appeals recalls its mandate." Hernandez cites a previous line of precedent in which the Supreme Court appeared to require the moving party to obtain leave of the higher court before a lower court could disturb its judgment.7

Hernandez's theory fails for two reasons. First, Standard Oil overruled Hazel-Atlas. See McClure v. F.D.I.C, No. 93-8216, 1994 WL 14096, at *2 n.5 (5th Cir. Jan. 4, 1994). Second...

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