Wallace v. Warehouse Employees Union

Decision Date12 October 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-885.,83-885.
Citation482 A.2d 801
PartiesKatherine WALLACE, et al., Appellants, v. WAREHOUSE EMPLOYEES UNION # 730, Appellee.
CourtD.C. Court of Appeals

T. Clarence Harper, Washington, D.C., for appellants.

John R. Mooney, Washington, D.C., with whom Hugh J. Beins, Washington, D.C., was on brief, for appellee.

Before FERREN, TERRY and ROG-ERS, Associate Judges.

ROGERS, Associate Judge:

In this appeal from an order granting summary judgment in favor of appellee and the denial of appellants' motion to reconsider that order, we hold that appellants' motion for reconsideration was filed under Superior Court Civil Rule 59(e), and that the motion was timely since Rule 6(e) is applicable to Rule 59(e) motions and each period of time under those rules is to be considered separately in computing time under Rule 6(a). Thus, appellants' notice of appeal from the denial of the motion was timely. Upon review of the record, we find no abuse of discretion by the trial court in denying the motion for reconsideration, and accordingly affirm the judgment below.


An intra-union dispute between members (appellants) and officials of Warehouse Employees Union, Local 730 (appellee) resulted in appellants filing suit on June 16, 1982 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia alleging that the union had violated its bylaws in selecting a shop steward.1 On July 1, 1982, the union filed a petition for removal in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446 (1973), and appellants filed a motion to remand the case to the Superior Court. On July 20, the union filed a motion for summary judgment in the federal court.2 Appellants then filed a motion for an extension of time to respond to the motion for summary judgment, until after the motion to remand had been acted upon. After a hearing, the federal court denied the petition for removal on August 25, 1982, and granted appellants' motion to remand the case to the Superior Court.

On January 11, 1983, Judge Goodrich of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia issued an order directing appellants to file an opposition to the motion for summary judgment by January 31, 1983. Appellants responded on that date that the motion for summary judgment was rendered moot by the federal remand order and, since the union's motion had not been revived in the Superior Court, there was nothing to which appellants could respond.3 The union responded that appellants' legal position was incorrect, citing appropriate authorities,4 and that the motion for summary judgment was properly pending in the Superior Court. On March 3, 1983, the motion for summary judgment was granted as unopposed by Judge McArdle.

Appellants filed a motion for reconsideration on March 17, 1983, in which they also addressed the merits of the motion for summary judgment. A hearing was held on July 18, 1983, before Judge Doyle, who denied the motion. Appellants filed a notice of appeal on August 10, 1983.


Rules 59(e) and 60(6)(1).

To determine our scope of review,5 we first determine whether appellants' motion for reconsideration is properly to be considered a motion filed pursuant to Super.Ct.Civ.R. 59(e)6 or Super.Ct.Civ.R. 60(b)(1).7 The motion papers did not cite the rule under which it was filed, and the order by the motions judge did not indicate the rule under which the motion was considered. Appellants contended their motion was filed under Rule 60(b)(1); appellee contended it was a Rule 59(e) motion. The nature of a motion is determined by the relief sought, not by its label or caption. Coleman v. Lee Washington Hauling Co., supra note 5, 388 A.2d 44, 46 (D.C. 1978); Graves v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., 151 A.2d 258, 261 (D.C. 1959); Roumel v. Stradley, 119 A.2d 111, 112 (D.C. 1955).

In their motion appellants sought reconsideration of the grant of summary judgment on the basis that (1) they had erred in concluding that the motion for summary judgment had to be revived after the remand order, and (2) their response to the motion for summary judgment demonstrated there were genuine issues in dispute. The proposed order sought vacation of the order granting summary judgment and denial of the motion for summary judgment. The memorandum of points and authorities restated the procedural facts and the argument that the federal remand order rendered moot appellee's motion for summary judgment insofar as it was based on issues involving the collective bargaining agreement between the parties. The memorandum also responded to appellee's claim that appellants had failed to exhaust their internal remedies.8 At the hearing appellants claimed their motion was filed under Rule 60(b)(1) because they were seeking reconsideration on the basis of a mistake of fact. As appellants described the mistake of fact to Judge Doyle, it arose from (1) confusion about what was left to respond to in appellee's motion for summary judgment after appellee filed, on October 20, 1982, a motion to strike portions of the complaint, under Super.Ct.Civ.R. 12-I(e) (which appellants opposed), and (2) because the remand order had disposed of some of the issues raised in appellee's motion for summary judgment.

We conclude that the relief sought by appellants, if timely, was properly made pursuant to Rule 59(e).9 This court has described the difference between Rule 59(e) and Rule 60(b) motions in terms of whether, for the first time, the movant is requesting consideration of additional circumstances; if so, the motion is properly considered under Rule 60(b), but if the movant is seeking relief from the adverse consequences of the original order on the basis of error of law, the motion is properly considered under Rule 59(e). Coleman v. Lee Washington Hauling Co., supra note 5, 388 A.2d at 46 & n. 5 (citing 9 MooRE's FEDERAL PRACTICE, ¶ 204.12[1] at 953); Cohen v. Holmes, 106 A.2d 147, 148 (D.C. 1954) (Rule 59(e) motion does not permit alteration of the judgment or order because of an improper factual basis). The focus of appellants' argument for reconsideration was on the effects of the federal remand order and the motion to strike. The basis of the motion for reconsideration, therefore, was a mistake of law by appellants' counsel. While an error of this kind will rarely warrant relief,10 courts which have granted relief for errors of law by counsel have done so under both Rule 59(e) and Rule 60(b).11 Because the two rules overlap, 11 WRIGHT & MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 2817 (1973 & Supp. 1983), it is not always clear whether a particular motion properly constitutes a Rule 59(e) or a Rule 60(b) motion. The approach of the federal courts, consistent with the policy of liberal construction of the rules, has generally been to consider a motion which is proper under either rule as made pursuant to Rule 59(e) if timely filed under that rule, see, Coleman v. Lee Washington Hauling Co., supra, 388 A.2d at 46-47 n. 5 (permitting the court to reach the merits of the underlying judgment),12 and under Rule 60(b) if not timely filed under Rule 59(e) (permitting the court at least to consider the denial of the motion to reconsider).13 Because we find, consistent with Coleman that the motion was properly to be considered under Rule 59(e) and it was, for reasons set forth below, timely filed under Rule 59(e), we treat it as a Rule 59(e) motion for purposes of this appeal.

Timeliness: Rules 59(e) and 6(e).

Appellants' motion for reconsideration was filed fourteen days after the entry of the summary judgment. Rule 59(e) requires the motion to be filed "10 days after entry of judgment."14 However, Rule 6(e) provides that "[w]henever a party has the right or is required to do some act or take some proceedings within a prescribed period after the service of a notice or some other paper upon him and the notice or paper is served upon him by mail, three days shall be added to the prescribed period."15

In United Retail Cleaners & Tailors Ass'n of D.C. v. Denahan, 44 A.2d 69, 70 (D.C. 1945), this court held that

a reading of the rules as a whole requires that when finding is made out of the presence of counsel or parties, notice of such action shall be given by mail, and that in such a situation the time for filing a motion for new trial is by Rule 6(e) enlarged by one day. [Rule 6(e) provided for an extension of one day at that time].

See also Graves v. Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co., supra, 151 A.2d at 261 (applying Rule 6(e) to add an additional day when findings entered out of presence of parties, relying on United Retail Cleaners & Tailors Ass'n, supra). The motion in United Retail Cleaners & Tailors Ass'n, supra, was for rehearing or new trial filed under Rule 52(a), now Rule 59(b). The court explained its rationale for applying Rule 6(e) when a judgment is rendered out of the presence of the parties as follows:

It seems evident to us that the rules of the trial court intend that a party shall have four days [now 10 days] after verdict or finding in which to decide whether to file a motion for new trial and to prepare such motion if decision reached is in the affirmative. If appellant's position is correct [that Rule 6(e) does not apply to a motion for a new trial], then in this case and similar cases the period for filing the motion for new trial would be reduced to three days; and we do not think that the rules intended that where the finding is made in open court the parties shall have four days, and where decision is reserved and notice is sent by mail the parties shall have only three days for filing their motion. There is no basis in reason for such discrimination. It would not be reasonable to require that when a case is taken under advisement the parties must on every day thereafter check the records of court to find if action has been taken, in order that they may have the full four days contemplated by the rules.

44 A.2d at 70.


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