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Monday, August 17, 2009

Ind. Decisions - Interesting procedural decision in Illinois case by Judge Tinder

In Eskridge v. Cook County (ND Ill.), a 9-page opinion, Judge Tinder writes:

After their daughter tragically died of pneumonia, Lanell and Margaret Eskridge sued two Chicago health care facilities for medical malpractice. The case developed into multiple actions in both Illinois and federal court, and, amid the procedural complexity, the Eskridges’ counsel made a critical error. In the federal district court, counsel obtained a voluntary dismissal order that effectively precluded the Eskridges from pursuing their lawsuit. The Eskridges moved for relief from that order under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), but the district court denied their motion. On appeal, the Eskridges face the formidable challenge of showing that the court abused its discretion in denying relief under Rule 60(b). We conclude that the Eskridges have not met this challenge. * * *

We do not say that the type of legal error that occurred here, based on the pitfalls of parallel federal and state lawsuits, could never justify relief under Rule 60(b). Cf. Arrieta v. Battaglia, 461 F.3d 861, 865 (7th Cir. 2006) (characterizing the voluntary dismissal of a federal habeas petition that could not be refiled as a “mistake” within the meaning of Rule 60(b)(1)). Even here, other “relevant circumstances” highlighted by the Eskridges, including their sunk litigation costs and interest in reaching the merits of their case, might have convinced a different district judge to excuse their counsel’s procedural error. See Webb, 147 F.3d at 622 (describing the equitable nature of relief under Rule 60(b)). * * *

Bottom line, the circumstances in support of the Eskridges’ Rule 60(b) motion were not so compelling that the district court abused its considerable discretion in denying relief. See Castro, 214 F.3d at 935 (Although “the circumstances of the present case may arguably constitute excusable neglect . . . they do not compel that conclusion.”); Webb, 147 F.3d at 622 (“The district court was not obliged to relieve [the defendant] of the burden of a unilateral mistake of law . . . .”). The court’s judgment is AFFIRMED.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 17, 2009 12:24 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions