United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
JAMES D. CORNETT, Plaintiff,
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, et al.,
ORDER AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE
M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
James D. Cornett filed a pro se complaint on May 22,
2017, alleging that he was discharged because of his race in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Doc.
1. On June 28, 2017, Defendants Alabama Department of
Transportation, Alabama State Personnel Department, and
Department of Corrections moved to dismiss Cornett's
complaint, arguing that he failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies and failed to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. Doc. 12.
court ordered Cornett to respond to Defendants' motion to
dismiss by July 12, 2017. Doc. 16. On June 30, 2017, Cornett
responded by filing what the court interpreted to be a motion
for voluntary dismissal. Doc. 20. As a result, on July 5,
2017, the court dismissed this matter without prejudice. Doc.
24, 2017, Cornett filed a response to the court's July 5,
2017 judgment, explaining that he did not recall moving to
dismiss his claims and that he would like to proceed with his
lawsuit. Doc. 22. The next day, Cornett also filed a motion
to postpone further litigation until he could return to his
teaching position and hire a lawyer. Doc. 23. On January 2,
2018, Cornett's post-judgment motions (Docs. 22 & 23)
were referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge for consideration and disposition or recommendation as
may be appropriate. Doc. 24.
January 11, 2018, the undersigned denied Cornett's motion
to continue to the extent he requested a general stay of the
case until he could return to his teaching job and hire an
attorney. Doc. 25. The court also denied Cornett's motion
to the extent he sought legal advice from the court. Doc. 25.
However, to the extent Cornett's motion requested to set
aside the voluntary dismissal of his lawsuit, the court
ordered Defendants to show cause why that motion should not
be granted by January 22, 2018. Doc. 25. Defendants filed a
timely response arguing that the voluntary dismissal of
Cornett's complaint should not be set aside for the
reasons stated in Defendants' previously filed motion to
dismiss. Doc. 26.
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides a party with
an avenue to seek relief “from a final judgment, order,
or proceeding” based on, among other things,
“mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable
neglect” or “any other reason that justifies
relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1) & (6). Viewing the
record of this case as a whole, it is now apparent that
Cornett did not intend to request the dismissal of his
claims. Most importantly, Cornett has now filed a pleading
unequivocally stating that he “would like to proceed
with this action” and “do[es] not recall filing
for a motion to dismiss [his] claim.” Doc. 22 at 1-2.
these representations as indicative of Cornett's true
intent, the undersigned has reviewed the pleading originally
interpreted as a motion for voluntary dismissal. Doc. 20.
With fresh eyes, the undersigned finds that Cornett's
motion is better construed as a specific response to the
court's order allowing him to proceed in forma
pauperis. That Order, which issued on June 2, 2017,
advised Cornett of the limited nature of his in forma
pauperis status and his responsibility for future
litigation expenses. See Doc. 6. In this light, the
undersigned finds that Cornett's references in the motion
for voluntary dismissal to “financial matters”
and a desire “to withdraw my request” were likely
intended to refer to his in forma pauperis
application rather than his complaint. See Doc. 20.
course, the lack of clarity in Cornett's motion was the
source of the court's confusion and, ultimately, the
reason a judgment was inadvertently entered against him. But
“‘Rule 60(b) motions are directed to the sound
discretion of the district court, '” Davis v.
Markley, 2014 WL 12650929, at *1 (N.D.Ga. Aug. 12, 2014)
(quoting Cheney v. Anchor Glass Container Corp., 71
F.3d 848, 849 n.2 (11th Cir. 1996)), and “Rule 60(b) is
to be given a liberal and remedial construction.”
Nisson v. Lundy, 975 F.2d 802, 807 (11th Cir. 1992).
The undersigned finds that Cornett has made a sufficient
showing under Rule 60(b)(1) to set aside the dismissal of his
lawsuit based upon mistake or inadvertence. To the extent
Rule 60(b)(1) is limited to mistakes or inadvertence in the
court's application of law, the undersigned finds that
Cornett has still made a sufficient showing under the
catchall provision of Rule 60(b)(6) to set aside the
dismissal of his lawsuit.
for these reasons, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that:
1. Cornett's motion to set aside the court's July 5,
2017 dismissal and final judgment (Doc. 23) be GRANTED, that
the July 5, 2017 final judgment be SET ASIDE, and that this
lawsuit be allowed to proceed; and
2. Cornett's motion for voluntary dismissal (Doc. 20) be
CONSTRUED as a Motion to Vacate the Court's Order of June
2, 2017 (Doc. 6) and a Motion to Withdraw Cornett's
Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (Doc. 2), with
both motions remaining pending and will be addressed in the
event this recommendation is adopted.
further ORDERED that Cornett's motion to reconsider the
court's January 11, 2018 order (Doc. 27) is DENIED.
effort to avoid similar confusion in the future, Cornett is
reminded that he is obligated to follow the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure, which can be accessed free of charge on the
court's website at www.almd.uscourts.gov. Any
motion filed with the court must be captioned with the
court's name, a title, and a file number. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 7(b)(2) & 10(a). A motion must also
clearly state the relief sought. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
7(1)(1)(C). Cornett also is instructed not to mail filings
directly to the undersigned's chambers; rather, any
future filings should be addressed and mailed directly to the
Clerk of Court.
the parties are ORDERED to file any objections to the report
and recommendation no later than February 28,
2018. Any objections filed must specifically
identify the findings in the Magistrate Judge's report
and recommendation to which the party is objecting.
Frivolous, conclusive, or general objections will not be
considered by the district court. The parties are advised