United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
K. DuBOSE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on the parties' joint motion
to vacate the Court's summary judgment and dismiss
Plaintiff's claims with prejudice. (Doc. 138).
case was initiated on April 14, 2015, as the simultaneous
criminal prosecution of the Defendant was ongoing.
Specifically, Plaintiff Arnita Diamond (Diamond) filed a
complaint alleging that Defendant Kimberly Hastie (Hastie)
unlawfully obtained, used and/or disclosed her personal
information (email address) from motor vehicle records in
violation of the Drivers' Privacy Protection
Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2721, et. seq. (DPPA)
(Count I) and in violation of her privacy rights under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II). (Docs. 1, 28, 36 (amended)).
In the criminal case, Hastie was ultimately convicted of
violating the DPPA "by disclosing the email addresses
collected by the License Commission to a political consulting
firm to tout Hastie's support for a mayoral
candidate." United States v. Hastie, 854 F.3d
1298, 1300 (11th Cir. 2017).
case, the civil case, the merits of Diamond's claims --
on review via a motion to dismiss, as a potential class
action (including an evidentiary hearing), on motion for
summary judgment, etc. -- were thoroughly and
substantively litigated. While the parties'
dispute over attorneys' fees was pending, on August 30,
2019, the parties filed a notice of settlement. On September
4, 2019, this case was dismissed with prejudice subject to
the right of any party to move to reinstate within 60 days.
(Doc. 137). On October 29, 2019, the parties moved to vacate
the summary judgment and dismiss Plaintiff's claims, as
part of the settlement agreement. (Doc. 138). As such, the
instant relief sought is for this Court to vacate the order
granting Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc.
121) and dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims with
to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b), a district court may “relieve a
party or a party's legal representative from a final
judgment, order, or proceeding” for a number of
reasons. While the movants do not assert any case law, much
less pursuant to what rule they seek to vacate the
Court's prior judgment (Rule 60(b) or otherwise), it
appears that the motion is filed under Rule
60(b)(6)for “any other reason that justifies
relief.” However, “[c]ourts are not obliged to
vacate a prior order at the behest of the parties in order to
facilitate settlement…if courts were required to
vacate prior rulings after settlement ‘any litigant
dissatisfied with a trial court's findings would be able
to have them wiped from the books.'” Reynolds
v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2012 WL 4753499, *1 (N.D. Cal.
Oct. 4, 2012). Additionally, even though a final judgment was
not entered -- such that this Court has the authority to
revisit its summary judgment rulings -- case law indicates that
the mere fact of a settlement is not necessarily a valid (or
exceptional) reason to vacate a Court's prior order. And
the decision to vacate a prior order once a settlement has
been reached remains discretionary.
Supreme Court has explained as follows, regarding the
propriety of a motion to vacate, noting the need for
We hold that mootness by reason of settlement does not
justify vacatur of a judgment under review. This is not to
say that vacatur can never be granted when mootness is
produced in that fashion. As we have described, the
determination is an equitable one, and exceptional
circumstances may conceivably counsel in favor of such a
course. It should be clear from our discussion, however, that
those exceptional circumstances do not include the mere fact
that the settlement agreement provides for vacatur-which
neither diminishes the voluntariness of the abandonment of
review nor alters any of the policy considerations we have
discussed. Of course even in the absence of, or before
considering the existence of, extraordinary circumstances, a
court of appeals presented with a request for vacatur of a
district-court judgment may remand the case with instructions
that the district court consider the request, which it may do
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b).
U.S. Bancorp Mortg. Co. v. Bonner Mall P'p, 513
U.S. 18, 29 (1994). The Eleventh Circuit in Hartford Cas.
Ins. Co. v. Crum & Forster Spec. Ins. Co., 828 F.3d
1331, 1334 (11th Cir. 2016) recently highlighted
the following from Bancorp:
…the Court laid out a balancing approach in the
“equitable tradition of vacatur.” Id. at
24- 25, 115 S.Ct. at 391-92. The “principal
condition” that must be determined “is whether
the party seeking relief from the judgment below caused the
mootness by voluntary action.” Id. at 24, 115
S.Ct. at 391. If so, that party should not be entitled to
relief because “the losing party has voluntarily
forfeited his legal remedy by the ordinary processes of
appeal or certiorari, ” as “the case stands no
differently than it would if jurisdiction were lacking
because the losing party failed to appeal at all.”
Id. at 25- 26, 115 S.Ct. at 392. Even if granting a
request for vacatur would be fair to the party opposing it
because “the parties are jointly responsible for
settling” and thus “may in some sense” be
thought to be “on even footing, ” the required
balancing “must also take account of the public
interest, ” as is true of any equitable remedy.
Id. at 26, 115 S.Ct. at 392. By “disturb[ing]
the orderly operation of the federal judicial system”
and using vacatur “as a refined form of collateral
attack on” unfavorable judgments, the public interest
would be disserved because “[j]udicial precedents are
presumptively correct and valuable to the legal community as
a whole.” Id. at 27, 115 S.Ct. at 392
(quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court concluded
its analysis by reiterating the equitable nature of its
adopted approach and declined to impose a bright-line rule
against vacatur in all cases mooted by settlement because
there may be “exceptional circumstances” that
would warrant vacatur. Id. at 29, 115 S.Ct. at 393.
The Court cautioned that “those exceptional
circumstances do not include the mere fact that the
settlement agreement provides for vacatur.”
the foregoing in mind, the Court finds as follows. The
parties failed to cite any case law supporting vacatur under
the present circumstances, much less allege or establish
"extraordinary circumstances" justifying vacatur.
Moreover, the Court finds that the equitable remedy of
vacatur is not available under the circumstances of this
case, particularly as “[t]he fact that a party
conditions a settlement on achieving vacatur does not by
itself provide the needed equitable circumstances. Such a
rule would essentially remove the decision from the court and
hand it to the parties, in violation of the U.S.
Bancorp rule.” In re Admetric Biochem,
Inc., 300 B.R. 141, 148 (Bkrtcy. D. Mass. 2003).
Further, as to the public interest concerns, this case was
rooted in same (violations of privacy rights), and
the parties “rolled the dice” with respect to the
motion for summary judgment; thus, to the extent they now
endeavor to change the outcome via settlement, vacatur
(versus, for example, an appeal) is an improper vehicle for
such relief. Bancorp, 513 U.S. at 26, 28. See,
e.g., In re Hiller, 179 B.R. 253, 259-260
(Bankr. D. Colo. 1994).
on the foregoing, it is ORDERED that the
Joint Motion to Vacate (Doc. 138) is DENIED.