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Trujillo v. Williams

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

November 27, 2018

JOE WILLIAMS, Corrections Secretary, New Mexico Correctional Department, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Vacate or Modify September 30, 2011 Postage Plan Order (doc. 163) and the attendant briefing (docs. 167, 169). Because Defendants have failed to satisfy the standards of Rule 60(b) and, in the alternative, because their motion is not timely filed under Rule 60(c), I RECOMMEND that the Court DENY Defendants' Motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint in this case on June 4, 2004. Doc. 1. However, the relevant procedural history begins in 2011, when Plaintiff's only remaining claim was that he had been denied access to the courts. Doc. 120 at 1. The Court adopted the Report and Recommendations of Magistrate Judge Schneider (doc. 105) in finding that “charging [Plaintiff] for postage to send requests for legal materials violate[d] his access to the Courts.” Doc. 120 at 2. Unlike inmates housed in New Mexico, Plaintiff, who was (and still remains) incarcerated in Virginia pursuant to the Interstate Corrections Compact, had to pay postage in order to mail requests for legal materials or file grievances with the New Mexico Correctional Department (“NMCD”). Id. Accordingly, the Court ordered Defendants to develop a plan which would “enable Plaintiff to send requests for legal materials and grievances to the NMCD at no expense to himself.” Id.

         Defendants subsequently filed a Plan to Allow Postage Free Legal Request by Plaintiff to NMCD, proposing to provide Plaintiff with three standard business envelopes, stamped and addressed to NMCD, and to provide Plaintiff with a new stamped and pre-addressed envelope in any response or reply sent to Plaintiff. Doc. 121. The Court adopted this plan by Order on September 30, 2011. Doc. 129.

         On August 4, 2016, Plaintiff moved to reopen the case and find Defendants in contempt of the Order Adopting Postage Plan. Doc. 147. The Court denied the motion to reopen the case, finding that Plaintiff had not made the necessary showing under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Doc. 153 at 4. However, it granted Plaintiff's motion to enforce the September 30, 2011 Order. Id. at 5 (“The Court finds that Defendants have not complied with the Court's September 30, 2011 Order[1] and will impose a civil-contempt sanction.”). Defendants, rather than denying that they had failed to comply or claiming that compliance was impossible, instead argued that they should be relieved from compliance. Id. Defendants were directed to file a separate motion if they wished to be relieved. Id. at 6.

         Defendants filed the instant Motion and now argue that the Order Adopting Postage Plan should be vacated because (1) changing conditions make compliance “progressively more onerous”; (2) unforeseen obstacles have arisen to compliance with the plan; (3) enforcement of the current plan is detrimental to the public interest; and (4) it is an “extraordinary circumstance relative to the ordinary course of prison administration, that poses an extreme and unexpected hardship.” Doc. 163 at 5-6. They urge the Court to vacate or modify the 2011 Postage Plan under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5) or 60(b)(6). Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Court entered a Final Judgment in this case in 2011. Doc. 130. Defendants consequently request relief under Rule 60, which governs “Relief from a Judgment or Order.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60. Specifically, they argue that the Order should be vacated or modified under Rule 60(b)(5) or Rule 60(b)(6). Doc. 163 at 5-6. Relief under Rule 60(b)(5) is properly granted where “the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(5). Rule 60(b)(6) allows the Court to grant relief from a final judgment for, broadly, “any other reason that justifies relief.” Fed R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). Generally, relief under Rule 60(b) is “extraordinary and may only be granted in exceptional circumstances.” Servants of the Paraclete v. Does, 204 F.3d 1005, 1009 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation and citation omitted).

         A. Rule 60(b) Modification

         A party seeking modification under Rule 60(b)(5) “bears the burden of showing that ‘a significant change in either factual conditions or in law' warrants revision of the decree.” Jackson v. Los Lunas Cmty. Program, 880 F.3d 1176, 1194 (10th Cir. 2018) (quoting Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk County Jail, 502 U.S. 367, 384 (1992)). Changed factual circumstances may justify relief from a final judgment where (1) the changed circumstances make compliance “substantially more onerous, ” (2) “unforeseen obstacles” render the decree “unworkable, ” or (3) “enforcement of the decree without modification would be detrimental to the public interest.” Id. (quoting Rufo, 502 U.S. at 384-85). Additionally, relief is “no longer equitable” where, owing to changed circumstances, “ongoing enforcement of the original order” is no longer “supported by an ongoing violation of federal law.” Horne v. Flores, 557 U.S. 433, 454 (2009).

         Importantly, Rule 60(b)(5) does not allow parties simply to relitigate a closed case. It “may not be used to challenge the legal conclusions on which a prior judgment or order rests, but…provides a means by which a party can ask a court to modify or vacate a judgment or order if [there is] ‘a significant change either in factual conditions or in law.'” Id. at 447 (quoting Rufo, 502 U.S. at 384). The moving party “need not show that a change in fact was both unforeseen and unforeseeable.” Jackson, 880 F.3d at 1194 (citing Rufo, 502 U.S. at 385). However, the foreseeability of the change in factual conditions is not irrelevant:

If it is clear that a party anticipated changing conditions that would make performance of the decree more onerous but nevertheless agreed to the decree, that party would have to satisfy a heavy burden to convince a court that it agreed to the decree in good faith, made a reasonable effort to comply with the decree, and should be relieved of the undertaking under Rule 60(b).

Rufo, 502 U.S. at 385. The burden is on the moving party to establish the existence of changed circumstances and show that they warrant relief. Horne, 557 U.S. at 447. Once it has met this burden, however, a district court abuses its discretion in denying the Rule 60(b) motion. Id.

         Rule 60(b)(6), which permits the court to modify a final judgment for “any other reason that justifies relief, ” is “exclusive of the other enumerated subsections of Rule 60(b), ‘is even more difficult to attain[, ] and is appropriate only when it offends justice to deny such relief.'” Saggiani v. Strong, 718 Fed.Appx. 706, 712 (10th Cir. 2018) (unpublished) (quoting Zurich N. Am. V. Matrix Serv., Inc., 426 F.3d 1281, 1293 (10th Cir. 2005)).

         B. Rule 60(c) Timeliness

         Rule 60(c) requires Rule 60(b) motions to be brought “within a reasonable time.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(c)(1). There is no explicit time limit applicable to motions under Rules 60(b)(5) and 60(b)(6). However, a party that delays filing a Rule 60(b) motion “must offer sufficient justification for the delay.” Myzer v. Bush, 2018 U.S. App. 2018 WL 4368189 at *3 (10th Cir. Sept. 13, 2018) (unpublished) (quoting Cummings v. Gen. Motors Corp., 365 F.3d 944, 955 (10th Cir. 2004)). Courts have consistently held that lengthy, unjustified delays constitute sufficient reason for denial of a Rule 60(b) motion. See Thompson v. Workman, 372 Fed.Appx. 858, 861 (10th Cir. 2010) (unpublished) (unexplained eight-year delay in filing Rule 60(b) motion was not reasonable); West v. Champion, 363 Fed.Appx. 660, 664-65 (10th Cir. 2010) (unpublished) (delay of more than eight years was not reasonable where movant provided the court with no justification for the delay); United States v. Green, 318 Fed.Appx. 652, 654 (10th Cir. 2009) (unpublished) (delay of almost seven years made Rule 60(b)(6) motion untimely); Sorbo v. UPS, 432 F.3d 1169, 1177 (10th Cir. 2005) (upholding district court determination that ...

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