United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Spartanburg Division
Jane Doe, Mother Doe, Father Doe, Plaintiffs: Scott F Talley,
LEAD ATTORNEY, Talley Law Firm, Spartanburg, SC USA; Shane
William Rogers, William Douglas Smith, LEAD ATTORNEYS,
Johnson Smith Hibbard and Wildman, Spartanburg, SC USA.
Spartanburg County School District Three, Jim Ray, Todd E
Hardy, SR, Defendants: Andrea E White, LEAD ATTORNEY, Duff
Turner White and Boykin, Columbia, SC USA; Jeffrey C Kull,
LEAD ATTORNEY, Murphy and Grantland, Columbia, SC USA.
M. Herlong, Jr., Senior United States District Judge.
matter is before the court on Jane Doe, Mother Doe, and
Father Doe's (collectively, the " Does" )
motion to alter or amend, or in the alternative, reconsider
judgment pursuant to Rules 59(e) or 60(b)(1) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. After a thorough review, the
Does' motion is denied.
Factual and Procedural Background
facts of this action are fully set forth in the court's
previous order on August 19, 2015, and are incorporated
herein. (Aug. 19, 2015 Order, ECF No. 10.) The instant motion
concerns an offer of judgment by Spartanburg County School
District Three (the " District" ) that was
subsequently accepted by the Does and entered into the record
by the court. By letter dated September 3, 2015, counsel for
the Defendants presented the Does with an offer of judgment
pursuant to Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
(Pl. Notice of Acceptance Ex. 1 (Offer of Judgment), ECF No.
16-1.) On September 21, 2015, the Does filed a notice of
acceptance of this offer of judgment. (Id., ECF No.
16.) The next day, the court entered an amended judgment in
favor of the Does having " accepted Defendant
Spartanburg County School District Three's Offer of
Judgment." (Am. Judg., ECF No. 19.) Three motions were
filed concerning this entry of judgment. First, the Does
filed a motion for attorneys' fees on September 21, 2015.
(Pl. Mot. Attorneys' Fees, ECF No. 17.) Second, counsel
for the Defendants filed a motion to bifurcate regarding the
Does' motion for attorneys' fees on September 30,
2015. (Def. Mot. Bifurcate, ECF No. 21.) Third and finally,
counsel for the Defendants also filed a motion to vacate or,
in the alternative, alter or amend judgment on October 8,
2015. (Def. Mot. Vacate, ECF No. 24.) On November 10, 2015, a
hearing was held on all three motions, and the motion to
vacate was denied and the motion for attorneys' fees and
motion to bifurcate were dismissed as moot. The court found
that the offer was not ambiguous and was a valid and
enforceable offer of judgment. The instant motion to alter or
amend, or in the alternative, reconsider judgment on the
motion for attorneys' fees was filed on December 8, 2015.
(Pl. Mot. Alter/Amend, ECF No. 33.) The Defendants filed a
response on December 23, 2015. (Def. Resp. Opp'n Mot.
Alter/Amend, ECF No. 34.) On January 4, 2016, the Does
replied. (Pl. Reply, ECF No. 35.) This matter is now ripe for
Standard of Review
Fourth Circuit has recognized that there are three grounds
for amending an earlier judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: " (1) to
accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to
account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to
correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest
injustice." P. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat. Fire Ins.
Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998). " In
general reconsideration of a judgment after its entry is an
extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly."
Id. (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
Alternatively, Rule 60(b)(1) provides grounds for relief from
an order for the following reasons: " mistake,
inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect."
Discussion of Law
Does request that the court alter or amend its judgment on
their motion for attorneys' fees in order to correct a
clear " error of law." (Pl. Mot. Alter/Amend 2, ECF
No. 33.) The Does contend an error of law was committed in
the court's interpretation of the offer of judgment based
on two separate grounds, which will be addressed in turn.
Offers of judgment are governed by Rule 68 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides in relevant part:
[(a)] At least 14 days before the date set for trial, a party
defending against a claim may serve on an opposing party an
offer to allow judgment on specified terms, with the costs
then accrued. . . . [(d)] If the judgment that the offeree
finally obtains is not more favorable than the unaccepted
offer, the offeree must pay the costs incurred after the
offer was made.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 68(a), (d).
Does first argue that the offer of judgment is ambiguous, and
therefore the ambiguity should be construed against the
offeror. (Pl. Mot. Alter/Amend 6, ECF No. 33.) As a general
proposition, an ambiguous Rule 68 offer of judgment should be
construed against the offeror. Bosley v. Mineral Cty.
Comm'n,650 F.3d 408, 414 (4th Cir. 2011) ("
Because the Rule 68 offeree does not have the luxury of
refusing the offer to assure that she has not bound herself
to any terms that may later become unfavorable, she may
construe the offer's terms strictly, and ambiguities in
the offer are to be resolved against the offeror." )
(internal citations omitted); First Fin. Ins. Co. v.
Hammons,58 Fed.Appx. 31, 2003 WL 264700, at *2 ...