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Tufts v. Medtronic Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

October 27, 2017

Carol Ann Tufts, Plaintiff,
Medtronic, Inc. and Medtronic USA, Inc., Defendants.


         This matter is before the court on Plaintiff Carol Tufts' (“Plaintiff”) and Defendants Medtronic, Inc. and Medtronic USA, Inc.'s (“Defendants”) Consent Motion to Amend/Alter (“Consent Motion”) the court's March 21, 2017 Judgment (ECF No. 20). (ECF No. 25.) For the reasons stated below, the court GRANTS the Motion.


         On March 11, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) because her claims were allegedly preempted by federal law. (ECF No. 5.) On March 21, 2017, the court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss with prejudice. (ECF No. 19.) The court's Order noted that Plaintiff had failed to secure replacement counsel (see ECF Nos. 13, 14) and had failed to respond to the Motion to Dismiss but, nonetheless, proceeded to decide the Motion on the merits. (Id.) On the same day, the court entered judgment in favor of Defendants in accordance with the Order. (ECF No. 20.) On June 5, 2016, the parties jointly filed a Consent Motion to Amend/Alter the judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60. (ECF No. 22.) On June 12, 2017, the court filed a Text Order denying the Consent Motion without prejudice for failure to “sufficiently [ ] address the standards for granting Rule 60(b) relief” and because of the “courts [inability] to determine that [amendment/alteration] is warranted for the single, undeveloped reason offered by the parties.” (ECF No. 23.) The parties refiled their Consent Motion to Amend/Alter Judgment on September 27, 2017, with a Memorandum in Support. (ECF Nos. 25, 25-1.)


         Plaintiff filed her initial Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Aiken County (South Carolina), and Defendants removed the case to this court. (ECF Nos. 1, 1-1.) The court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 as complete diversity exists between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. (ECF No. 1 at 3-6 ¶¶ 8-19.) See also (ECF Nos. 1-1 at 7 ¶¶ 1-3.)


         "[B]efore a party may seek relief under Rule 60(b), a party first must show timeliness, a meritorious defense, a lack of unfair prejudice to [any] opposing party, and exceptional circumstances.[1] After a party has crossed this initial threshold, he then must satisfy one of the six specific sections of Rule 60(b)." Dowell v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Auto. Ins. Co., 993 F.2d 46, 48 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing Werner v. Carbo, 731 F.2d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 1984)). A court may relieve a party from a final judgment under Rule 60(b) for the following reasons: “(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) 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; or (6) any other reason that justifies relief.” A motion under this rule must be made within a reasonable time, and relief under reasons (1), (2), and (3) is not available after one year from the entry of the judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(c)(1).

         To obtain relief under Rule 60(b)(1), a party must demonstrate inter alia that he was not at fault and that the non-moving party will not be prejudiced by the relief from judgment. Home Port Rentals, Inc. v. Ruben, 957 F.2d 126, 132 (4th Cir. 1992).

         Relief under Rule 60(b)(6) requires a showing of “extraordinary circumstances.” Aikens v. Ingram, 652 F.3d 496, 510 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Valero Terrestrial Corp. v. Paige, 211 F.3d 112, 118 n.2 (4th Cir. 2000)). Rule 60(b)(6) provides a “grand reservoir of equitable power to do justice in a particular case.” Eberhardt v. Integrated Design & Const., Inc., 167 F.3d 861, 872 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Compton v. Alton S.S. Co., 608 F.2d 96, 106-07 (4th Cir. 1979)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         As to the threshold requirements for relief under Rule 60(b), the court's Order and Judgment were filed on March 21, 2017 (ECF Nos. 19, 20), and the Consent Motion was timely filed on September 27, 2017. (ECF No. 25.) Secondly, the parties assert that “. . . Plaintiff, if given the opportunity to amend her Complaint, would present a meritorious defense[2] to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.” (ECF No. 25-1 at 4.)[3] Lastly, as to the lack of unfair prejudice to an opposing party, the parties have joined in a Consent Motion and agree that the Judgment dismissing Plaintiff's case should be amended to dismissal without prejudice, in contemplation of her joining a broader group of cases involving Defendants. (Id. at 4.) The parties assert that “neither party will be prejudiced by this amendment.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff's original counsel's Motion to Withdraw was granted on December 16, 2016, and the court gave Plaintiff ninety (90) days to secure new counsel. (ECF No. 14.) The court's March 21, 2017 Order granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss noted that Plaintiff had not secured new counsel, as there was no record of Plaintiff's alleged new attorney making an appearance in the case. (ECF No. 19 at 1-2.) Moreover, Plaintiff signed the Consent Motion as a pro se plaintiff. (ECF 25-1 at 7.) However, the parties assert that Plaintiff retained a new lawyer, and when this occurred, negotiations began with both parties contemplating a dismissal of the case without prejudice in return for tolling the statute of limitations (“Tolling Agreement”). (Id. at 1.)

         The Consent Motion is brought under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1) and (b)(6). (Id. at 2.) As to Rule 60(b)(1), the parties argue that there has been “excusable neglect” in that they “. . . [made an oversight and] failed to file the Tolling Agreement [and renewed motion to dismiss] before the court . . . entered an Order of dismissal with prejudice[.]” (Id. at 4.) Under Rule 60(b)(1), a party must demonstrate that he, she, or it is not at fault, and both parties admitted to making an oversight in not filing the Tolling Agreement and renewed motion to dismiss. See Home Port Rentals, Inc., 957 F.2d at 132. In addition, neither party notified the court of any impending settlement agreements or moved to stay the court's judgment on the Motion to Dismiss until the agreement was completed.

         The parties' attorneys neglected to inform the court about their negotiations or other progress in the case. See Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship,507 U.S. 380, 388 (1993) (“[t]he word [neglect] therefore encompasses both simple, faultless omissions to act and, more commonly, omissions caused by carelessness.”) This neglect is not excusable, however, because “a lawyer's [ ] carelessness do[es] not present cognizable grounds for relief under [Rule] 60(b)[.]” Evans v. United Life & Accident Insurance Co., 871 F.2d 466, 472 (4th Cir. 1989) (citing Universal Film Exchanges, Inc. v. Lust, 479 F.2d 573, 576-577 (4th Cir. 1973); see also Robinson v. Wix Filtration Corp. LLC,599 F.3d 403, 413 (4th Cir. 2010) (“[a] party that fails to act with diligence will ...

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