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Gleason v. Jandrucko

decided: November 1, 1988.

THOMAS A. GLEASON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN JANDRUCKO, RICHARD SPOTA, AND VILLAGE OF NORTH TARRYTOWN, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Pierre N. Leval, Judge), dismissing plaintiff-appellant's complaint to set aside a judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Oakes, Miner, and Altimari, Circuit Judges.

Author: Altimari

ALTIMARI, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-appellant Thomas Gleason appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Leval, J.) dismissing plaintiff's complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In his complaint filed on August 23, 1986, plaintiff sought to vacate a prior judgment of the district court, dated July 28, 1984, ordering a voluntary dismissal with prejudice of a prior action brought by him against defendants-appellees and others. In the prior action, Gleason alleged that he had been wrongfully arrested for an armed bank robbery in Nassau County by police officers of defendant-appellee Village of North Tarrytown and Nassau County, and that the arrest constituted a deprivation of his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983, 1985. Following settlement of the prior litigation, plaintiff instituted the instant action claiming that the stipulation of voluntary dismissal "so ordered" by the district court was procured through perjury and fraudulent withholding of evidence. Specifically, Gleason alleged that during discovery in the underlying proceeding, two Nassau County detectives had perjured themselves at their depositions and intentionally had concealed relevant evidence, thereby inducing plaintiff to enter into the stipulation. Because we agree with the district court that subsequently discovered evidence of perjury by a witness and nondisclosure does not support a finding of "fraud upon the court" as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) in order to set aside a judgment, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Thomas Gleason, an unsuccessful candidate in 1977 for mayor of the Village of North Tarrytown who subsequently became an outspoken critic of the village's government and in particular its police department, was arrested on February 6, 1979 in connection with an armed bank robbery which had occurred in Nassau County, Long Island on December 15, 1978. The arrest was made by Nassau County police officers with the cooperation of then-North Tarrytown police officer, defendant-appellee Richard Spota, who, after viewing a photograph and description of the perpetrator, advised the Nassau County police that plaintiff resembled the suspect. Surveillance photographs of plaintiff were taken and a pre-arrest "photopack" was prepared and shown to two eyewitnesses of the bank robbery who picked out plaintiff's photograph and apparently indicated that Gleason could be the suspect. Nassau County police officers Walter Waring and Henry Klosowski thereupon travelled to North Tarrytown, met with Lieutenant Spota and then-Police Chief, defendant-appellee John Jandrucko, and arrested Gleason without a warrant at his home in North Tarrytown. Plaintiff was taken to Nassau County by Waring and Klosowski for further questioning. After being placed in a line up and submitting to a polygraph examination, Gleason was released and no charges against him were ever filed.

Plaintiff commenced the underlying action on January 27, 1982, alleging that he had been unlawfully arrested without a warrant and without probable cause and that defendants herein and others conspired to intimidate him through police misconduct because of his political activities. During discovery, Officers Waring and Klosowski testified that one of the two eyewitnesses to the bank robbery identified Gleason with 100 percent certainty while the other was 80 percent certain of Gleason's identity. Both officers also testified that the two eyewitnesses were 90 percent certain that Gleason was the robber after viewing the post-arrest line up. The parties thereafter cross-moved for summary judgment; both motions, however, were denied by the district court. Plaintiff's former counsel then initiated settlement discussions, culminating in a stipulation dismissing the action with prejudice in exchange for a waiver of any right defendants might have had to attorneys' fees, costs and sanctions. Judge Leval "so ordered" the voluntary stipulation.

On June 26, 1985, within a year after entry of judgment, plaintiff's new counsel moved under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1) to set aside the judgment on the grounds of "mistake, inadvertence, . . . [and] neglect." That motion was denied by the district court on January 9, 1986. Six months later, however, during discovery in connection with a pair of consolidated section 1983 actions involving other allegedly wrongful arrests of plaintiff by the North Tarrytown police, the eyewitnesses to the bank robbery provided Gleason's new counsel with sworn affidavits indicating that at the time they viewed the photopack of possible suspects, they were not at all certain that plaintiff was the robber. In addition, the two eyewitnesses averred that the photograph of Gleason was "fuzzy" and that when they later saw him in the line up, they were absolutely sure that he was not the person who robbed the bank.

As a result, plaintiff brought the instant action to set aside the prior judgment for "fraud upon the court" as contemplated under the saving clause of Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). See id. ("rule does not limit the power of a court to entertain an independent action . . . to set aside a judgment for fraud upon the court"). The complaint was based on the affidavits of the two eyewitnesses to the Nassau County bank robbery to the effect that Officers Waring and Klosowski had perjured themselves at their depositions. Plaintiff also contended that defendants had concealed evidence by conspiring to withhold the purported "fuzzy" photograph of plaintiff actually shown to the eyewitnesses. The gravamen of the complaint was that plaintiff was induced to enter into the stipulation of discontinuance as a consequence of a "fraud upon the court."

In a memorandum decision, the district court held that the alleged perjury and nondisclosure were intrinsic to the prior proceeding and therefore did not rise to the level of fraud on the court. Moreover, the court found that plaintiff's own lack of diligence in failing to depose the two eyewitnesses prior to voluntarily entering into the stipulation was insufficient to allow an independent action attacking the finality of a judgment. The district court accordingly granted defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

Discussion

Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a party to an action may by motion seek to vacate a judgment on the grounds of (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect, (2) newly discovered evidence, or (3) fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct of an adverse party, within one year of the entry of a final judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b).

Relief from a final judgment may also be obtained at any time by way of an independent action to set aside a judgment for "fraud upon the court." Id., and advisory committee note thereto ("under the saving clause, fraud may be urged as a basis for relief by independent action"). Although both clause (3) and the saving provision of Rule 60(b) provide for relief from a judgment on the basis of fraud, the type of fraud necessary to sustain an independent action attacking the finality of a judgment is narrower in scope than that which is sufficient for relief by timely motion. See Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. v. Hartford-Empire Co., 322 U.S. 238, 244-46, 88 L. Ed. 1250, 64 S. Ct. 997 (1944); Serzysko v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 461 F.2d 699, 702 (2d Cir.) (per curiam), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 883, 34 L. Ed. 2d 139, 93 S. Ct. 173 (1972); Dankese Eng'g, Inc. v. Ionics, Inc., 89 F.R.D. 154, 157-58 (D. Mass. 1981); see generally 7 J. Moore, Federal Practice para. 60.33, at 360-62 (2d ed. 1987). Indeed, "fraud upon the court" as distinguished from fraud on an adverse party is limited to fraud which seriously affects the integrity of the normal process of adjudication. See Kupferman v. Consolidated Research & Mfg. Corp., 459 F.2d 1072, 1078 (2d Cir. 1972); 7 Moore para. 60.33, at 360.

In Hazel-Atlas, the Supreme Court set aside a twelve-year old judgment on account of new evidence of a "deliberately planned and carefully executed scheme to defraud not only the Patent Office but [a] Circuit Court of Appeals" in order to obtain a patent. 322 U.S. at 245-46. The Hazel-Atlas Court explained that fraud on the court involves "far more than an injury to a single litigant" because it threatens the very integrity of the judiciary and the proper administration of justice. Id. at 246. Proof of a scheme to defraud together with the complicity of the offending party's lawyers in Hazel-Atlas was, in the Court's judgment, conclusive evidence of fraud on the court. However, the Supreme Court was careful to distinguish between the facts of the case before it and "a case of a judgment obtained [simply] with the aid of a witness who, on the basis of after-discovered evidence, is believed possibly to have been guilty of ...


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