Grasson v. Board of Education, Town of Orange
A decision to reinstate a complaint to the docket pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) may not qualify as an appealable "final order." The plaintiff, Robert Grasson, worked as a school bus driver and reached a contract with the defendant board of education to provide school bus transportation between July 2004 and June 2009. The board cancelled the contract in October 2007. Grasson sued the board and individual defendants, alleging that the defendants falsely implied that the contract was cancelled because he was a pedophile. Summary judgment was granted to the defendants. Grasson successfully moved to vacate the judgment, pursuant to F.R.C.P. 60(b). The District Court, Dorsey, J., wrote that the failure of plaintiff's counsel to file an opposition to the defendants' motion for summary judgment was "inexcusable," "unacceptable" and "indefensible." The defendants appealed to the 2nd Circuit. 28 United States Code §1291 provides appellate jurisdiction over "final decisions" of the District Court. "Final decisions" are decisions that end litigation on the merits. Here, the District Court's order did not end litigation on the merits. To the contrary, it ensured that litigation will continue in the District Court. As a result, it did not qualify as a "final order." The 2nd Circuit rejected the defendants' argument that an interlocutory appeal is permitted pursuant to Rinieri v. News Syndicate, a 1967 decision of the 2nd Circuit. In Rinieri, the 2nd Circuit wrote, "[T]he law is settled that if the District Court assumes jurisdiction and power to act under [Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)] where neither exists, an appeal will lie from its order vacating the original order." The 2nd Circuit distinguished Rinieri, because the District Court in Rinieri acted without any basis and completely disregarded the restrictions in Rule 60(b) when it reinstated the plaintiff's complaint nearly two-and-one-half years after it was dismissed for failure to prosecute. Here, in contrast, Grasson moved to vacate the decision to grant summary judgment within four months, and the trial court possessed the power to grant the motion, pursuant to Rule 60(b). The 2nd Circuit dismissed the defendants' appeal for lack of jurisdiction.