The Lawletter Vol. 48 No. 1
Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a court to relieve a party from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for various reasons, including “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1). The U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal have had a “longstanding disagreement whether ‘mistake’ in Rule 60(b)(1) includes a judge’s errors of law.” Kemp v. United States, 142 S. Ct. 1856, 1861 & n.1, 213 L. Ed. 2d 90 (2022). Resolving that question in Kemp, the U.S. Supreme Court held, based on the text, structure, and history of Rule 60(b), that “a judge’s errors of law are indeed ‘mistake[s]’ under Rule 60(b)(1).” Id. at 1860. In so holding, the Supreme Court indicated that the term “mistake” in Rule 60(b)(1) should be given its broadest possible interpretation to include any mistake, including “all mistakes of law made by a judge.” Id. at 1862.
The Supreme Court specifically rejected the Government’s narrower reading of Rule 60(b)(1) in Kemp that the term “mistake” includes “only so-called ‘obvious’ legal errors.” Id. The Supreme Court’s decision sensibly spared the federal district courts from having “to decide not only whether there was a ‘mistake’ but also whether that mistake was sufficiently ‘obvious,’” since the plain language of Rule 60(b)(1) “does not support—let alone require—that judges engage in this sort of complex line-drawing.” Id. at 1863. Thus, the rule going forward could not be any simpler: relief from a final judgment or order may be granted under Rule 60(b)(1) based on a judge’s “mistakes,” including legal errors.Read More