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Crowe v. Ragnar Benson Inc.

August 13, 1962


Author: Kalodner

Before McLAUGHLIN, KALODNER and HASTIE, Circuit Judges.

KALODNER, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal by the plaintiff, William A.Crowe, Trading as William A. Crowe Company, from an Order of the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, vacating a default judgment in his favor in the amount of $35,603.37 against the defendant, Ragnar Benson, Inc., in a suit to recover for services performed under a contract between plaintiff and defendant in connection with the cosntruction of the Gateway Park Garage, Gateway Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The complaint in this suit was filed on June 6, 1960. There followed a telephone conversation and an exchange of letters between plaintiff's counsel and defendant's counsel in which the former agreed to consent to a reasonable extension of time for the filing of an answer. Defendant's counsel was to prepare the necessary order for submission to the Court. The proposed order was never prepared. On December 29, 1960, the Clerk of the Court directly notified defendant by letter that the case would be called for trial in January or February, 1961. During this period defendant's counsel was unable to devote full attention to his practice because of serious illnesses of his mother and his wife. On February 13, 1961, no appearance having been entered by counsel for defendant and no answer having been filed, the Clerk of the Court entered judgment by default pursuant to plaintiff's application to do so. On September 8, 1961, following the issuance of a writ of execution on August 31 and the commencement of garnishment proceedings against defendant's bank accounts, defendant's counsel filed a motion to vacate the default judgment under Rule 60(b), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., and to stay the garnishment proceedings. had on the previous day, the District Court entered an Order granting defendant's motion to vacate the default judgment and terminating the garnishment proceedings conditioned upon defendant's payment to plaintiff's counsel of the sum of $750.00 within 24 hours. The Order further directed defendant to file an answer to plaintiff's complaint by September 18 and fixed November 13 for a pretrial conference.

On September 13 defendant's counsel sent his check for $750.00 to plaintiff's counsel. On September 14 plaintiff's counsel advised the Clerk of the District Court of his receipt of the aforementioned check.*fn1 On September 18, the Clerk, pursuant to the terms of the District Court's Order, vacated the default judgment entered February 13, 1961. On September 26 plaintiff appealed. Subsequently, on November 13, the District Court entered an Order postponing until after disposition of plaintiff's appeal the pre-trial conference earlier fixed for that day. In this Order, the District Court stated that defendant's motion under Rule 60(b) had been granted stated that defendant's motion under Rule 60(b) and been granted "for the reason that the Court was of the view that since negotiations had previously been conducted by counsel for the parties and since counsel on behalf of the plaintiff knew of the identity of defendant's counsel and nevertheless proceeded to secure default judgment without apprising a fellow member of the bar of said fact or failing to have notice given to him through the United States Clerk of Courts, it was my judgment that the interests of justice required that said default judgment be lifted."

On this appeal plaintiff contends that the District Court (1) abused its discretion in vacating the default judgment and (2) acted arbitrarily in denying plaintiff an opportunity to answer defendant's motion under oath*fn2 and in failing to comply with its Local Rule providing that a motion filed on or before the third Wednesday of the month was to be heard by the miscellaneous judge during the following month.

In reply, defendant says that the District Court's Order vacating the default judgment is interlocutory and therefore not appealable. It further urges that the District Court did not abuse its discretion or act arbitrarily and that the Local Rule relied on by plaintiff was not applicable in view of the emergency situation created by the garnishment proceedings.

At the outset, it should be noted that plaintiff does not contend that the District Court acted beyond its jurisdiction in vacating the default judgment as was the case in Demeretz v. Daniels Motor Freight, Inc., 307 F.2d 469 (3d Cir. 1962). Plaintiff asserts only that there was an abuse of discretion and certain procedural irregularities. With respect to these contentions, we need only say that we do not reach them since the Order of the District Court vacating the default judgment is a nonappealable interlocutory order, and accordingly we are without jurisdiction to entertain this appeal. United States v. Agne, 161 F.2d 331 (3d Cir. 1947).*fn3

Plaintiff requests that we treat the appeal as a petition for writ of mandamus or prohibition if we consider the Order nonappealable. Assuming, arguendo, that an appeal may be so treated, we are of the opinion that the use of the writ is inappropriate here. It is settled that "the extraordinary writs cannot be used as substitutes for appeals * * *." Bankers Life & Casualty Co. v. Holland, 346 U.S. 379, 383, 74 S. Ct. 145, 98 L. Ed. 106 (1953). There are no "exceptional circumstances" here which would justify the issuance of the writ. LaBuy v. Howes Leather Co; 352 U.S. 249, 256, 260, 77 S. Ct. 309, 1 L. Ed. 2d 290 (1957); Green v. Murphy, 259 F.2d 591, 594 (3d Cir. 1958).

For the reasons stated the appeal will be dismissed.

McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judge (dissenting).

The setting aside of the judgment in this case was an abuse of discretion and arbitrary. Therefore it is appealable. Tozer v. Charles A. Krause Milling Co., 189 F.2d 242 (3 Cir. 1951).

The complaint in the suit was filed June 6, 1960. The summons was served June 7, 1960. After service, an attorney saying he represented the defendant telephoned plaintiff's attorney and asked him for an extension of time to answer. Plaintiff's attorney said he would agree to any reasonable extension of time. The other attorney sent a letter to plaintiff's attorney saying he would have an order prepared "to be executed by the Court and signed by you, the early part of the week beginning June 20, 1960." This was not done and no answer or other pleadings were filed on behalf of the defendant. The case appeared on the trial list for December 29, 1960. The district court clerk advised the defendant of this and that the case would be called for trial in January or February of 1961. The clerk told defendant there was no appearance entered for it and suggested it obtain counsel.

Plaintiff's attorney was notified by the clerk that the action would be tried during the week of February 13, 1961. On that date, almost eight months from the inception of suit, plaintiff had a default judgment entered. Notice of that was mailed defendant by the clerk. There were no further proceedings until six months later when execution was issued. It was only after that, on September 8, 1961, ...

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