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No Take-Backs on Civil Settlement, 6th Circuit Rules

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

When is it too late to take back a federal court settlement?

Can you unwind it when you realize you made a mistake about the terms? What about when the terms are not equitable? Don't the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for "any other reason that justifies relief?"

In Cummings v. Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, it turned out to be more than a day late late and a dollar short for a former public employee.

Faulty Retirement Plan

Noel Cummings had worked for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority for more than 27 years when she sued the agency for allegedly pay her less than her male colleagues. She also alleged that she was passed over for promotion because she complained about the disparity.

The parties settled February 2015, with agency agreeing to pay Cummings $45,000 and $600 per month with other considerations through Jan. 31, 2017. According to her calculations, she would become eligible for retirement at that time.

However, she learned in July 2016 that the state retirement system did not give her credits under the settlement because the payments were not "earnable salary" under Ohio law. Cummings then moved to vacate the judgment.

The court rejected her motion as time barred under Civil Rule 60(b)(1), which permits motions to vacate a judgment in the event of "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect" filed within one year of the judgment.

'Settlor's Remorse"

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

"A settlor's remorse cannot alone justify abandoning such judgments," the court said unanimously. "Else, the key virtue of settling cases --letting the parties move on after they each get some of what they want -- would be lost."

Cummings argued that she agreed to settle her case only to obtain thirty years of retirement service. That was a mistake, however, and it was too late for the court to do anything about it.

"There is a deeply embedded judicial and legislative policy in favor of keeping final judgments final," wrote Judge Jeffrey Sutton. "That is especially true for settlement agreements."

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