Chief Justice Curtis V. Gomez of the District Court of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Thomas – St. John was asked to rule on  two motions by pro se plaintiff Richard Wingrove in the matter of Wingrove v. Bank of Nova Scotia, Slip Copy, 2013 WL 3853402 (D.V.I. July 24, 2013). The first was captioned as a “Petition for Injunction Order.”  The second was entitled a “Motion of Information to the Court.”   Richard Wingrove was the titleholder of Parcel No. 1B1–B Remainder Estate Wintberg, located on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (the “St. Thomas property”). In October 1999, Wingrove borrowed $30,000 from the Bank of Nova Scotia (the “Bank”). Wingrove later defaulted, and the Bank filed an action against him for debt and foreclosure in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands.

During the pendency of the Superior Court action, Wingrove filed for bankruptcy. The Superior Court action was stayed.As a result of Wingrove’s bankruptcy filing, his unsecured debts were discharged in December of 2002. The Bank then sought and was granted relief from the stay of the Superior Court action. In March 2007, the Superior Court ordered the foreclosure and sale of the St. Thomas property. The St. Thomas property was sold and Wingrove was ordered to pay the Bank’s attorneys’ fees and costs.

Wingrove then filed this action which sought to vacate the Bankruptcy and Superior Court orders and judgments, pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wingrove named the Bank, the Stryker law firm, and a title insurance company all as defendants. Stryker and the Bank filed motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, insufficient process, insufficient service of process, and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Wingrove filed a motion for summary judgment.

The court held a hearing on these in September 2010, in which the court determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and dismissed the case.

In February 2013—more than two years after the case had been closed—Wingrove filed the motions before Chief Justice Gomez. The first asserted that the defendants were liable for conversion and fraudulent conveyance arising from the sale of the St. Thomas property. The second motion appeared to reassert the claims previously contained in Wingrove’s October 2009 complaint. The Chief Justice decided that he would construe the motions as motions to reconsider pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 and/or motions for relief from a judgment or an order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60.

Motions to Reconsider
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) permits a party to seek reconsideration of a judgment. However, Chief Justice Gomez explained that courts may grant Rule 59(e) relief only where:

(1) an intervening change in the law has occurred;
(2) new evidence not previously available has emerged; or
(3) the need to correct a clear error of law or prevent a manifest injustice arises.  

These motions were required to be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment, but in this case, Wingrove’s filed his motions over two years after the September 2010 judgment. Because of this, the Chief Justice held that to the extent that his motions sought reconsideration, they were denied as untimely.

Motions for Relief from a Judgment or Order
Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits relief “from a final judgment, order, or proceeding.” A party may be relieved from a final judgment for the following reasons:

(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
(2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b);
(3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party;
(4) the judgment is void;
(5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it to prospectively is no longer equitable; or
(6) any other reason that justifies relief.  

Judge Gomez stated that an individual bringing a Rule 60(b) motion bears a heavy burden, and that these motions are only granted where extraordinary justifying circumstances are present. There are several factors that a court will consider when ruling on a Rule 60(b) motion. They include:

(1) the general desirability that a final judgment should not be lightly disturbed;
(2) the procedure provided by Rule 60(b) is not a substitute for an appeal;
(3) the Rule should be liberally construed for the purpose of doing substantial justice;
(4) whether, although the motion is made within the maximum time, if any, provided by the Rule, the motion is made within a reasonable time.

Wingrove requested relief from the court order dismissing this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; however, a motion seeking relief under Rule 60 must typically be filed no more than a year after the entry of the judgment or order or the date of the proceeding. Again, Wingrove’s motions were untimely because they were filed well after a year. Judge Gomez explained that the motions would be timely if they sought relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(d)(3), which allows a judgment to be set aside for fraud on the court. The definition of “fraud upon the court” is very narrow:

Fraud upon the court should … embrace only that species of fraud which does, or attempts to, subvert the integrity of the court itself, or is a fraud perpetrated by officers of the court so that the judicial machinery cannot perform in the usual manner its impartial task of adjudging cases that are presented for adjudication, and relief should be denied in the absence of such conduct.

Wingrove didn’t offer any evidence or other proof that fraud had been committed. As a result, he failed to satisfy his burden to show he is entitled to relief under Rule 60.

Wingrove v. Bank of Nova Scotia, Slip Copy, 2013 WL 3853402 (D.V.I. July 24, 2013)