United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
STRYKER SPINE, a Division of Howmedica Osteonics Corp., Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant,
SPINE GROUP OF WISCONSIN, LLC, PAUL BREITENBACH, and TODD POTOKAR, Defendants/Counter-Plaintiffs.
ORDER GRANTING JOINT MOTION FOR VACATUR UNDER RULE
60(B) (DKT. NO. 357)
PAMELA PEPPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case began with a complaint filed in Ozaukee County Circuit
Court on January 15, 2014, dkt. no. 1-1, and culminated in a
five-day jury trial in federal court, with the jury returning
a $2 million dollar verdict for the plaintiff on September
28, 2017, dkt. no. 337. The defendants timely filed a Rule
50(b) motion for a judgment as a matter of law or, in the
alternative, a Rule 59 motion for new trial. Dkt. No. 344.
After the plaintiff filed a brief opposing that motion, dkt.
no. 354, the parties filed a stipulation, notifying the court
that they had reached a settlement in principle and asking
the court not to enter judgment on the jury's verdict,
dkt. no. 355.
February 19, 2018, the parties filed a “Stipulated
Order of Dismissal With Prejudice, ” dkt. no. 357; the
stipulation provided that the court would vacate “A.
all prior rulings of the Court; B. all prior findings
regarding damages, costs and fees; C. all prior rulings
regarding summary judgment, motions in limine and evidentiary
matters; and D. the September 15, 2017 jury verdict.”
Id. The stipulation also provided that the court
“shall retain jurisdiction of this matter and the
Parties to enforce the Confidential Settlement
Agreement.” Id. at A week later, on February
26, 2018, the court issued an order construing the
stipulation as a motion for vacatur under Rule 60(b). Dkt.
No. 358. The court's order recounted the case law
regarding motions for vacatur, and concluded that
if, as the court believes, the parties require the court to
grant their Rule 60(b)(6) motion in order to effectuate the
settlement, it would be helpful to the court if they would
provide it with information regarding the balance of equities
in relation to the vacatur provision of the settlement.
Dkt. No. 358 at 7. The court also noted that, under
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of
America, 511 U.S. 375 (1994), “the parties may
wish to make clear in any supplement they file whether they
wish the court to incorporate into any dismissal order either
the terms of the settlement agreement or any specific term of
the settlement agreement.” Dkt. No. 358 at 8.
weeks after the court entered that order, the parties filed a
brief in support of the motion for vacatur. Dkt. No. 359. In
reviewing that brief, the court noted that the parties had
asked the court to vacate “all prior rulings of the
court”-apparently a request that the court vacate not
only any substantive rulings, but any rulings on motions to
seal and other procedural rulings. In an April 13, 2018
order, the court identified this issue and asked the parties
to provide an additional submission detailing the specific
court orders they wanted the court to vacate. Dkt. No. 360.
The parties responded on April 24, 2018, asking that the
court constrain the motion for vacatur to the following
docket entries: Dkt. Nos. 39 (order denying motion to
dismiss); 81 (order granting in part and denying in part
motion to dismiss); 215 (order granting in part and denying
in part motion for summary judgment); 242 (order granting in
part and denying in part motion to reconsider summary
judgment); 255 (order denying motion to compel); 274 (order
denying sanction and granting motion to preclude expert); 324
(text-only order dismissing Great Lakes Spine Group, LLC as a
defendant); 337 (jury verdict); 340 (minute order from final
pretrial conference); 341 (order resolving motions in
limine); and 342 (minute entry denying defendants'
post-trial motion), as well as three text-only orders entered
on March 4, 2017.
Parties' Motion to Vacate
Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) allows the court to relieve
a party from a final judgment, order or proceeding “on
motion and just terms, ” for “any other reason
[than those identified in Rule 60(b)(1)-(5)] that justifies
relief.” Now that the the court has construed the
parties' stipulation as a motion for vacatur, dkt. no.
358, the court must consider whether the parties have
satisfied the “just terms” requirement of Rule
court previously noted,
Rule 60(b)(6) “vests power in courts adequate to enable
them to vacate judgments whenever such action is appropriate
to accomplish justice.” Klapprott v. U.S., 335
U.S. 601, 614-15 (1949). District courts have “great
latitude” in deciding whether to vacate orders or
judgments under Rule 60(b)(6). Bakery Machinery &
Fabrication, Inc. v. Traditional Baking, Inc., 570 F.3d
845, 848 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Swaim v. Moltan
Co., 73 F.3d 711, 722 (7th Cir. 1996)).
But Rule 60(b)(6) “is fundamentally equitable in
nature.” Ramirez v. United States, 799 F.3d
845, 851 (7th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). In considering
requests to vacate jury verdicts, or judgments, district
courts have been “guided by the array of equitable
factors of justice and hardship traditionally balanced by
district courts in considering requests for Rule 60(b)
relief, ” such as “the public interests in
precedent, preclusion, and judicial economy and the
circumstances, hardships, and interests of private
parties.” Mayes v. City of Hammond, Ind., 631
F.Supp.2d 1082, 1088 (N.D. Ind. 2008).
Dkt. No. 358 at 5.
parties argue that a vacatur in this case will not destroy
important precedent. Dkt. No. 359 at 6. They observe that the
jury's verdict itself has no precedential value, given
that it was based on the unique facts of the case.
Id. at 6. They also emphasize that the court's
other rulings-on summary judgment, motions in limine
and various discovery issues-hinged on fact-specific issues
and would have limited application in other cases.
Id. (citing Gould v. Bowyer, 11 F.3d 82, 84
(7th Cir. 1993) (“A district court decision binds no
judge in any other case, save to the extent that doctrines of
preclusion (not stare decisis) apply.”)). The parties
claim that federal courts should be less concerned about
vacating orders that address matters of state law,
id. at 6-7 (citing Hartford Ca. Ins. Co. v. Crum
& Forster Specialty Ins. Co., 828 F.3d 1331, 1336
(11th Cir. 2016)), and that two cases in the past two years
have addressed issues resolved by the court in this case,
id. at 7 (citing C.G. Schmidt, Inc. v.
Permasteelisa N. Am., 825 F.3d 801, 807 (7th Cir. 2016);
The Manitowoc Company v. Lanning, 906 N.W.2d 130
parties' April 24, 2018 supplement specifying which
orders they wanted the court to vacate, they listed two
orders on motions to dismiss (dkt. nos. 39 and 81); an order
denying summary judgment (dkt. no. 215); an order
reconsidering the summary judgment order (dkt. no. 242);
various orders on discovery and trial issues, and the jury
verdict (dkt. no. 337). This is a far more extensive request
than the one made in Mayes, where “the parties
[sought] vacatur only of the jury verdict and final judgment
but not, critically, of any prior opinions or orders of the
Court, including its summary judgment decision.”
Mayes, 631 F.Supp.2d at 1089.
the court recognizes that its opinions do not bind other
judges in other cases. This court's pre-trial decisions
would have only persuasive authority in future cases, and
given the unique implosion of a business relationship that
sparked (and fueled) this litigation, the court agrees that
its decisions might have only limited persuasive authority,
at that. While the court admits some frustration with the
fact that it spent hours of resources writing the decisions
that the parties now seek to vacate-hours that would have
been saved had the parties reached agreement before trial-it
would be nothing but hubris for the court to conclude that
these decisions constituted important precedent on Wisconsin