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Rule 60 – Reasonable Time to Amend a Judgment

Hicks v. Hicks, 2022-NCCOA-139.

Facts: Plaintiff and Defendant attended a mediation to attempt to settle the Equitable Distribution and alimony parts of their case. In mediation, they reached a settlement and memorialized their terms in a consent order, entered in September of 2018. Among those terms, Defendant received a parcel of land with a requirement to refinance the loan to remove Plaintiff’s name and debt. Defendant also received another parcel of land, with a similar refinance provision. Finally, the consent order provided that Plaintiff shall pay a distributive award to Defendant for $87,500, on or before January 1, 2019. Defendant was having difficulty refinancing the loans on the parcels he received. Plaintiff’s counsel reached out the Defendant’s new counsel to discuss the issue of the loans, but then noticed that “Plaintiff” and “Defendant” on the distributive award provision were interchanged (the parties agreed that Plaintiff would be receiving the award). Plaintiff thus filed a Rule 60 motion on April 15, 2020, requesting that the court correct a clerical mistake under 60(a) or such other justifiable relief under 60(b)(6). Plaintiff and her attorney testified that it was the mutual agreement that Plaintiff receive the award, and Defendant pay it. The trial court granted relief under 60(b)(6) and amended the typo. Defendant appeals.

Issue: Did the trial court err by amending the Judgment?

Holding: No.

Rationale: Defendant argued that Plaintiff did not file her Rule 60 motion within a reasonable time. However, reasonable time depends on the circumstances of the case. The issue was brought to light by Defendant’s new attorney in a letter dated for April 3, 2020, which prompted Plaintiff’s attorney to call and inquire. Defendant’s previous counsel and Plaintiff had attempted to settle provisions of the settlement before his withdrawal. Plaintiff’s attorney discovered the typo on April 7, 2020, and filed her motion on April 15. Throughout the course of the case, no party ever alleged that Plaintiff was the one to pay the award. Moreover, Defendant had attempted to obtain a loan to pay Plaintiff to comply with the judgment. In this case, it was not an unreasonable time to file the Rule 60.

Lessons: A reasonable time depends on the facts. Notice seems to play an important role in how much time is reasonable. If the moving party files shortly after notice of a reason for relief from judgment or clerical error, it is more likely to be reasonably filed on time.