THE YORK GROUP v. WUXI TAIHU TRACTOR CO. (February 4, 2011
The York Group was involved in a lawsuit in federal district court in Texas. It wanted Daniel Benefield to provide evidence in that lawsuit, so it subpoenaed him. Benefield neither complied with the subpoena nor sought any protection from it. Benefield also ignored a district court order enforcing the subpoena and two contempt hearings. The district court found him in civil contempt, fined him $22,000, and ordered him to pay York's legal fees. Benefield continued to ignore the proceedings -- until York garnished his checking account. Benefield sought relief under Rule 60(b), arguing that he was never served with the subpoena. Judge Lindberg (N.D. Ill.) held an evidentiary hearing and concluded that he had been properly served. Benefield sought reconsideration under Rule 59(e), in which he presented some new arguments. The court denied the motion. Benefield appeals.
In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Posner and Tinder affirmed. The Court first had to decide which of the three orders (the contempt finding, the 60(b) order, and the 59(e) order) were reviewable. The contempt finding is not reviewable because it was a final order, the time for appeal has elapsed, and no post-judgment motion was filed in time to suspend its finality. The Rule 60 order, because it was not filed within the time to suspend the original judgment's finality, is treated as a new proceeding. Therefore, the timely Rule 59 motion deferred the time to appeal the Rule 60 order. Therefore, Benefield's notice of appeal on the Rule 60 order is timely and the Court has jurisdiction to consider it (and the Rule 59 motion arguments, if they are not waived). With respect to the Rule 60 motion, the district judge conducted an evidentiary hearing where he consider evidence from Benefield, a process server, and a next-door neighbor. The Court concluded there was clearly adequate evidence to support the district court's conclusion. The two new Rule 59 arguments, that the subpoena named both Benefield and his proprietorship and that the neighbor held a grudge against him, were forfeited. Both arguments should have been raised before or at the Rule 60 hearing. The Court did add that neither argument could be successful on the merits. The addition of the name of one's proprietorship on the face of a subpoena does not make it unenforceable. With respect to the neighbor, Benefield’s counsel rejected an opportunity to recess the hearing in order to rebut the affidavit.