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United States v. Sayegh

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 11, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Juan Marcos Sayegh, Defendant, and Tara Koebler, individually, Claimant.

          ORDER

          David G. Campbell Senior United States District Judge

         Juan Sayegh pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute controlled substance analogues. Docs. 66, 198. The Court issued a preliminary order forfeiting certain assets connected to the crimes, including real property in Phoenix (“the Property”). Doc. 215 at 2. Claimant Tara Koebler, who formerly was married to Sayegh, filed a petition claiming an interest in the Property, but the Court granted the government's motion to dismiss the petition as untimely. Doc. 297, 323. Koebler now seeks relief from the dismissal order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Doc. 342. As in other cases, “[t]he United States does not dispute the use of Rule 60(b) to collaterally attack the criminal forfeiture order[.].” United States v. Puig, 419 F.3d 700, 702 (8th Cir. 2005). See United States v. Estevez, 845 F.2d 1409, 1411 (7th Cir. 1988) (“[T]he government agrees that the provisions of Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are available to a third-party claimant seeking to vacate the final judgment of forfeiture.”); Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2(c) advisory committee notes (noting that a third-party claimant may file a Rule 60(b) motion to reopen the ancillary proceeding allowed by 21 U.S.C. § 853(n)).

         Koebler's motion is fully briefed, and oral argument will not aid the Court's decision. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion.

         I. Koebler's Motion.

         The Court may grant a motion for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b) only upon a showing of (1) mistake, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) fraud; (4) a void judgment; (5) a satisfied or discharged judgment; or (6) extraordinary circumstances which would justify relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b); Allmerica Fin. Life Ins. & Annuity Co. v. Llewellyn, 139 F.3d 664, 666 (9th Cir. 1997).

         The Court dismissed Koebler's original petition contesting forfeiture of the Property because her former attorney filed the petition more than five months after the applicable deadline. See Doc. 323. Koebler seeks relief based on excusable neglect and extraordinary circumstances pursuant to Rule 60(b)(1) and (6), respectively. Doc. 342. The government opposes the motion. Doc. 343.

         A. Rule 60(b)(1): Excusable Neglect.

         Koebler asserts that her former lawyer failed to understand the deadlines, burdens of proof, applicable law, and procedural rules in her case, neglected to conduct the necessary research to competently represent her, and did not even know how to retrieve documents from the Court's electronic filing system. Doc. 342 at 7, 11. In sum, Koebler argues that the lawyer's ignorance and carelessness constitute excusable neglect under Rule 60(b)(1).

         But “neither ignorance nor carelessness on the part of the litigant or his attorney provide grounds for relief under Rule 60(b)(1).” Allmerica Fin. Life Ins. & Annuity Co. v. Llewellyn, 139 F.3d 664, 666 (9th Cir. 1997). Indeed, “[t]he Ninth Circuit has repeatedly ‘refuse[d] to provide relief on account of excusable neglect [due] to . . . attorney-based mistakes of law.” See, e.g., Castillo-Antonio v. Iqbal, No. 14-cv-03316-KAW, 2017 WL 3335682, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 4, 2017) (quoting Latshaw v. Trainer Wortham & Co., 452 F.3d 1097, 1101 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Engleson v. Burlington Northern R. Co., 972 F.2d 1038, 1043-44 (9th Cir. 1992). This is because, “[a]s a general rule, parties are bound by the actions of their lawyers, and alleged attorney malpractice does not usually provide a basis to set aside a judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(1).” Casey v. Albertson's Inc., 362 F.3d 1254, 1260 (9th Cir. 2004).

         In short, “Rule 60(b)(1) is not intended to remedy the effects of a . . . the erroneous legal advice of counsel [or] attorney mistake. . . . Such mistakes are more appropriately addressed through malpractice claims.”[1] Latshaw, 452 F.3d at 1101

         B. Rule 60(b)(6): Extraordinary Circumstances.

         1. Her Lawyer's Gross Negligence.

         Rule 60(b)(6) “has been used sparingly as an equitable remedy to prevent manifest injustice” and “is to be utilized only where extraordinary circumstances prevented a party from taking timely action to prevent or correct an erroneous judgment.” United States v. Alpine Land & Reservoir Co., 984 F.2d 1047, 1049 (9th Cir.1993). A party seeking to reopen a case under Rule 60(b)(6) “must demonstrate both injury and circumstances beyond [her] control that prevented [her] from proceeding” with the action. Community Dental Servs. v. Tani, 282 F.3d 1164, 1168 (9th Cir. 2002).

         “[A]n attorney's gross negligence constitutes an extraordinary circumstance warranting relief from a judgment.” Lal v. California, 610 F.3d 518, 521 (9th Cir. 2010). Gross negligence is “neglect so gross that it is inexcusable, ” or conduct “that results in the client's receiving practically no representation at all, ” which “vitiat[es] the agency relationship that underlies our general policy of attributing to the client the acts of [her] attorney.” Id. at 524 (quoting Tani, 282 F.3d at 1171); Brooks v. Yates, 818 F.3d ...


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