South Carolina Lawyer
Vol. 14, No. 3, Pg. 26.
The matter does not appear to me now as it appears to have appeared to me then Motions for reconsideration before the ALJ Division
26"The matter does not appear to me now as it appears to have appeared to me then" Motions for reconsideration before the ALJ DivisionBy the Hon. John D. GeathersMotions for reconsideration of Administrative Law Judge Division (ALJD or "Division") final orders have seemingly become perfunctory. Parties now routinely file motions for reconsideration when contested cases have not been decided in their favor. While motions for reconsideration do have a place in motions practice before the ALJD, the grounds upon which such motions to reconsider may be properly filed are limited to certain enumerated grounds for relief under ALJD Rule 29(D). Accordingly, motions for reconsideration are not properly filed in the ALJD as procedural requisites for appeal, to re-argue issues already determined or to present issues that could have been raised at the contested case hearing but were not. This article will attempt to clarify the purpose of the motion for reconsideration before the ALJD by setting forth the circumstances under which such a motion should be filed and by describing certain circumstances under which it should not. However, it is also hoped that this article's discussion of motions for reconsideration will be of use not only to the practitioner in administrative law, but also to the general practitioner.
28 Motions for reconsideration under ALJD Rule 29(D)
Rule 29(D) of the ALJD Rules of Procedure governs motions for reconsideration of final decisions issued in contested cases before the ALJD. Under Rule 29(D), "[a]ny party may move for reconsideration of a final decision of an administrative law judge in a contested case, subject to the grounds for relief set forth in Rule 60(b)(1)-(5), SCRCP[.]" By explicitly incorporating the grounds for relief from a judgment listed in Rule 60(b), ALJD Rule 29(D) limits the grounds upon which a motion for reconsideration of an ALJD decision may be based to the following five reasons:
(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect;
(2) newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b), SCRCP;
(3) fraud, misrepresentation or other misconduct of an adverse party;
(4) the judgment is void; or
(5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application.
Rule 60(b), SCRCP; see also Mictronics, Inc. v. S.C. Dep't of Revenue, 345 S.C. 506, 510, 548 S.E.2d 223, 225 (Ct. App. 2001). This limited basis for reconsideration of ALJD decisions accords with South Carolina administrative law predating the creation of the Division. See Bennett v. City of Clemson, 293 S.C. 64, 66-67, 358 S.E.2d 707, 709 (1987) ("[A]n agency's power to reconsider or rehear a case is not an arbitrary one, and such power should be exercised only when there is justification and good cause, i.e., newly discovered evidence, fraud, surprise, mistake, inadvertence or change in conditions.") Therefore, pursuant to ALJD Rule 29(D) and South Carolina administrative law generally, a motion for reconsideration filed with the ALJD is proper only if it articulates a basis for reconsideration that satisfies one of the Rule 60(b) criteria.
Rule 60(b) sets a high standard
This is a high standard for a motion for reconsideration to meet. Rule 60(b) provides a limited avenue of relief from a final judgment; it is not designed for the correction of minor errors in a judgment or for the open-ended reconsideration of a decision. Accordingly, courts have set the bar high when determining whether relief should be granted under Rule 60(b). For example, negligence or a simple mistake on the part of a party or its attorney alone is not sufficient to merit relief under Rule 60(b)(1), and relief will only be granted on account of fraud under Rule 60(b)(3) if the movant proves an extrinsic fraud affecting the proceedings by clear and convincing evidence. See James F. Flanagan, South Carolina Civil Procedure 481, 486 (2d ed. 1996). In addition, a movant seeking relief under Rule 60(b)(1)-(3) must not only comply with the language of the rule, but also establish a meritorious defense before relief will be granted. Id. at 488; Bowers v. Bowers, 304 S.C. 65, 67, 403 S.E.2d 127, 128-29 (Ct. App. 1991). See also Thompson v. Hammond, 299 S.C. 116, 120, 382 S.E.2d 900, 903 (1989) (describing the meritorious defense requirement).
Courts have similarly kept a tight rein on motions for relief under Rule 60(b)(4) and (5). A judgment is generally only "void" for purposes of Rule 60(b)(4) if the court has acted without jurisdiction. See Thomas & Howard Co. v. T.W. Graham & Co. 318 S.C. 286, 291, 457 S.E.2d 340, 343 (1995). And, Rule60(b)(5) only applies in a narrow set of circumstances, such as where a judgment has been satisfied, where a prior judgment that had a res judicata or collateral estoppel effect on a subsequent judgment has been reversed or where the court in its equitable power should modify injunctive relief on account of changed circumstances. See Flanagan, supra, at 487-88. Consequently, relief may not be granted under Rule 60(b)(4) or (5) based upon more general attacks on a judgment, such as one premised on a change in the law See Wright v. Cordesville Pentecostal Holiness Church, 310 S.C. 321, 426 S.E.2d 772 (1993).
A motion for reconsideration of an ALJ's final order must meet the rigorous standards of Rule 60(b). Motions to reconsider brought on any lesser grounds are, therefore, improper. While the imposition of this high standard for reconsideration may limit the availability of such motions before the Division, this limitation promotes administrative efficiency and comports with the "desirability, practicality and need for finality in the administrative...