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United States of America v. Michael N. Benoit

June 16, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL N. BENOIT, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Michael M. Anello United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR RELIEF

[Doc. No. 75]

The United States brought this claim to reduce federal income tax assessments to judgment against Defendant Michael N. Benoit and to reduce the federal tax liens against his home in Lakeside, California. On June 1, 2010, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the United States. Benoit moved for reconsideration of the Court's order. The Court denied his motion and Benoit appealed. The appeal is now pending before the Ninth Circuit. Benoit is proceeding pro se in this matter, as well as on appeal, and once again seeks relief from the Court's June 1, 2010 order. The United States opposes Benoit's motion. The Court took the motion under submission without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1.d.1. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Benoit's motion.

BACKGROUND

The current dispute arises out of attorney Kari D. Larson's failure to maintain a consistent active bar status while prosecuting this action on behalf of the United States.*fn1 On March 14, 2011, Attorney Larson advised the Court and Benoit via letter that from July 2009 through February 2011 she was an inactive member of the State Bar of Minnesota. See Benoit Decl'n, Ex. 1. According to Larson, she changed her status based on the erroneous belief that she did not have to maintain an active bar status in Minnesota while practicing in Washington, D.C. at the Department of Justice. Id. The Minnesota State Bar reinstated her active status on February 25, 2011.*fn2

Benoit now seeks relief from the Court's judgment against him based on Larson's unauthorized practice of law. Benoit cites Civil Local Rule 83.3.c.3 in support, which provides:

Attorneys for the United States. An attorney who is not eligible for admission under Civil Local Rule 83.3.c.1.a hereof, but who is a member in good standing of, and eligible to practice before, the bar of any United States court or of the highest court of any state, or of any territory or insular possession of the United States, may practice in this court in any matter in which the attorney is employed or retained by the United States or its agencies. Attorneys so permitted to practice in this court are subject to the jurisdiction of the court with respect to their conduct to the same extent as members of the bar of this court.

Benoit asserts that because Larson was ineligible to practice before this Court, she was not authorized to act on behalf of the government, and all filings submitted by Larson between July 2009 and February 2011 should be stricken from the record. Benoit further asserts that the Court must vacate its June 1, 2010 order, which relied in substantial part on Larson's declaration and her authentication of critical tax documents. The United States argues that Larson's temporary inactive bar status is not a sufficient ground to set aside the judgment in this case.

DISCUSSION

1. Legal Standard

Once a district court is divested of jurisdiction through appeal of a final judgment, it lacks the power to grant a motion brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) without a remand from the court of appeals. See Davis v. Yageo Corp., 481 F.3d 661, 685 (9th Cir. 2007). However, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 62.1 provides that "[i]f a timely motion is made for relief that the court lacks authority to grant because of an appeal that has been docketed and is pending, the court may: (1) defer considering the motion; (2) deny the motion; or (3) state either that it would grant the motion if the court of appeals remands for that purpose or that the motion raises a substantial issue." Fed. R. Civ. P. 62.1. As such, the Court may consider Benoit's motion for relief under Rule 60(b), which provides as follows:

(b) Grounds for Relief from a Final Judgment, Order, or Proceeding. On motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons:

(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;

(2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for ...


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