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Ghete v. Anchorage (11/29/97), 948 P 2d 973
Notice: This opinion is subject to formal correction before
publication in the Pacific Reporter. Readers are requested to bring errors to the
attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska
99501, phone (907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
MARGARET M. GHETE; )
the EAST ONE-HALF (E1/2) of the) Supreme Court No. S-7584
EAST ONE-HALF (E1/2) and the )
WEST ONE-HALF (W1/2) of the ) Superior Court No.
EAST ONE-HALF (E1/2) of ) 3AN-85-1644 CI
LOT THREE (3), BLOCK )
FORTY-FIVE (45), ORIGINAL )
TOWNSITE OF ANCHORAGE, )
ANCHORAGE RECORDING DISTRICT, )
STATE OF ALASKA, )
Appellant, ) O P I N I O N
v. ) [No. 4912 - November 28, 1997]
ANCHORAGE, a municipal )
Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of
Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage,
Dana Fabe, Judge.
Appearances: Dawn Reed-Slaten and Keenan
Powell, Powell & Slaten, LLC, Anchorage, for Appellant. Cliff John
Groh, Assistant Municipal Attorney, and Mary K. Hughes, Municipal
Attorney, Anchorage, for Appellee.
Before: Compton, Chief Justice, Matthews, and
Bryner, Justices. [Eastaugh and Fabe, Justices, not participating.]
COMPTON, Chief Justice.
Margaret Ghete appeals the superior court's denial of her
Alaska Civil Rule 60(b)(6) motion. She argues the superior court
abused its discretion, because she never authorized her attorney to
settle her claim, and because her attorney violated rules of
professional conduct by taking legal positions contrary to her
express wishes. Ghete failed to preserve for challenge on her
direct appeal the authority of her attorney to enter into the
settlement. She may not now challenge that authority. We affirm.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
In 1985 the Municipality of Anchorage (Municipality) sued
to condemn property owned by Margaret Ghete. It filed a
Declaration of Taking and placed $375,000 in escrow. Attorney
A. Robert Hahn, Jr. entered his appearance as Ghete's attorney in
December 1988. Since the Municipality and Ghete could not agree on
the reasonable value of the property, the superior court appointed
a master to take evidence and ascertain the amount to be paid to
Ghete. Alaska R. Civ. P. 72(h)(3).
In December 1992, the master held a hearing to ascertain
the amount to be paid to Ghete. The master concluded that Ghete
should receive $440,000. That was $65,000 more than the
Municipality had placed in escrow.
Hahn negotiated with Ann Waller Resch, a Deputy Municipal
Attorney, in an effort to settle the case. At some point during
settlement discussions, Hahn became ill and was hospitalized.
On May 11, 1993, Resch offered to settle for $100,000
more than the $375,000 the Municipality had placed in escrow.
Ghete and Hahn disagree on what happened next. Hahn claimed that,
after discussions with Resch, he received from the Municipality an
offer to settle for $110,000, which, together with the $375,000,
resulted in total compensation of $485,000. He also claimed that
he made the settlement offer absolutely clear to Ghete on or about
May 11. Hahn further claimed that Ghete authorized him to settle
for $110,000. He communicated Ghete's acceptance of the settlement
to Resch on or about May 17. Ghete claimed she authorized Hahn to
continue to represent her, but never agreed to a $110,000
Hahn met with Ghete the same day that a settlement
conference was scheduled before Superior Court Judge Brian C.
Shortell. Hahn submitted to the court a settlement conference
brief and his affidavit. Ghete claims she was never given an
opportunity to review these documents. Hahn knew by the day of the
settlement conference that Ghete did not want to accept the
$110,000 settlement. His affidavit states that "Mrs. Ghete has
subsequently refused to accept the $110,000 . . . ."
At the settlement conference Ghete objected to the
settlement. Ghete told Judge Shortell, "I cannot accept the
offer." During the settlement conference, Judge Shortell stated,
"I'm not saying, at this point, definitively that this is a settled
case." He asked the parties to file a motion and response and
submit any documents.
The Municipality moved the court to enter judgment on the
settlement agreement. Ghete opposed the Municipality's motion,
submitting her own affidavit, which had been prepared by Hahn.
Ghete's affidavit did not allege that the settlement agreement was
unauthorized. Instead, her affidavit focused on a dispute over
whether the Municipality had paid for one or two parcels of her
property. The superior court entered final judgment, enforcing the
$110,000 settlement agreement. Ghete appealed the superior court's
decision pro se.
On appeal, Ghete attempted to raise as an issue the
validity of the settlement agreement, i.e., that she had not
authorized Hahn to accept the Municipality's offer. This court
concluded that Ghete had failed to raise in the superior court the
issue of an unauthorized settlement. We affirmed the superior
court, noting that
[b]ecause Ghete's statements in open court and
her Opposition to Judgment did not dispute her counsel's authority
to enter into an agreement or the terms and existence of that
agreement, we find that the terms of the settlement agreement set
forth in [the Municipality's] Motion to Enter Judgment and her
counsel's attached affidavit are effectively uncontested.
Ghete v. Anchorage, Mem. Op. & J. No. 775 at 5 (Alaska, May 3,
Ghete then retained a different attorney and moved for
relief from the judgment, pursuant to Alaska Civil Rule 60(b)(6).
[Fn. 1] The superior court denied the motion without oral or
written findings. Ghete appeals.
A. Standard of Review
Motions for relief from judgment under Civil Rule 60(b)
are committed to the sound discretion of the trial court; we will
reverse the trial court's decision only for an abuse of discretion.
See Palmer v. Borg-Warner, 838 P.2d 1243, 1246 (Alaska 1992). An
abuse of discretion exists when we are left with a definite and
firm conviction, based on the record as a whole, that the trial
court made a mistake. Id. at 1247.
Ghete points out that the standard for a Civil Rule 60(b)
motion that involves a question of law might be different than
abuse of discretion. However, Ghete does not demonstrate any legal
question that suggests we should deviate from the abuse of
discretion standard usually applied to Civil Rule 60(b) motions.
B. A Civil Rule 60(b) Motion Is Not a Cure for Failure to
Timely Raise an Issue at Trial and Present that Issue on
We determined in Ghete's direct appeal that she did not
raise in the superior court the issue of the validity of the
settlement agreement, and that the issue was not before us. She
raised only the issue of whether the Municipality improperly listed
her property as a single parcel, and thereby failed to compensate
her for one of the two parcels it condemned. Alaska Civil
Rule 60(b) is not intended to give Ghete a second chance to raise
an issue that she failed to raise at that time.
Ghete argues she should not be "held accountable"for
failing to argue that the settlement agreement was unauthorized,
because pro se litigants are held to less stringent standards than
attorneys. It is true that this court has allowed pro se litigants
certain latitude. See Smith v. Sampson, 816 P.2d 902, 906 (Alaska
1991) (reaching issues not raised in pro se litigant's statement of
points on appeal, after determining he attempted to comply with
Alaska Appellate Rule 210(e)); Breck v. Ulmer, 745 P.2d 66, 75
(Alaska 1987) (holding that pleadings of pro se litigants should be
held to less stringent standards than those of lawyers). However,
we have never relaxed the substantive requirements of Civil Rule
60(b) because of a litigant's pro se status.
Civil Rule 60(b)(6) motions are not intended to be used
as a substitute for proper litigation of a case. See Allen v.
Bussell, 558 P.2d 496, 502 (Alaska 1976). Ghete's only explanation
of why she did not challenge the validity of the settlement in her
opposition to the Municipality's motion for judgment is that Hahn
prepared her affidavit in that case. While she repeatedly asserts
that Hahn failed to let her review the settlement brief and his
affidavit, she must have reviewed her own affidavit; she signed it.
"Civil Rule 60 . . . does [not] allow relitigation of
issues that have been resolved by [a] judgment." Burrell v.
Burrell, 696 P.2d 157, 163 (Alaska 1984). Ghete cannot use a Civil
Rule 60(b) motion to cure her failure to timely raise in the
superior court the issue of the validity of the settlement and to
present that issue on direct appeal. [Fn. 2]
The judgment of the superior court is AFFIRMED.
Alaska Civil Rule 60(b) provides:
On motion and upon such terms as are just, the
court may relieve a party or a party's legal representative from a
final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons:
. . . .
(6) any other reason justifying relief from
the operation of the judgment.
In view of our disposition of this issue, it is unnecessary to
consider any other issues in the case.