Psychological Problems of Attorney Causing Relief from a Default Judgment
The district court correctly ruled that Wyoming requires the demonstration of an exceptional circumstance specified in W.R.C.P. 60(b) in order to have a judgment vacated. Sanford v. Arjay Oil Co., 686 P.2d 566, 570 (Wyo. 1984).
The district court considered the prospect for relief under W.R.C.P. 60(b)(1) because of mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect, and denied relief after considering all of the circumstances and the policy of holding clients accountable for the acts and omissions of their attorneys ( Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 633-34, 82 S. Ct. 1386, 8 L. Ed. 2d 734 (1962)).
In Link, the Supreme Court of the United States stated, "petitioner voluntarily chose this attorney as his representative in the action, and he cannot now avoid the consequences of the acts or omissions of this freely selected agent." Link, 370 U.S. at 633-34.
This Court has recognized that, "relief is available under Rule 60(b)(6) when the personal problems or psychological disorders of an attorney cause him to neglect a case to the extent that a default or summary judgment is entered against the unsuspecting client." Sanford, 686 P.2d at 571.
The year after Sanford was decided, we were represented with an analogous problem in Hochhalter v. Great Western Enterprises, Inc., 708 P.2d 666 (Wyo. 1985).
In that case, Hochhalter requested relief from a default judgment under W.R.C.P. 60(b), alleging that the negligence of his attorney was due to personal and psychological problems. Hochhalter, 708 P.2d at 668. Hochhalter filed, in support of this claim, his affidavit in which he stated that the attorney had separated from his wife and relocated his practice. Id. at 669.
We held that "bare statements are insufficient to justify relief under Rule 60(b)(6), and we cannot hold that refusing to grant relief under the rule in reliance upon this scanty evidence is sufficient to constitute an abuse of discretion by the trial court." Hochhalter, 708 P.2d at 669.
We continued by ruling that the gross negligence of counsel was not sufficient to support a claim under W.R.C.P. 60(b), and stated:
"There is certainly no merit to the contention that dismissal of petitioner's claim because of his counsel's unexcused conduct imposes an unjust penalty on the client.
Petitioner voluntarily chose this attorney as his representative in the action, and he cannot now avoid the consequences of the acts or omissions of this freely selected agent.
Any other notion would be wholly inconsistent with our system of representative litigation, in which each party is deemed bound by the acts of his lawyer-agent and is considered to have 'notice of all facts, notice of which can be charged upon the attorney.'"Hochhalter, 708 P.2d at 670 (quoting Link, 370 U.S. at 633-34).