Critical Contours of Fraud on the Court
Critical Contours of Fraud on the Court, 37 Review of Litigation 1 (2018)
45 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2018
Date Written: November 1, 2018
Fraud connected to litigation has long been grounds for vacating a judgment, provided that an innocent party timely moves for relief. In federal court, for example, a party seeking to set aside a judgment for an opponent’s fraud under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(3) must act within a reasonable time and no more than a year after the entry of the judgment. If fraud qualifies as “fraud on the court,” however, a court may exercise its inherent power to set aside a judgment even after one year. A judgment tainted by fraud on the court may be set aside at any time; there is no deadline or statute of limitations for moving to vacate a judgment on this ground.
The recognition that some frauds are so offensive that they justify departing from normal time limits for challenging judgments and thus from the principle of finality of judgments and the strong public policy favoring an end to litigation, invites an obvious question: what sort of conduct constitutes fraud on the court? Or, quite simply, what is fraud on the court? These questions defy easy or uniform answers. Many lawyers struggle to understand when relief is available for fraud on the court. Even courts find fraud on the court to be an elusive and nebulous concept. The term is not defined in either federal or state rules of civil procedure. Clearly, though, not all fraud in the course of litigation qualifies as fraud on the court. In fact, most litigation-related fraud falls well short of fraud on the court.
This article analyzes critical contours of the fraud on the court doctrine in an effort to help courts and lawyers understand the doctrine, and apply the doctrine logically and consistently.
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