Six Types of Changed Factual or Legal Circumstances Warranting Relief from a Consent Decree under Rule 60(b)(5)

From In re Consolidated “Non-Filing Ins.” Fee Litig., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 13046 (11th Cir. June 22, 2011):

[T]he district court applied the test in Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk County Jail, 502 U.S. 367 (1992), and denied the motion to modify the consent decree because Security Finance had not met its burden. Rufo's two prong test requires the moving party to establish, first, that a significant change in circumstances warrants revision of the decree and, second, that the proposed modification is suitably tailored to the changed circumstance. Because the district court found that Security Finance had not established the first prong of the Rufo test, the district court determined it did not need to reach the second prong. ***

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5) provides that "on a motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party . . . from a[n] order [when] applying it prospectively is no longer equitable." Under this rule, a court applies a flexible standard to determine whether changed circumstances dictate that a consent decree should be modified. Rufo, 502 U.S. at 380. However, Rule 60(b)(5) was not intended to allow modification simply because "it is no longer convenient to live with the terms of a consent decree." Id. at 383. Thus, the party seeking modification bears the burden of establishing that "a significant change in circumstances warrants revision of the decree." Id. (emphasis added).

In Rufo, the Supreme Court set out six types of either changed factual or changed legal circumstances that could warrant modification of a consent decree. The Rufo Court held that a significant change in circumstances that warrants modification may be established by showing: (1) changed factual conditions that make compliance with the decree substantially more onerous; (2) the decree is unworkable because of unforeseen obstacles; (3) enforcement of the decree without modification would be detrimental to the public interest; (4) one or more of the obligations the decree places upon the parties has become impermissible under federal law; (5) a change in the law has made legal what the decree was designed to prevent; or (6) a clarification of the law, if it can be shown the parties based their agreement on a misunderstanding of the governing law. Id. at 384, 388, 390.

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