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United States ex rel. Prince v. Virginia Resources Authority

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

July 10, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ex. rel. Mark W. Prince, Plaintiffs,
v.
VIRGINIA RESOURCES AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, District Judge.

This qui tam action is presently before the court on the Motion to Reconsider of the Relator, Mark W. Prince ("Prince"), Dkt. No. 37, and the Motion to Clarify of the United States. Dkt. No. 38. The court previously issued a Memorandum Opinion and accompanying Order dismissing this matter. Dkt. Nos. 34 & 35. Prince asks the court to reconsider its dismissal of his claims, while the United States seeks clarification that the court's dismissal was without prejudice as to the United States. For the reasons stated herein, the court will DENY Prince's motion and GRANT the motion of the United States.

I.

Prince originally alleged, on behalf of the United States, that the Virginia Resources Authority ("VRA") and others violated the False Claims Act ("FCA"), 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733 et seq., by knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval related to federal subsidies and tax exempt status for certain bonds through the Build America Bonds program. See 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)(1)(A) (creating liability for any person who "knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval"). VRA moved to dismiss Prince's claims on a number of grounds, including issue preclusion, i.e., collateral estoppel. Under Virginia Law, collateral estoppel is properly applied when the following four-factor test is met:

(1) the parties to the two proceedings must be the same; (2) the factual issue sought to be litigated must have been actually litigated in the prior proceeding; (3) the factual issue must have been essential to the judgment rendered in the prior proceeding; and (4) the prior proceeding must have resulted in a valid, final judgment against the party to whom the doctrine is sought to be applied.

Mem. Op., Dkt. No. 34, at 8-9 (citing Martin-Bangura v. Virginia Dep't of Mental Health , 640 F.Supp.2d 729, 736 (E.D. Va. 2009); Historic Green Springs, Inc. v. U.S. E.P.A. , 742 F.Supp.2d 837, 849 (W.D. Va. 2010)). Based on the Final Order in Shenandoah County Circuit Court Case Number CL12000-406-00, Dkt. No. 30-13, the court concluded that all four factors applied as between Prince and VRA. As such, the court found that Prince's claims were barred by collateral estoppel. See generally, Mem. Op., Dkt. No. 34, at 6-11.[1] The court dismissed Prince's claims with prejudice by Order entered April 15, 2014. Dkt. No. 35.

Prince filed his Motion to Reconsider on May 2, 2014. Dkt. No. 37. The United States filed its Motion to Clarify on May 12, 2014. Dkt. No. 38. Prince filed a notice of appeal on May 14, 2014.[2] Dkt No. 40. Upon initial consideration of the pending motions, the court directed VRA to file a response to the Motion to Reconsider. Dkt. No. 44. The VRA filed its response in opposition on June 27, 2014. Dkt. No. 45. Accordingly, these motions are now ripe for decision.

II.

Prince styles his motion as a "Motion to Reconsider." He does not cite any Federal Rule of Civil Procedure as a basis for his motion. VRA argues that the court should thus construe the motion as a motion for relief from a judgment or order pursuant to Rule 60(b). See Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. for Recons., Dkt. No. 45, at 2. However, the Fourth Circuit has held that "if a post-judgment motion is filed within [twenty-eight] days of the entry of judgment and calls into question the correctness of that judgment it should be treated as a motion under Rule 59(e), however it may be formally styled." Dove v. CODESCO , 569 F.2d 807, 809 (4th Cir. 1978) (citation omitted); see also MLC Automotive, LLC v. Town of Southern Pines , 532 F.3d 269, 277-78 (4th Cir. 2008) (noting that CODESCO continues to apply notwithstanding the amendment to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4). As such, because Prince filed his motion within twenty-eight days of the court's entry of the Order dismissing the case, the court will construes it as a Rule 59(e) motion.

Rule 59(e) states that "[a] motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). The Fourth Circuit has directed that "a court may grant a Rule 59 motion in three circumstances: (1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.'" Bogart v. Chapell , 396 F.3d 548, 555 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co. , 305 F.3d 284, 290 (4th Cir. 2002)). It is well settled that "Rule 59(e) may not be used to relitigate old matters' or to raise arguments which could have been raised prior to the issuance of the judgment.'" O'Connor v. Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. , 643 F.Supp.2d 799, 810 (W.D. Va. 2009) (quoting Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat. Fire Ins. Co. , 148 F.3d 396, 404 (4th Cir. 1998)). "In other words, a motion for reconsideration under Rule 59(e) is inappropriate if it asks the court to reevaluate the basis upon which it made a prior ruling' or merely seeks to reargue a previous claim.'" Projects Mgmt. Co. v. DynCorp Int'l, LLC, No. 1:13-CV-331, 2014 WL 1513267, at *1 (E.D. Va. Apr. 15, 2014) (quoting United States v. Smithfield Foods, Inc. , 969 F.Supp. 975, 977 (E.D. Va. 1997)). Instead, a Rule 59(e) motion "is considered to be an extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly.'" Lee v. Zom Clarendon, L.P. , 665 F.Supp.2d 603, 615-16 (E.D. Va. 2009) (quoting Pac. Ins. , 148 F.3d at 403), aff'd sub nom. Sun Yung Lee v. Clarendon, 453 F.App'x 270 (4th Cir. 2011).

In practice, this court has occasionally shown some laxity to pro se parties filing Rule 59(e) motions rearguing a claim or asking the court to reevaluate the basis for its prior ruling, particularly where a pro se party appears to be confused about the nature of the court's prior reasoning. Prince, however, is not proceeding pro se . Prince (and his counsel) should be well aware of the requirements of the Federal Rules. Instead, Prince merely argues in his Motion for Reconsideration that the court was wrong in concluding that his claims are barred by collateral estoppel while providing no justification for re-raising arguments previously made or for raising new arguments post-judgment. Doing either is inappropriate in a Rule 59(e) motion. Nowhere in his motion does Prince assert either a change in the law, the discovery of new evidence that was previously unavailable, or a legal error so clear or the risk of an injustice so manifest that it provides a basis for invoking the "extraordinary remedy" of altering or amending the final judgment of the court.

In short, Prince simply argues that the court got it wrong. This is plainly an insufficient basis for a Rule 59(e) motion. Such an argument is properly made to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, not this court in a post-judgment motion.

III.

The court's Order dismissing this case makes quite clear that the dismissal is with prejudice as to Prince. See Dismissal Order, Dkt. No. 35. However, the Order is silent as to the prejudicial effect, if any, as to the United States. The United States argues that any dismissal should be without prejudice as to it. In support of this argument, the United States asserts that it is not barred by collateral estoppel, noting that it was not a party to the Shenandoah County Circuit Court action and that ...


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