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Wootten v. Commonwealth

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

March 10, 2016




Before the Court is a motion for reconsideration filed by Defendants Richard Holcomb, Joseph Hill, and Jeannie Thorpe. (Dkt. 152). On January 7, 2016, I entered a memorandum opinion on the parties’ motions for summary judgment that (1) agreed with Defendants that Plaintiff’s Title VII retaliatory termination claim should be dismissed, (2) found that judgment in favor of Plaintiff was proper on the issue of liability for her procedural due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (3) rejected Defendants’ qualified immunity defense, and (4) concluded liability against Defendants Holcomb and Hill was established on Plaintiff’s supervisory liability claim. (Dkt. 140, available at - F.Supp.3d -, 2016 WL 81504 (W.D. Va. Jan. 7, 2016); see also dkt. 147 (Order)).

At first blush, Defendants’ motion and brief seek reconsideration only of my grant of Plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment, which sought judgment on the due process and supervisory liability claims. (Dkt. 152; dkt. 153 at 1; see also dkt. 158 (Def’s Reply Br.) at 1). But they actually seek more than the advancement of these adversely-decided claims to trial. Their opening brief argues Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on the due process claim, hence seeking reconsideration of not only the grant of Plaintiff’s summary judgment motion but also the denial of their own. Likewise, they reassert their entitlement to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s supervisory liability claim. Defendants thus challenge all but the first of the four aforementioned conclusions and consequently ask the Court to revisit the denial of their motion for summary judgment.[1] The parties are familiar with the January 7th opinion, so I will review it only as needed in the course of addressing Defendants’ arguments.


Before considering Defendants’ arguments in support of reconsideration, the Court must first decide whether the motion is appropriate. Conspicuously, Defendants’ moving brief did not articulate the standard of review that applies or otherwise mention (much less analyze) the procedural propriety of their motion.[2] The denial or partial grant of summary judgment is an interlocutory order, and the decision to revisit such an order is committed to the Court’s discretion as part of its inherent authority. Am. Canoe Ass’n v. Murphy Farms, Inc., 326 F.3d 505, 514-15 (4th Cir. 2003); Fayetteville Inv’rs v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1472-73 (4th Cir. 1991); Madison River Mgmt. Co. v. Bus. Mgmt. Software Corp., 402 F.Supp.2d 617, 619 (M.D. N.C. 2005); Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b).

In a widely-cited passage, the Eastern District of Virginia has explained that reconsideration is:

appropriate where, for example, the Court has patently misunderstood a party, or has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension. A further basis for a motion to reconsider would be a controlling or significant change in the law or facts since the submission of the issue to the Court. Such problems rarely arise and the motion to reconsider should be equally rare.

Above the Belt, Inc. v. Mel Bohannan Roofing, Inc., 99 F.R.D. 99, 101 (E.D. Va. 1983). Courts have subsequently distilled the grounds for a Rule 54(b) motion for reconsideration to (1) an intervening change in the law, (2) new evidence that was not previously available, or (3) correction of a clear error of law or to prevent manifest injustice. LaFleur v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., No. 2:12-CV-00363, 2014 WL 2121563, at *1 (E.D. Va. May 20, 2014); see also dkt. 157 (Pl’s Reconsideration Opp. Br.) at 2-4 (compiling cases). Such motions are disfavored and should be granted “sparingly.” Downie v. Revco Disc. Drug Ctrs., Inc., No. 3:05-CV-00021, 2006 WL 1171960, at *1 (W.D. Va. May 1, 2006). That is because their “improper use . . . can waste judicial resources and obstruct the efficient administration of justice.” United States v. Duke Energy Corp., 218 F.R.D. 468, 474 (M.D. N.C. 2003).

Critically here, reconsideration is not meant to re-litigate issues already decided, provide a party the chance to craft new or improved legal positions, highlight previously-available facts, or otherwise award a proverbial “second bite at the apple” to a dissatisfied litigant. It is “inappropriate where it merely reiterates previous arguments.” Univ. of Va. Patent Found. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 755 F.Supp.2d 738, 744 (W.D. Va. 2011). It is not an occasion “to present a better and more compelling argument that the party could have presented in the original briefs, ” Madison River, 402 F.Supp.2d at 619, or to “introduce evidence that could have been addressed or presented previously.” Regan v. City of Charleston, S.C., 40 F.Supp.3d 698, 702 (D.S.C. 2014). Aggrieved parties may not “put a finer point on their old arguments and dicker about matters decided adversely to them.” Evans v. Trinity Indus., Inc., No. 2:15CV314, 2015 WL 8331944, at *3 (E.D. Va. Nov. 25, 2015). In sum, “a party who fails to present his strongest case in the first instance generally has no right to raise new theories or arguments in a motion to reconsider.” Duke Energy, 218 F.R.D. at 474.

With these standards in mind, the Court finds Defendants’ motion is not proper. First and foremost, Defendants’ submission is effectively a full-blown, renewed motion for summary judgment. Defendants note at the outset their reliance on the record evidence, as well as “additional documents attached herein.” (Dkt. 153 at 2 n.1). They attach to their brief 141 pages of exhibits, labeled “A” through “NN.” (Dkts. 153-1, 153-2, 153-3, 153-4). While some of these documents were in the record on summary judgment, many were not, as discussed in greater detail below. Motions for reconsideration “do not allow the losing party to attempt to supplement the record with previously available evidence.” Carter v. Porter, No. 5:08-CV-246-REW, 2012 WL 298479, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 1, 2012); Allen v. Henry Ford Health Sys., No. 08-14106, 2010 WL 653253, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 19, 2010); see Schering Corp. v. Amgen, Inc., 25 F.Supp.2d 293, 295 (D. Del. 1998); Gray v. Donaldson, No. 7:13-CV-14 HL, 2014 WL 7215200, at *1 (M.D. Ga. Dec. 17, 2014).

The reconsideration brief itself (dkt. 153) is a dense 25 pages, over twice as long as Defendants’ opposition brief to Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and nearly as long as their brief in support of their own summary judgment motion. (Dkt. 95 at 1-11; dkt. 87 at 1-31). The organization of Defendants’ reconsideration brief further reveals its nature: It contains a twelve-page statement of “material facts, ” plus another three-page “summation of critical facts in the light most favorable to Defendants.” (Dkt. 153 at 2-14, 15-18). Defendants’ opposition to Plaintiff’s original summary judgment motion-the place one would expect Defendants to have articulated the “critical facts in the light most favorable” to them-contains only a six-paragraph statement of facts. (Dkt. 95 at 2-5). The statement of facts from their moving summary judgment brief, a mere eight pages, is likewise substantially less fulsome than that of their reconsideration brief. (Dkt. 89 at 1-8). In other words, Defendants devoted as much or more attention and effort to developing the facts on reconsideration as they did on the parties’ motions for summary judgment. Indeed, Defendants admitted at the March 3, 2016 oral argument that they “stated [the] facts far better” in their reconsideration brief than in their summary judgment briefs.3 That approach, of course, inverts the proper course of litigation, subjects the opposing party to repetitive and burdensome proceedings, and drains judicial resources. Duke Energy, 218 F.R.D. at 474.

If the length and density of the reconsideration brief suggest Defendants seek a mulligan on their summary judgment briefing, a granular review confirms it. There are several instances of new arguments or newly-presented (but previously available) evidence that Defendants cite on reconsideration but did not highlight on summary judgment.

• Defendants offer a detailed review of state court proceeding in Roanoke, Virginia involving Plaintiff and the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”). (Dkt. 153 at pp.10-12, 14 ¶¶ 35-40, 49). Defendants rely on that litigation and cite various statements or representations made during it, arguing that they legitimize DMV’s view (and their own) about which method of process Plaintiff selected for grieving her termination. (Id. at 18). But Defendants did not mention the Roanoke Circuit Court proceedings once in their briefs supporting their motion for summary judgment or in their brief opposing Plaintiffs summary judgment motion. (Dkts. 87, 95, 97). The same is true regarding correspondence-now cited by Defendants-between DMV’s counsel and Mr. Grab on November 25, 2013 and December 3, 2013. (Dkt. 153 at p.10, ¶¶ 33-34; see Id. at p.18)
• For similar reasons, Defendants point to transcribed statements made by various attorneys, including one representing Plaintiff, at oral argument during a separate litigation in the Richmond City (Va.) Circuit Court. (Dkt. 153 at pp.4-5 ¶ 13; see Id. at p.16). Nowhere in ...

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