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Benedict v. Hankook Tire Company Ltd.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

April 4, 2018

ROBERT BENEDICT, Plaintiff,
v.
HANKOOK TIRE COMPANY LIMITED, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert E. Payne, Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on HANKOOK TIRE COMPANY LIMITED AND HANKOOK TIRE AMERICA CORPORATION' S MOTION TO AMEND JUDGMENT BASED ON CLEAR ERROR OF LAW (ECF No. 367) . Defendants' motion was denied by ORDER (ECF No. 391) dated February 28, 2018. This Memorandum Opinion sets out the reasoning for that decision.

         BACKGROUND

         In this products liability action, Robert Benedict sues Hankook Tire Company Limited ("HTCL") and Hankook Tire America Corporation ("HTAC") for the production and distribution of an allegedly defective tire. Defendants seek reconsideration of the Court's previous ORDER (ECF No. 221) and Memorandum Opinion (ECF No. 341) (hereinafter "Original Opinion") granting Benedict's motion for summary judgment as to Defendants' contributory negligence defense.

         I. Factual Context

         The relevant facts are set out in the Original Opinion (ECF No. 341) that Defendants ask the Court to reconsider, and the Court assumes familiarity with the facts as presented therein. In short, however, this action involves a single-vehicle accident that occurred when the front right tire of a cement truck driven by Benedict suffered a tread separation and the truck thereafter collided with an embankment on the side of the road. (ECF No. 341). The following passage from the Original Opinion is also worth highlighting:

At the time of the accident, the 2014 Virginia Commercial Driver's License Manual (the “CDL Manual")/ published by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, was in effect. It apprises commercial drivers of "important information that [they] must know to operate [their] vehicle[s] in a safe and professional manner." It advises drivers facing a tire failure to:
Hold the steering wheel firmly. If a front tire fails, it can twist the steering wheel out of your hand. Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel with both hands at all times.
Stay off the brakes. Braking when a tire has failed could cause you to lose control. Unless you are about to run into something, stay off the brake until the vehicle has slowed down. Then, brake gently and pull off the road.
Check the tires. Even if the vehicle seems to be handling normally. Many times you won't know that a dual tire is flat unless you look at it.

(ECF No. 341) (citations omitted).

         II. Procedural History

         Benedict initially asserted three claims: (1) products liability negligence (including manufacturing defect, design defect, and failure to warn); (2) breach of the implied warranty of merchantability; and (3) breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. First Am. Compl. 5-11. As of the filing date of Defendants' motion for reconsideration, Benedict is pursuing only a negligent manufacturing claim against HTCL and an implied warranty of merchantability claim against HTCL and HTAC. Second Am. Compl. 4, 6.[1]

         In October 2017, Benedict moved for partial summary judgment to bar Defendants' contributory negligence defense. The Court granted Benedict's motion at a hearing held on November 20, 2017, Nov. 20, 2017 Hr'g Tr. 152, and it issued an ORDER (ECF No. 221) on November 27, 2017 and a Memorandum Opinion (ECF No. 341) on February 6, 2018 formalizing its decision.

         On December 4, 2017 (before the Court released the Original Opinion setting forth the reasoning for its decision), Defendants moved for reconsideration on the ground that the Court had made a clear error of law. On December 5, 2017, the Court denied this motion as premature, but it permitted Defendants to seek reconsideration again after the release of the Court's Opinion. (ECF No. 226). Accordingly, Defendants filed the present motion on February 20, 2018.

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Proper Ground For Seeking Reconsideration

         Defendants move for reconsideration on the authority of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 (e), which allows a court "to alter or amend a judgment" based on a motion filed "no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment." See Defs.' Br. 1, 3-4; Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e); United States v. Danielczyk, 917 F.Supp.2d 573, 575-76 (E.D. Va. 2013) . They also point to Rule 60 (b), which allows a court to "relieve a party . . . from a final judgment, order, or proceeding" on a more extended timeline. See Defs.' Br. 3-4; Fed.R.Civ.P. 60; Danielczyk, 917 F.Supp.2d at 575.

         Neither of these Rules, however, is the proper vehicle for seeking reconsideration here. As the District of Maryland has explained:

Orders are only susceptible to reconsideration under Rules 60(b) and 59(e) if they constitute "final judgments." See Fayetteville Investors v. Commercial Builders, inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1469 (4th Cir. 1991) ("Rule 60(b) [is] not available for relief from an interlocutory order. Rule 59(e) is equally applicable only to a final judgment"). Judgments are generally only final where they adjudicate and resolve all claims as to the parties. See Millville Quarry Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 217 F.3d 839, *3 (4th Cir. 2000) (unpublished). An order dismissing fewer than all claims is not a final judgment for which a Rule 60(b) or 59(e) motion is appropriate, but rather an interlocutory motion [sic] that may be contested under Rule 54(b).

Moore v. Lightstorm Entm't, 11-3644, 2013 WL 4052813, at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 9, 2013) . Defendants' motion seeks reconsideration of a decision granting partial summary judgment as to a defense; such a decision certainly does not "adjudicate and resolve all claims as to the parties." See id. "The Fourth Circuit has made clear that where, as here, the entry of partial summary judgment fails to resolve all claims in a suit, Rule 54(d) [sic]-not Rule 59(e) or 60(b)-governs a motion for reconsideration." Netscape Commc'ns Corp. v.ValueClick, Inc., 704 F.Supp.2d 544, 546 (E.D. Va. 2010); see alsoAl Shimari v. CACI Int'l, Inc., 933 F.Supp.2d 793, 798 (E.D. Va. 2013) ...


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