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Fatiregun v. City of Philadelphia

October 2, 2009

CHRISTIANA FATIREGUN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tucker, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently before the Court are (1) Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's Order Denying, in Part, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or in the Alternative to Certify an Interlocutory Appeal (Doc. 7) ("Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration"); (2) Plaintiff's Motion for an Enlargement of Time to Answer Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's Order Denying, in Part, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or in the Alternative to Certify an Interlocutory Appeal (Doc. 8) ("Plaintiff's Motion for an Enlargement of Time"); and (3) Plaintiff's Answer to Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's Order Denying, in Part, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or in the Alternative to Certify an Interlocutory Appeal (Doc. 9) ("Plaintiff's Response"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Plaintiff's Motion for an Enlargement of Time. Further, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Christiana Fatiregun ("Plaintiff") was born in Nigeria. She began working for Defendant City of Philadelphia ("City") in 1998 in the position of Pharmacist I, and is currently employed by the City in that capacity. On May 12, 2008, Plaintiff filed her first action against the City, Fatiregun v. City of Philadelphia, 2:08-cv-02195 ("Fatiregun I"). In that action, Plaintiff alleged, in pertinent part, that (1) the City discriminated against Plaintiff by denying her the same rights as other white employees in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("section 1981"); and (2) the City discriminated against Plaintiff on account of her race, color, and/or national origin in violation of section 9-1104(A) of the Philadelphia Code ("section 9-1104(A)"). In response to Plaintiff's allegations, the City filed a Motion to Dismiss on August 19, 2008 contending that (1) section 1981 does not provide Plaintiff with an independent cause of action against a state actor and (2) punitive damages are not recoverable against the City. Plaintiff did not respond to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Consequently, on October 9, 2008, the Court granted Defendant's Motion to Dismiss as unopposed, dismissing Fatiregun I with prejudice. Plaintiff's subsequent Motion to Vacate the Court's Order was denied because the Court deemed inexcusable the "inadvertence" of Plaintiff's counsel in failing to timely respond to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

Then, on February 11, 2009, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint (Doc. 1) against Defendant ("Fatiregun II") based on facts which were at issue in Fatiregun I, namely, Defendant's alleged practice of discrimination and harassment against Plaintiff, and the hostile work environment arising from such practice. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged, in pertinent part, that (1) the City discriminated against Plaintiff on account of her race, color, and/or national origin in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("section 1983") (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 19); (2) the City discriminated against Plaintiff because of her race, color, and/or national origin, and retaliated against her with respect to the terms and conditions of her employment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 23); and (3) the City discriminated against Plaintiff because of her race, color, and/or national origin in violation of section 9-1104(A) (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 27). The City responded to Plaintiff's allegations with a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 3), arguing that (1) the claims raised by Plaintiff in Fatiregun II are barred by the doctrine of res judicata and (2) punitive damages are not recoverable against the City. (Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss 1-2.)

In the Court's May 30, 2009 Order (Doc. 6), the subject of Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration, the Court granted in part and denied in part the City's Motion to Dismiss, concluding that Plaintiff's claims are not barred by res judicata. Specifically, the Court noted that Plaintiff's Title VII claims were not asserted in Fatiregun I and, further, that Plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim, in particular, was based on facts which occurred after the filing of Fatiregun I. The Court also concluded that Plaintiff's section 1983 claim for conduct in violation of section 1981, and state law claim under the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance are not barred by res judicata because the Court's dismissal of Fatiregun I was based on the unavailability of a private right of action against Defendant under section 1981. Consequently, the Court concluded that its dismissal of Fatiregun I was not an adjudication on the merits but instead a "technical ruling" and, therefore, had no preclusive effect. The Court did, however, dismiss Plaintiff's punitive damages claims because punitive damages are not available against a municipality or against a local official acting in his official capacity. See, e.g., City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981). Therefore, the following claims still remain after the Court's consideration of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Plaintiff's response thereto: (1) Plaintiff's state law claim; (2) Plaintiff's section 1983 claim for conduct in violation of section 1981; (3) Plaintiff's Title VII claims; and (4) Plaintiff's purported claim under section 1981a.*fn1

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Third Circuit has held that the "purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1171 (1986). To prevail, the moving party must demonstrate one of the following: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available previously; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact to prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Café v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing N. River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)).

Motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly "because courts have a strong interest in the finality of judgments." Douris v. Schweiker, 229 F. Supp. 2d 391, 408 (E.D. Pa. 2002) (quoting Cont'l Casualty Co. v. Diversified Indus., Inc., 884 F. Supp. 937, 943 (E.D. Pa. 1995)). Nevertheless, since the City seeks to direct the Court's attention to a manifest error of law, reconsideration of the Court's prior ruling is appropriate and the merits of the City's argument must be addressed.

DISCUSSION

The City moved the Court to reconsider its conclusion that its prior dismissal with prejudice of Fatiregun I was not an adjudication on the merits, and consequently, that Plaintiff's claims are not barred by res judicata. (Def.'s Mot. for Recons. 3-4.) The City also contends that the Court should have dismissed Plaintiff's section 1981a claim because section 1981a is the damages provision relating to claims under section 1981, and not an independent right of action. (Def.'s Mot. for Recons. 4.) The Court will proceed by addressing the threshold question of whether its dismissal in Fatiregun I constituted an adjudication on the merits for res judicata purposes.

Res judicata operates as a "bar to relitigation of an adjudicated claim between parties and those in privity with them." Transamerica Occidental Life Ins. Co. v. Aviation Office of Am., Inc., 292 F.3d 384, 392 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing CoreStates Bank, N.A. v. Huls Am., Inc., 176 F.3d 187, 194 (3d Cir. 1999)). The application of res judicata requires the confluence of three elements: (1) a final judgment on the merits; (2) the same parties or their privies in both suits; and (3) the same cause of action in both suits. See, e.g., Saudi v. Acomarit Mars. Servs., S.A., 114 F. App'x 449, 454 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Lubrizol Corp. v. Exxon Corp., 929 F.2d 960, 963 (3d Cir. 1991)).

Plaintiff's contention that the dismissal of Fatiregun I with prejudice cannot constitute an adjudication on the merits is directly refuted by the Third Circuit's finding that "a dismissal with prejudice constitutes adjudication on the merits as fully and completely as if the order had been entered after trial." See, e.g., Gambocz v. Yelencsics, 468 F.2d 837, 840 (3d Cir. 1972) (citing Lawlor v. Nat'l Screen Serv. Corp., 349 U.S. 322, 327 (1955)). Pennsylvania courts have construed the phrase "on the merits" expansively, and prohibited relitigation even in the absence of a judicial decision finally adjudicating the merits of the case. See Kuhnle v. Prudential Sec., Inc., 439 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing McCarter v. Mitcham, 883 F.2d 196, 201 (3d Cir. 1989)) (holding that dismissal with prejudice was on the merits because dismissal was a sanction for untoward delay). See generally 18 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice ยง 131.30 (2009) (noting that the term "on the merits" is misleading because "many dispositions short of trial are considered 'on the merits' for claim preclusion purposes even though the validity of some or all of the theories of ...


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