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Nathan Riley v. Jeffrey A. Beard

July 29, 2011

NATHAN RILEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEFFREY A. BEARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

On March 14, 2011, the Court issued an order (Doc. 78) rejecting in part the magistrate judge's recommendation that summary judgment be granted in the defendants' favor on all claims brought by a pro se plaintiff against prison officials. The Court rejected the recommendation to the extent it granted summary judgment to the defendants on claims arising from the confiscation of the plaintiff's dates, and the Court denied summary judgment on these claims. The defendants contend that the Court erred in doing so, and presently move for reconsideration (Doc. 80). Because the defendants failed to show they were entitled to summary judgment on these claims, the Court did not err in rejecting the magistrate judge's recommendation and denying the motion. Thus, the Court will not reconsider its prior ruling.

I. Background

Nathan Riley, a pro se prisoner, filed a civil rights action against prison officials in February of 2009, bringing constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. These claims arose out of several seemingly unrelated incidents; including being allegedly barred from religious feasts, being allegedly transferred to a different facility in retaliation for filing a grievance, being subjected to night lighting in his cell, and having dates confiscated from his cell.

Presently relevant are the claims arising from the plaintiff having dates confiscated from his cell. In his verified compliant, the plaintiff avers that, beginning before his incarceration, he has practiced his faith as an orthodox Sunni Muslim and has done so for fifteen years. During the month of Ramadan, his faith requires that he fast between dawn and sunset, and it is a central practice of his faith that he break the fast with dates each day at sunset. He avers that on October 7, 2006, during Ramadan, a corrections officer searched his cell and confiscated his approved bag of dates after the plaintiff explained that Muslim inmates were permitted to keep dates to break the fast. Additionally, a lieutenant came over and, after hearing the plaintiff's explanation that he was authorized to possess the dates in his cell, ordered the officer to throw the dates away. The lieutenant then issued a verbal policy instructing the officers to confiscate dates. As a result of this policy, the plaintiff alleges that his dates were taken every time he left his cell and that he was unable to break the fast with dates for twenty-eight of the thirty days of Ramadan.

The defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. The motion was referred to a magistrate judge for a report and recommendation. The magistrate judge recommended granting summary judgment on all claims, including the claims stemming from the confiscation of dates.

The Court adopted the report recommending the grant of summary judgment in the defendants' favor on all claims, with one exception. As to the magistrate judge's recommendation that summary judgment be granted in the defendants' favor on the claims relating to the alleged confiscation of dates, the Court rejected it and denied summary judgment. The defendants have moved for reconsideration of this decision.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard for a Motion for Reconsideration

Motions for reconsideration are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). A motion for reconsideration is not a procedural device enabling relitigation of issues already decided. Its purpose is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or present newly discovered evidence. Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). A judgment may be altered or amended if the party seeking reconsideration establishes at least one of the following grounds: "(1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Cafe, by Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). "A motion for reconsideration is not to be used as a means to reargue matters already argued and disposed of or as an attempt to relitigate a point of disagreement between the Court and the litigant." Ogden v. Keystone Residence, 226 F. Supp. 2d 588, 606 (M.D. Pa. 2002). "Because federal courts have a strong interest in the finality of judgments, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly." Continental Casualty Co. v. Diversified Indus., Inc., 884 F. Supp. 937, 943 (E.D. Pa. 1995).

B. The Court Did Not Commit Procedural Error Requiring Reconsideration

The plaintiff did not file his opposition to the defendants' summary judgment motion, although he did object to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. Despite the plaintiff's lack of response to the defendants' motion, the Court rejected the magistrate judge's recommendation that summary judgment be granted in the defendants' favor on the claims arising from the date confiscation and denied the motion. The defendants raise three procedural objections: (1) the Court should have deemed the plaintiff to have waived his right to object to the report and recommendation; (2) the Court should not have given weight to the fact that the defendants did not object to the report and recommendation; and (3) the Court should not have denied the motion for summary judgment where the plaintiff failed to oppose it.

(1) The Court did not Err in Failing to Deem the Plaintiff to Waive Objections

The defendants first contend that because the plaintiff did not oppose the motion for summary judgment, he should have been deemed to waive his objections. Regardless of whether the plaintiff waived his right to object, the Court is free under 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1) "to accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." Even in the absence of objections, the Court would have rejected the magistrate judge's recommendation ...


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