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Gary Phillip Evans v. York County Adult Probation and Parole Department

September 17, 2012

GARY PHILLIP EVANS,
PLAINTIFF
v.
YORK COUNTY ADULT PROBATION AND PAROLE DEPARTMENT, AND DONALD R. LAUER, JR., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court in the above captioned matter is plaintiff Gary Evans' ("Evans") Post-Trial Motion (Doc. 80), filed December 7, 2011.

In this motion, Evans first requests a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, a motion for relief and/or to alter or amend judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59(e) and 60(b), or alternatively, a motion for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), all on the basis that the court committed an error of law by not providing due consideration to Evans' substantive constitutional claims and instead entering judgment in favor of defendant Donald R. Lauer, Jr. ("Lauer") on the basis of qualified immunity. Evans also requests a motion for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) based on a number of evidentiary rulings made by the court during trial. This motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the court will deny the motion.

I. Factual Background & Procedural History

On February 28, 2007, after having been convicted in state court of a sex offense, Evans was sentenced to 111/2 - 23 months in York County Prison and five years probation. He came under supervision of the York County Adult Probation and Parole Department ("the Department") when he was paroled on December 13, 2007. Defendant Lauer was assigned as his probation officer. Evans filed a post-conviction petition, which the state court granted on March 9, 2009. The state court reinstated Evans's right to appeal his conviction nunc pro tunc. Four days later, the Honorable Penny Blackwell of the Court of Common Pleas of York County released Evans on bail pending his appeal.

Evans filed suit on May 28, 2009, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and alleging violations of his rights under the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 1). Specifically, Evans complained that Lauer and the Department violated his constitutional rights by maintaining certain restraints on his freedom after he was released on bail and no longer on parole or probation. It was undisputed that Lauer continued to supervise Evans and continued to enforce the conditions of Evans's probation between March 13, 2009, the date of his release pending appeal, and April 7, 2009. However, defendants claim that they did not receive notice of Evans's appeal until April 7, 2009, when they ceased supervision. Defendants allege that post-release supervision comported with departmental policy, which provides that individuals under supervision who are granted a right to appeal nunc pro tunc must remain under supervision until the Department receives notice that the appeal has actually been filed.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 12) and Evans filed a motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. 20). Magistrate Judge Mannion recommended granting summary judgment in favor of the Department, on the basis that the Eleventh Amendment bars actions against state entities, including the Department. (Doc. 36, at 30-32). He also recommended that summary judgment be granted in Lauer's favor on the basis of qualified immunity. (Id. at 33-35). The court agreed with the magistrate judge's recommendation to grant summary judgment in favor of the Department on the basis of its Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit. (Doc. 41, at 15). The court held that Lauer was entitled to qualified immunity only to the extent that he followed the Department's policy of supervising persons released on bail pending appeal. However, the court found that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Lauer learned of Evans' appeal prior to April 7, 2009 but nonetheless continued supervision in contravention of departmental policy. (Id. at 7-15).

Prior to trial, Evans filed a motion in limine which sought to exclude evidence of the nature of his criminal conviction from trial. (Doc. 45). The court denied Evans's motion in limine, but excluded any reference to details of the crimes without prior approval from the court. (Doc. 50).

Trial took place on November 7-9, 2011. At the conclusion of trial, the jury found that Lauer did not supervise Evans after he had discovered that Evans filed his appeal; therefore, Lauer was protected from suit on the basis of qualified immunity. (Doc. 72). The court entered judgment in favor of Lauer and against Evans on November 9, 2011.

II. Legal Standard

As a threshold matter, the court notes that Evans asserts errors of law in the following procedural vehicles: (1) a "Motion for Relief from Decision Denying Gary Evans Summary Judgment as to Liability" under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b); (2) a "Motion for Relief from Decision Holding Don Lauer Entitled to Summary Judgment As Long as He Followed Parole Department Policy" under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b); (3) a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 and/or to alter/amend the judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e); and (4) a motion for a new trial on liability under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a).

The court will consider these matters collectively as motions to alter or amend the judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) or, alternatively, as a motion for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a). The court notes that Evans cannot file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) because he never made a motion for judgment as a matter of law at any time before the case was submitted to the jury. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(2) ("[a] motion for judgment as a matter of law may be made at any time before the case is submitted to the jury".). The court resolved the issue of Evans' First Amendment compelled speech, Fifth Amendment compelled self-incrimination, and Sixth Amendment right to counsel claims against Evans, as well as his due process claim (based on his inability to live with his family) pursuant to Rule 50(a)(1)(A), which provides that a court may resolve an issue against a party once the party has been fully heard on the issue and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue. Thus, we will treat Evans' motion on this specific issue as a motion to alter or amend a judgment under Rule 59(e).

The court will also consider Evans' motions submitted pursuant to 60(b) as motions to alter or amend a judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e). When a motion is filed within 28 days of the entry of judgment, it must be considered under Rule 59(e), not Rule 60(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) advisory committee's note (2009 amend.) (expanding the former 10 day time period for filing a motion to alter or amend a judgment to 28 days). See Rankin v. Heckler, 761 F.2d 936, 942 (3d Cir. 1985) (holding that "[r]egardless how it is styled, a motion filed within ten days of entry of judgment questioning the correctness of a judgment may be treated as a motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e)"); CTC Imports and Exports v. Nigerian Petroleum Corp., 951 F.2d 573, 577 (3d Cir. 1991) (holding that "as in Rankin because plaintiff 'filed his motion seven days after entry of judgment, we treat it as a motion under Rule 59(e) challenging the entire judgment, including the [merits]'" even though the motion was identified as a Rule 60(b) motion). In this case, the court entered the final judgment on November 9, 2011. This motion was filed on December 7, 2011, 28 days later. Accordingly, we will consider this motion under the rubric of Rule 59(e) and not under Rule 60(b).

Motions to alter or amend a judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) serve primarily to correct analytical errors in a prior decision of the court. See FED. R. CIV. P. 59(e); United States v. Fiorelli, 337 F.3d 282, 287-88 (3d Cir. 2003). Under Rule 59(e), "a judgment may be altered or amended if the party seeking reconsideration shows at least one of the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in the 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 ex rel. 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." Waye v. First Citizen's Nat. Bank, 846 F. Supp. 310, 314 (M.D. Pa. 1994).

A motion for a new trial may be granted "after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(A). The decision of whether to grant a new trial is generally entrusted to the sound discretion of the district court. See Greenleaf v. Garlock, Inc., 174 F.3d 352, 363 (3d Cir. 1999). The court's power to grant a new trial motion is limited to circumstances "where a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand." Gagliardo v. Connaught Laboratories, Inc., 311 F.3d 565, 572 (3d Cir. 2002) (citations and quotations omitted). For motions for a new trial based on alleged errors in the court's evidentiary rulings, the court must determine whether an error was in fact made, and also whether the error was so prejudicial that it affects "any party's substantial rights." Fed. R. Civ. P. 61.

III. Discussion

A. Motion for Reconsideration on Liability

Evans first requests reconsideration of the court's denial of Evans's motion for summary judgment and grant of Lauer's motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Evans essentially rehashes his original arguments on each of these issues. He contends that Lauer should not possess qualified immunity because no reasonable parole officer could believe that the Department's policy of continuing supervision was constitutional. Evans has not set forth any grounds to overturn the well reasoned conclusions of Magistrate Judge Mannion in his report and recommendation (Doc. 36) and the determinations of the court in its prior memorandum and order (Doc. 41).

Application of qualified immunity requires two distinct questions. First, the court must determine whether the defendant violated a constitutional right. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201-02 (2001), abrogated in part by Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009); Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199, 206 (3d Cir. 2007); Williams v. Bitner, 455 F.3d 186, 190 (3d Cir. 2006). Second, the court must analyze whether the right in question was "clearly established" at the time the defendant acted. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232. A right is "clearly established" if a reasonable state actor under the circumstances would have known that his or her conduct impinged upon constitutional mandates. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231; Williams, 455 F.3d at 191. The court may eschew difficult constitutional issues and award qualified immunity to a defendant if it is apparent that the defendant did not violate rights that were clearly established at the time the defendant acted. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236. Thus, as long as a probation officer is "acting in an administrative, executive or ministerial capacity," (Doc. 36 at 33), and reasonably would not have known that his or her conduct impinged upon constitutional rights, he is shielded from suit for his actions. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232 (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)); see also Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999).

Here, the rights asserted by Evans were not "clearly established." Lauer's conduct was supported by a department policy which permitted Lauer to continue supervising Evans until the Department received notice that Evans filed an appeal nunc pro tunc. This policy had been in place since "late 2002 or early 2003," "at the direction of then-President Judge Chronister." (Doc. 36 at 34-35). The purpose of the policy is "to assure that those defendants released on bail ...


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