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Blaise Tobia, et al. v. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corporation

February 21, 2013

BLAISE TOBIA, ET AL.
v.
BALLY TOTAL FITNESS HOLDING CORPORATION, ET AL



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs have filed a Motion for Reconsideration and/or Relief from our November 20, 2012 Order, which granted Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint as unopposed pursuant to Local Rule of Civil Procedure 7.1(c). For the following reasons, we deny that Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs commenced this action on March 8, 2012, with the filing of a putative class action Complaint. The Complaint alleges that Plaintiffs entered into lifetime membership agreements with Defendant Bally Total Fitness Holding Corporation ("Bally"), which allowed the Plaintiffs to use any and all Bally health clubs throughout the country for the duration of their lives. According to the Complaint, Bally sold over 170 health clubs to Defendant LA Fitness International, LLC (collectively, with Defendant Fitness International, LLC, "LA Fitness") on November 30, 2011, and, after the acquisition, Defendants refused to honor the lifetime contracts or unilaterally modified those contracts without Plaintiffs' consent.

The proceedings that led up to our entry of the November 20, 2012 dismissal order occurred as follows. On May 7, 2012, LA Fitness filed a Motion for Extension of Time, seeking an additional thirty days to answer or otherwise respond to Plaintiffs' Complaint. (Docket No. 7.) LA Fitness stated in the Motion that it had reached out to Plaintiffs' counsel by email and phone on May 1 and May 6, seeking his agreement to the extension, but Plaintiffs' counsel had not responded. (Id. ¶ 7.) We granted the Motion for Extension of Time on May 8, 2012. On May 17, 2012, LA Fitness filed a Motion for Entry of Protective Order, in which it stated that it intended to file a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint and wanted to attach to that motion, under seal, the Asset Purchase Agreement between Bally and LA Fitness. (Docket No. 10, at ¶ 2.) LA Fitness stated in its Motion that it had sent an email to Plaintiffs' counsel on May 9, 2012, asking if counsel would agree to enter into a protective order, but had received no response. (Id. ¶ 4.) Four days later, on May 21, 2012, we stayed this action pending a decision by the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (the "MDL Panel") as to whether to transfer the case to the Northern District of Illinois for consolidation with two other pre-existing putative class actions that raised similar claims.*fn1 Thereafter, on June 20, 2012, having received no response from Plaintiffs to LA Fitness's Motion for a Protective Order, we granted that Motion and signed the requested protective order.

On August 6, 2012, the MDL Panel denied the Motion to Transfer and Consolidate.*fn2 One month later, on September 6, 2012, we issued an order returning the case to the active docket. The next day, we sent a notice to the parties, scheduling a preliminary pretrial conference for October 10, 2012. Prior to the conference, on October 1, 2012, Bally filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The next day, we issued a Notice stating that "the preliminary pretrial conference set for October 10, 2012 is CANCELLED pending the Court's decision on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss." (Docket No. 24.) On October 5, 2012, LA Fitness filed its own Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, along with a Motion for Leave to File the Asset Purchase Agreement under Seal. We granted the latter Motion and specifically referenced LA Fitness's Motion to Dismiss in our order. (Docket No. 33 (stating that "the November 2011 Asset Purchase Agreement attached as Exhibit A to LA Fitness' Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss shall be filed under seal").)

On November 20, 2012, 50 days after the filing of Bally's Motion to Dismiss, and 46 days after the filing of LA Fitness's Motion to Dismiss, having received no responses or other communication from Plaintiffs, we granted both Motions as unopposed pursuant to Eastern District of Pennsylvania Local Civil Rule 7.1(c). See E.D. Pa. R. Civ. P. 7.1(c) ("In the absence of timely response, [a] motion may be granted as uncontested . . . .") At the time, the last entry on the docket that reflected any activity by Plaintiffs' counsel was Plaintiffs' filing of two praecipes to issue alias summons four months before, on July 18, 2012. (Docket Nos. 13 and 14.) It therefore appeared that Plaintiffs no longer wished to pursue their claims in this forum and did not, in fact, oppose the Motions to Dismiss.

However, on December 3, 2012, Plaintiffs filed their "Motion for Reconsideration and/or Relief from our November 20, 2012 Order," seeking to reinstate Plaintiffs' Complaint, as well as leave to file an attached Memorandum of Law in Opposition to the two Motions to Dismiss nunc pro tunc. In support of their Motion, Plaintiffs rely on Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59, 60(b)(1), and 60(b)(6). Defendants oppose Plaintiffs' Motion.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) permits the filing of a motion to alter or amend a judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). Generally, the purpose of a motion for reconsideration brought under this rule is "to correct a clear error of law or to prevent a manifest injustice." United States v. Dupree, 617 F.3d 724, 732 (3d Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). A Rule 59(e) motion for reconsideration will only be granted if the moving party establishes: "(1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666, 669 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) also provides an avenue for relief from a final judgment, order or proceeding. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). It sets forth six grounds for relief, and seeks "to strike a proper balance between the conflicting principles that litigation must be brought to an end and that justice must be done." Boughner v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 572 F.2d 976, 977 (3d Cir. 1978) (citation omitted). Among the potential grounds for relief are "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect," and a catchall of "any other reason that justifies relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1), (6). "Relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1) is equitable" and, thus, requires the court "to weigh the totality of the circumstances." Anthony v. Small Tube Mfg. Corp., 484 F. App'x 704, 709 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Nara v. Frank, 488 F.3d 187, 193-94 (3d Cir. 2007)).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59

Plaintiffs first argue that we should grant them relief from our November 20, 2012 Order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59.*fn3 As noted above, we will only grant a Rule 59(e) motion for reconsideration if the moving party establishes: "(1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d at 669. "A motion for reconsideration is not an opportunity for a party to re-litigate already decided issues or to present previously available ...


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