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Reaves v. Pennsylvania State Police

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 6, 2014

TONY REAVES, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, Chief District Judge.

Presently before the court is defendant Pennsylvania State Police's ("PSP") motion (Doc. 74) for reconsideration of the court's order (Doc. 51) adopting the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 39) in part and rejecting it in part. The court granted PSP's motion (Doc. 19) for summary judgment on plaintiff Tony Reaves's ("Reaves") Title VII discrimination claim but denied it on Reaves's retaliation claim. PSP seeks the court's reconsideration of whether Reaves has adequately established a causal connection between Reaves's alleged protected activity and the adverse employment action taken against him. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant PSP's motion (Doc. 74) for reconsideration, and amend its previous order (Doc. 51) to grant PSP's motion (Doc. 19) for summary judgment in its entirety.

I. Factual Background & Procedural History[1]

Reaves is an African American who was employed as a probationary status trooper by the PSP in 2006 and assigned to the Avondale barracks. (Doc. 20 ¶¶ 1, 4, 19; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 1, 4, 19). As a result of certain conduct concerns, Reaves's supervisors extended his probationary status in March, 2007. (Doc. 20 ¶ 61; Doc. 29 ¶ 61).

In July 2007, Reaves conversed with Cpl. Ranck about Reaves's belief that he was being treated differently than others. (Doc. 20 ¶ 112; Doc. 29 ¶ 112). Reaves also relayed his concerns of differential treatment to the PSP Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office on several occasions from March, 2007, after his probation was extended, until his dismissal in October, 2007. (Doc. 20 ¶ 116; Doc. 29 ¶ 116). Reaves also communicated his perception of differential treatment to his station commander, Lieutenant Shelton Sneed ("Lt. Sneed"). (Doc. 20 ¶¶ 121-124; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 121-124). Sometime in September 2007, Reaves sent a complaint letter to Lt. Sneed outlining a number of issues relative to differential treatment. (Doc. 20 ¶¶ 125-127; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 125-127).

In August and September, 2007, Corporal Steven Ranck ("Cpl. Ranck") prepared supplemental General Investigation ("GI") reports in review of Reaves's probationary trooper status. (Doc. 20 ¶¶ 86-103; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 86-103). The reports noted a number of negative incidents involving Reaves, including three separate traffic stops of Reaves driving his civilian vehicle. (Id.) A majority of Reaves's supervisors recommended retention, but Cpl. Ranck recommended that Reaves not be retained. (Doc. 20 ¶ 103; Doc. 29 ¶ 103). Upon Cpl. Ranck's recommendation, Captain Jack Laufer ("Capt. Laufer") recommended Reaves's termination. (Doc. 20 ¶ 104; Doc. 29 ¶ 104). Major Steven McDaniel ("Major McDaniel"), the Probationary Trooper Review Panel ("PTRP"), and the Probationary Trooper Administrative Review Panel ("PTARP") agreed with the recommendation to dismiss plaintiff. (Doc. 20 ¶¶ 106-109; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 106-109). Reaves was officially terminated on October 4, 2007. (Doc. 20 ¶ 110; Doc. 29 ¶ 110).

Reaves filed the instant suit on December 28, 2009, alleging discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Doc. 1). PSP filed a motion for summary judgment on February 28, 2011. (See Docs. 19-21). The court referred PSP's summary judgment motion to the Magistrate Judge, (see Doc. 38), who recommended denying the motion. PSP filed objections to the R&R on April 5, 2012. (Doc. 44). For Reaves's Title VII discrimination claim, PSP raised two objections: (1) the Magistrate Judge incorrectly found a dispute of material fact regarding whether comparators were sufficiently similarly situated to Reaves; and (2) the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that Reaves established pretext. For Reaves's Title VII retaliation claim, PSP raised two additional objections: (1) the Magistrate Judge incorrectly concluded that Reaves engaged in a protected activity; and (2) the Magistrate Judge erred in not addressing PSP's causal connection argument.

The court found that PSP was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Reaves's discrimination claim because a jury could not reasonably find that Reaves was similarly situated to the proposed comparators. (Doc. 51 at 5-12). The court further found that PSP was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Reaves's retaliation claim. (Id. at 12-18). The court explained that a jury could reasonably find that Reaves engaged in protected activity. However, the court did not explicitly address whether Reaves could establish a causal connection between his protected activity and the adverse employment action. The court adopted the Magistrate Judge's R&R in part and denied it in part by granting PSP's motion for summary judgment on Reaves's discrimination claim and denying it on Reaves's retaliation claim.

On August 15, 2013, PSP filed the instant motion (Doc. 74) for reconsideration of the court's denial of PSP's motion for summary judgment on Reaves's retaliation claim. Citing the Supreme Court's recent decision in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar , 133 S.Ct. 2517 (2013), PSP asserts that Reaves cannot establish a sufficient causal connection between his alleged protected activity and the adverse employment action taken against him. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

A. Legal Standard for a Motion for Reconsideration

The denial of a motion for summary judgment is an interlocutory order. Bines v. Kulaylat , 215 F.3d 381, 384 (3d Cir. 2000). The court may reconsider an interlocutory order whenever it is "consonant with justice to do so." Mohammad v. Kelchner, Civ. A. No. 03-1134, 2005 WL 1138468, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 27, 2005) (quoting United States v. Jerry , 487 F.2d 600, 605 (3d Cir. 1973)). An order that does not dispose of every claim in an action "may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities." FED. R. CIV. P. 54(b); see also Gallant v. Telebrands Corp. , 35 F.Supp.2d 378, 393 (D.N.J. 1998) ("a partial summary judgment order is subject to revision or vacation at any time prior to final judgment.").

Rule 59 does not formally apply to motions for reconsideration of an interlocutory order, but courts tend to grant motions for reconsideration "sparingly" and "only upon the grounds traditionally available" under Rule 59(e). A&H Sportwear Co., Inc. v. Victoria's Secret Stores, Inc., Civ. A. No. 94-7408 , 2001 WL 881718, at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 1, 2001). Under Rule 59(e), a party seeking reconsideration must typically establish (1) a change in the law; (2) newly discovered evidence; or (3) the need to correct errors of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. Mack's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros , 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co. , 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)). Motions for reconsideration may also be appropriate in instances "where, for example, the Court has patently misunderstood a party, or has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension." Rohrbach v. AT&T Nassau Metals Corp. , 902 F.Supp. 523, 527 (M.D. Pa. 1995) (quoting Above the Belt, Inc. v. Mel Bohannan Roofing, Inc. , 99 F.R.D. 99, 101 (E.D. Va. 1983)) vacated in part on other grounds on reconsideration by 915 F.Supp. 712 (M.D. Pa. 1996).

For the reasons stated infra , the court concludes that Nassar's clarification of the causation standard for retaliation claims, coupled with the lack of thorough analysis relative to the causation prong of Reaves's retaliation claim, provide substantial grounds ...


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