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Taylor v. Harrisburg Area Community College

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 5, 2014



SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

Plaintiff's most recent motions appear on the court's docket nearly a month after the court granted judgment in favor of Defendant in Plaintiff's employment discrimination action. In the first motion, Plaintiff requests that the court grant her an extension of time in which to file a motion for reconsideration of the court's January 30, 2014 order granting summary judgment. (Doc. 121.) In the second motion, Plaintiff requests that the court set aside the judgment[1] entered in favor of Defendant. (Doc. 122.) For the foregoing reasons, both of Plaintiff's motions will be denied.

I. Background

The parties are familiar with the history of this litigation, and the procedural and factual background have been seen forth in the court's memorandum accompanying its order granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment and is incorporated herein by reference. Accordingly, the court will only set forth the most pertinent portions of the procedural history that justify its denial of the instant motion for an enlargement of time.

Proceeding in this matter pro se, Plaintiff filed her original complaint commencing this civil action on January 30, 2012. (Doc. 1.) Following her survival of a motion to dismiss, as well as her filing of several unsuccessful motions, Attorney James D. Young entered his appearance on Plaintiff's behalf while a fully briefed motion to dismiss was pending.[2] (Doc. 50.) Plaintiff was thereafter granted leave to file a second amended complaint with the assistance of counsel.

Over the course of the following months, the parties were granted numerous extensions of time in which to conduct discovery, including an order moving jury selection to January 6, 2014. ( See Doc. 67.) On October 15, 2013, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 73), brief in support (Doc. 74), and statement of material facts (Doc. 75). On November 5, 2013, the date on which Plaintiff's response was due pursuant to Local Rule 7.6, Plaintiff filed a motion that requested an extension of time until November 12, 2013 (Doc. 78), which the court granted (Doc. 80). On November 12, 2013, Plaintiff filed a second motion that requested an extension of time until November 22, 2013 (Doc. 81), which the court granted (Doc. 82). On November 21, 2013, Plaintiff filed a third motion that requested an extension of time until November 27, 2013 (Doc. 87), which the court granted (Doc. 88). On November 27, 2013, Plaintiff filed a fourth motion that requested an extension of time until December 2, 2013 (Doc. 89), which the court granted (Doc. 92). Because the court still had not received a response from Plaintiff as of January 3, 2014, eighty days since the filing of Defendant's motion, it granted Defendant's request to deem the motion for summary judgment as unopposed, pursuant to Local Rules 7.6 and 56.1. (Doc. 99.)

On January 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed a pro se motion for reconsideration, which requested that the court both reconsider its order deeming unopposed Defendant's motion for summary judgment due to Plaintiff's lack of response and grant Plaintiff an extension of time to "secure another attorney" and respond to the nearly three-month-old motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 100.) The court struck from the record Plaintiff's pro se filing due to her being represented. (Doc. 102.) On January 7, 2014, Attorney Young fled a motion to withdraw as Plaintiff's attorney (Doc. 104), which was opposed by Defendant (Doc. 105). On January 17, 2014, while the motion to withdraw was pending, Attorney Young and Plaintiff, acting pro se, each filed a motion for reconsideration of the January 3, 2014 order. (Docs. 106 & 107.) On January 27, 2014, following a conference call during which defense counsel withdrew their opposition to Attorney Young's withdrawal, the court granted the motion to withdraw (Doc. 109) and entered an order deeming moot Attorney Young's motion for reconsideration as superseded by Plaintiff's pro se motion for reconsideration (Doc. 110). On January 29, 2014, the court issued a memorandum and order denying Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. (Docs. 111 & 112.)

On January 30, 2014, 107 days after the motion for summary judgment had been filed, the court granted judgment in favor of Defendant following a full merits analysis on the facts before it. (Docs. 113, 114 & 115.) In its 33-page memorandum, the court found, inter alia , that, although a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether Plaintiff was qualified for the position, Plaintiff failed to establish her prima facie burden with regard to her racial discrimination claims due to her inability to demonstrate that the employment decisions were racially motivated, [3] that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact with regard to the legitimacy of Defendant's proffered nondiscriminatory reasons for its employment decisions, and that the record failed to establish any causal connection between Plaintiff's filing the 2006 EEOC complaint and Defendant's decision not to hire her in 2009. ( See Doc. 113, pp. 32-33 of 33.) Thus, Defendant was entitled to judgment in its favor. Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal twenty days thereafter. (Doc. 117.)

On February 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed her motion seeking an extension of time. (Doc. 121.) In support of her request, Plaintiff characterizes her failure to respond to Defendant's motion for summary judgment as "excusable neglect." ( Id. at p. 1 of 4.) Plaintiff again lays fault at the feet of her attorney ( see, e.g. , id. at p. 2 of 4) and avers that she had just discovered that "a default judgment can be set aside by the grace of the Court." ( Id. at p. 3 of 4.) Plaintiff argues that her request creates no undue hardship for Defendant because otherwise, Defendant will have to spend resources defending against an appeal.[4] ( Id .) Plaintiff requests that the court grant her one week to research how to bring forward a motion to set aside judgment, " and, presumably, file such a motion. ( Id . at p. 4 of 4.)

On March 2, 2014, before the court ruled on the February 26, 2014 motion seeking an extension, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for relief from judgment, essentially embodying the substance of her motion for an extension of time. (Doc. 122.) On March 3, 2014, Plaintiff filed a brief in support of her motion for relief from judgment. (Doc. 125.) Both Plaintiff's motion for an extension of time and Plaintiff's motion for relief from judgment have been adequately briefed and are appropriate for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

The court will address Plaintiff's motion for an extension of time to file a motion for relief from judgment (Doc. 121) before considering Plaintiff's motion for relief from judgment (Docs. 122 & 125).

A. Jurisdiction

"The filing of a notice of appeal is an event of jurisdictional significance - it confers jurisdiction on the court of appeals and divests the district court of its control over those aspects of the case involved in the appeal." Griggs v. Provident Consumer Disc. Co. , 459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982); see also Venen v. Sweet , 758 F.2d 117, 120 (3d Cir. 1985). However, a district court retains jurisdiction even after the filing of a notice of appeal with regard to the timely filing of a few motions, such as a motion to alter or amend judgment under Rule 59 or a motion for relief from judgment under Rule 60, if the motion is filed within 28 days after the judgment is entered. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(4)(A)(iv) & (vi). Moreover, the court has no discretion to extend the time for a party to move to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) or for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 60. Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(2) ("A court must not extend the time to act under Rules... 59(e)... and 60(b)."). Accordingly, the court cannot grant Plaintiff the relief requested, namely an extension of time in which to file a motion for relief from judgment, as it is prohibited from doing so due to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

B. Motion for Relief from Judgment

Plaintiff's Rule 60(b) motion is likewise without merit. Rule 60(b) states, in pertinent part, that

[T]he court may relieve a party... from a final judgment, [or] order... [due to] (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud, ... misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; [or] (6) any other reason that justifies relief.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). "The remedy provided by Rule 60(b) is extraordinary, and special circumstances must justify granting relief under it." Moolenaar v. Government of V.I. , 822 F.2d 1342, 1346 (3d Cir. 1987) (citing Page v. Schweiker , 786 F.2d 150, 158 (3d Cir. 1986); Rastelli Bros., Inc. v. Netherlands Ins. Co. , 68 F.Supp.2d 451, 454 (D.N.J. 1999); Coltec Indus., Inc. v. Hobgood , 184 F.R.D. 60, 63 (W.D. Pa. 1999). Indeed, the party "who seeks such extraordinary relief from a final judgment bears a heavy burden." Pilsco v. Union R.R. Co. , 379 F.2d 15, 17 (3d Cir. 1967). A motion filed pursuant to Rule 60(b) is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court guided by accepted legal principles applied in light of all relevant circumstances. Hooten v. Greggo & Ferrara Co. , Civ. No. 10-cv-0776, 2013 WL 5272366, *1 (D. Del. Sept. 18, 2013) (citing Pierce Assoc. Inc. v. Nemours Found ., 865 F.2d 530, 548 (3d Cir. 1988)).

III. Discussion

Initially, the court must highlight the true relief requested by Plaintiff. Although Plaintiff's motion requests, on its face, relief from the January 30, 2014 order granting judgment in Defendant's favor, it truly requests relief from the January 3, 2014 order. Indeed, simply reconsidering the summary judgment motion on the same record before the court would be a pointless exercise, and even Plaintiff recognizes that the court reached the only conclusion possible on the record. ( See Doc. 121, p. 2 of 4; see also supra Part I n. 4.) In order to permit Plaintiff to oppose the motion for summary judgment at this post-judgment stage, the court would have to vacate its January 3, 2014 order and reopen the record for the purpose of receiving new evidence before it conducted another merits review. The court has explained its reasoning for its decision to deem Defendant's motion for summary judgment as unopposed on January 3, 2014 (Doc. 99), explained its reasoning in denying Plaintiff's motion to reconsider that ruling (Doc. 111), and reiterated its reasoning again in its memorandum in support of the order granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 113). The court will not repeat its rationale for a fourth time here beyond the following: Plaintiff had a duty to oppose the motion for summary judgment, she was granted many chances in which to do so, she still failed to do so, Defendant's motion was deemed unopposed pursuant to the local rules, and judgment was granted in Defendant's favor following a merits analysis. Moreover, for reasons explained below, Plaintiff has failed to present any extraordinary reason to justify this relief as required by Rule 60.

A. Rule 60(b)(1)

"Inadvertence, ignorance of the rules, or mistakes construing the rules do not usually constitute excusable' neglect." Pioneer Inv. Serv. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. , 507 U.S. 380, 392 (1993). The determination of what constitutes excusable neglect for purposes of relief from judgment is an equitable one, and thus, the court must take into account all relevant circumstances, including: 1) the danger of prejudice to the nonmovant; 2) the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings; 3) the reason for the delay, including whether it was in reasonable control of the movant; and 4) whether the movant acted in good faith. Id. at 395; see also Ragguette v. Premier Wines & Spirits, Ltd. , 424 F.Appx. 155, 156-57 (3d Cir. 2011). As explained in this court's January 29, 2014 memorandum addressing Plaintiff's previous motion concerning the January 3, 2014 order:

The Third Circuit has refused to find excusable an attorney's neglect where the order from which the movant complains was the product of a history of a course of misconduct. See Tuerk , 317 F.Appx. at 253-54 (finding that "the attorney's failure to respond was not an isolated incident, " but rather "part of a pattern of disregard for court orders during the course of proceedings, " whereby there was no basis to "establish excusable neglect, " and "his attempt to argue excusable neglect on [the] record border[ed] on frivolity").

Taylor v. Harrisburg Area Cmty. Coll. , Civ. No. 12-cv-0169, 2014 WL 321204, *2 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 29, 2014). The court has considered the Pioneer factors and concludes that Rule 60(b) provides Plaintiff no relief. Here, Plaintiff alleges her "excusable neglect" was in the nature of "assuming she had done the necessary due diligence to ensure that her Attorney was licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and her confirmation that he had no Ethic scomplaints [sic] lodged against him, " and that she "made a mistake in trusting that her Attorney would file the response." (Doc. 121, pp. 1-2 of 4; Doc. 122, pp. 5-6 of 9.) However, Plaintiff was aware of the court's deadlines and knew that her attorney did not respond to the motion for summary judgment.[5] Thus, Plaintiff has not satisfied the high bar required for relief under Rule 60(b)(1).

B. Rule 60(b)(2)

Rule 60(b)(2) requires that the new evidence: (1) be material and not merely cumulative; (2) could not have been discovered before trial through the exercise of reasonable diligence; and (3) would probably have changed the outcome of the trial. Floorgraphics Inc. v. News Am. Mktg. In-Store Servs., Inc. , 434 F.Appx. 109, 111 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Compass Tech., Inc. v. Tseng Lab., Inc. , 71 F.3d 1125, 1130 (3d Cir. 1995)). A party requesting such relief bears a "heavy burden, " and must establish its entitlement to relief by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. (citing Tseng Lab. , 71 F.3d at 1130).

Plaintiff claims that her case is meritorious and that she can defeat the motion for summary judgment if the court permits her to correct her procedural errors. (Doc. 121, p. 3 of 4; Doc. 122, p. 4 of 9.) Rule 60(b)(2) provides Plaintiff no relief. Even assuming Plaintiff's evidence is material, not cumulative, and would have changed the outcome of the summary judgment motion, the key qualifier in the subsection is "newly discovered, " which has been interpreted to mean the evidence could not have been discovered before judgment despite the exercise of reasonable diligence. The "newly discovered" component of Rule 60(b)(2) is not even alleged, let alone established, in Plaintiff's motion. Plaintiff should have submitted any evidence that she - or her counsel - was sitting on that would have defeated Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The fact that she had it in her possession and simply did not submit it for eighty days does not entitle her to submit it now that judgment has been entered. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion will be denied to the extent it asserts that she has newly discovered evidence.

C. Rule 60(b)(3)

Unlike the preponderance of the evidence burden of proof required for relief under subsection(b)(2), relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(3) requires the movant show that the opposing party engaged in fraud or other misconduct by clear and convincing evidence. See Brown v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co. , 282 F.2d 522, 527 (3d Cir. 1960). Furthermore, the moving party must establish that the purported fraud substantially interfered with the aggrieved party's ability to fully and fairly present her case. Floorgraphics , 434 F.Appx. at 111-12 (citing Stridiron v. Stridiron , 698 F.2d 204, 207 (3d Cir. 1983)); see also In re Lapman , 494 B.R. 218, 223 (M.D. Pa. 2013) (citing Zurich N. Am. v. Matrix Serv., Inc. , 426 F.3d 1281, 1290 (10th Cir. 2005)). The movant must show that the information not disclosed was clearly material to the outcome of the litigation or that such evidence would have made a difference in advancing the moving party's case. Bandai Am. Inc. v. Bally Midway Mfg. Co. , 775 F.2d 70, 73 (3d Cir. 1985) (holding that "[the movant's] proofs are lacking in [this] respect[], " and therefore rejecting an attempt to reopen a settlement under Rule 60(b)(3)).

If this case involved fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct, it is not alleged to be on the part of the opposing party. This is clearly not the type of scenario contemplated by the rule. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion will be denied to the extent it asserts that she failed to oppose Defendant's motion for summary judgment due to fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct on the part of her counsel.

D. Rule 60(b)(6)

It is within this court's power to vacate its previous order for any reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment. This type of relief is only sparingly granted, however, as vacating and granting relief from final judgments impairs the judicial system's compelling need for finality in litigation. Rastelli Bros. , 68 F.Supp.2d at 453. Moreover, because Rule 60 specifically provides for specific relief in the event of mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect (Rule 60(b)(1)), newly discovered evidence (Rule 60(b)(2)), or fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party (Rule 60(b)(3)), Rule 60(b)(6) represents a "savings clause" with which the court can remedy unforeseen injustices not addressed by the other subsections of Rule 60. Thus, the reasons submitted in support of relief under (b)(1)-(5) cannot be the basis for relief under (b)(6). In re Hechinger Inv. Co. of Del., Inc. , 309 B.R. 706, 709 (D. Del. 2004) (quoting Murray v. Ford Motor Co. , 770 F.2d 461, 463 (5th Cir. 1985)) . Here, Plaintiff's argument boils down to her attorney's conduct, which she avers excuses her neglect, implicating subsection (b)(1). Rule 60(b)(6) is only to be invoked in the most "extraordinary circumstances, where, without such relief, an extreme and unexpected hardship would occur." Sawka v. Healtheast, Inc. , 989 F.2d 138, 140 (3d Cir. 1993). Such compelling circumstances are not present here.[6]

IV. Conclusion

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure prohibit the court from extending the time in which an aggrieved party may file a motion under Rule 59(e) or 60(b). Thus, the court cannot grant Plaintiff the relief she requests in her motion for an extension of time (Doc. 121) as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court will deny the motion. Moreover, Plaintiff's Rule 60(b) motion related to the court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant is without merit. Due to Plaintiff's continued failure to oppose Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the court deemed the motion unopposed after it had been pending for eighty days without a response from Plaintiff. On the record before it, the court concluded that Plaintiff did not have a case that warranted submission to the jury, and granted judgment in favor of Defendant. Plaintiff's justification for her failure to respond (again, attacking the January 3, 2014 order) does not satisfy the high burden justifying the extraordinary relief requested through a Rule 60(b) motion. For these reasons, the court will deny Plaintiff's request for an enlargement of time (Doc. 121) and motion for relief from judgment (Doc. 122) in their entireties.

Appropriate orders will issue.

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