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Holt v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 14, 2014

DAVID HOLT II, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DAVID R. STRAWBRIDGE, Magistrate Judge.

The parties have filed cross motions for reconsideration of certain aspects of our June 25, 2014 order and memorandum opinion (Doc. Nos. 133-34) which ruled on "Defendants' Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State Police, Johnson, Winterbottom and Brahl's Post-Trial Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or in the Alternative Motion for a New Trial" (Doc. No. 121).[1] "Defendant Brahl's Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's Order Denying Him Judgment as a Matter of Law on Plaintiff's First Amendment Retaliation Claim" and accompanying brief (Doc. No. 138) ("Def. Br.") asks us to reconsider our conclusion that Brahl is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the First Amendment retaliation claim with respect to the initiation of the IAD against Plaintiff pursuant to the "day off "incident. (Doc. No. 134 at 3.b.) "Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration" (Doc. No. 135) ("Pl. MFR.") and supporting brief (Doc. No. 143) ("Pl. Br.") asks us to reconsider our conclusion that Defendant Brahl is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim with respect to the roll call comments. (Doc. No. 134 at 1.f.) In addition, Plaintiff's motion also asks us to reconsider our November 6, 2013 denial of his motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15 to amend his complaint to include a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Johnson for what we have referred to as the "Philips incident." The parties have filed responses to the motions: "Plaintiff's Response to Defendant Brahl's Motion for Reconsideration" (Doc. No. 144) ("Pl. Resp.") and "Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration" (Doc. No. 139) ("Def. Resp."). The matter is now fully briefed and ripe for review.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion for reconsideration is treated as the "functional equivalent" of a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) to alter or amend a judgment. Venen v. Sweet, 758 F.2d 117, 122 (3d Cir. 1985). "The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). "A proper Rule 59(e) motion therefore must rely on one of three grounds: (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).

II. THE MOTIONS

A. Defendant Brahl's Motion for Reconsideration on the First Amendemnt Retaliation Claim

Defendant Brahl urges us to reconsider our conclusion that he is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the First Amendment retaliation claim with respect to the initiation of the IAD against Plaintiff for his conduct over the "day off "incident. (Doc. No. 134 at 3.b.) He argues that our conclusion that the "roll call comments [were] evidence of antagonism that was sufficient for the jury to infer that Brahl initiated the IAD against Holt because Holt filed this lawsuit... is a clear error of law" in that "they were not said in the intervening period from Brahl's knowledge of Holt's protect [sic] activity and the adverse action." (Def. Br. at 8-9.)

In our memorandum opinion, we set out the causation requirements for a First Amendment retaliation claim:

In order to... show that there was a causal connection between the adverse action and the protected activity... "a plaintiff must prove either (1) an unusually suggestive temporal proximity between the protected activity and the allegedly retaliatory action, or (2) a pattern of antagonism coupled with timing to establish a causal link." Lauren W. ex rel. Jean W. v. DeFlaminis , 480 F.3d 259, 267 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Krouse v. American Sterilizer Co. , 126 F.3d 494, 503-04 (3d Cir. 1997); Woodson v. Scott Paper, Co. , 109 F.3d 913, 920-21 (3d Cir. 1997)). "In the absence of that proof the plaintiff must show that from the evidence gleaned from the record as a whole' the trier of fact should infer causation." Id. (citing Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co. , 206 F.3d 271, 281 (3d Cir. 2000)).

(Doc. No. 133 at 30.) As applied to Brahl's initiation of the IAD investigation on September 15, 2011 over the "day off" incident, we wrote:

Although Holt concedes that the time proximity between Brahl's knowledge of the lawsuit and the initiation of this IAD investigation is not unusually suggestive, he argues that causation can be established by ongoing antagonism and from the record as a whole.
We agree. Brahl was informed of the filing of the complaint in this federal lawsuit (the constitutionally protected activity) on July 15, 2011, two months before he initiated this IAD investigation. This is a similar time proximity as the Williams case and as the filing of the PHRC complaint against Johnson and Johnson's initiation of the IAD investigation into the Philips incident. Like Johnson's initiation of that IAD investigation, there is also clear evidence of ongoing antagonism between Holt and Brahl. In this instance, the roll call comments, while they do not constitute an adverse action in and of themselves for purposes of the denial of equal protection claim, they certainly constitute evidence of ongoing antagonism towards Holt. As such, Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law as to the ยง 1983 retaliation claim is denied. We will not disturb the jury's verdict as to that finding.

( Id . at 33) (citation omitted) (emphasis added.)

In his motion, Defendant Brahl relies on Kachmar v. SunGard Data Sys., Inc., 109 F.3d 173, 177 (3d Cir. 1997), which stands for the proposition that "[c]ircumstantial evidence of a pattern of antagonism is antagonism that followed the protected conduct, not antagonism before the protected conduct."[2] (Def. Br. at 8.) We acknowledge the argument that Kachmar and its progeny establish a bright-line rule that it is the antagonism that followed the protected conduct, not the antagonism before the protected conduct, which matters. See, e.g., Bailey v. Commerce Nat. Ins. Services, Inc., 267 Fed.App'x 167, 170 (3d Cir. 2008) ("Absent temporal proximity, circumstantial evidence of a pattern of antagonism' following the protected conduct can also give rise to the inference.'") (quoting Kachmar, 109 F.3d at 177)). This argument however ignores the fact that we ...


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