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Bernard v. East Stroudsburg University

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 18, 2014

FRANTZ BERNARD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
EAST STROUDSBURG UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT D. MARIANI, District Judge.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This action arises out of allegations of sexual harassment by Defendant Isaac Sanders against Plaintiffs Frantz Bernard, Anthony Ross, and Timotheus Homas. Plaintiffs claimed violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., by Defendant East Stroudsburg University ("ESU"), as well as violations by Defendants Robert J. Dillman, I. Sanders, Kenneth Borland, and Victoria L. Sanders, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Further, Plaintiffs alleged violations by Dillman, Borland and V. Sanders under 42 U.S.C. § 1986.

At the close of discovery, Defendants ESU, Dillman, Borland, and V. Sanders (collectively hereinafter "University Defendants") and Defendant I. Sanders all moved for summary judgment (Doc. 93; Doc. 128). On April 14, 2014, the Court granted University Defendants' motion in whole (Doc. 141), and granted in part and denied in part I. Sanders' motion (Doc. 143). As a result, Plaintiffs filed a motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) to "Alter or Amend the Judgment Entered in Favor of Defendants East Stroudsburg University, Robert Dillman, and Victoria Sanders" with respect to Count I (Title IX) and Count II (42 U.S.C. § 1983) (Doc. 145).[1]

The issues have now been fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' motion (Doc. 145) will be denied.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Procedural Defects

As a threshold issue, Plaintiffs' motion is procedurally flawed. Plaintiffs assert relief pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), which is inapplicable where the order that a party seeks to have reconsidered is not a final judgment or order. See Bausch & Lomb, Inc. v. Moria S.A., 222 F.Supp.2d 616, 669 (E.D. Pa. 2002); Dayoub v. Penn-Del Directory Co., 90 F.Supp.2d 636, 637 (E.D.Pa.2000) ("neither Rule 59(e) nor 60(b) applies because the order [Defendant] seeks to have reconsidered is not a final judgment or order but rather an interlocutory decision. See Davidson v. United States, 1998 WL 314706, at *2 (E.D.Pa. June 15, 1998) (denial of partial motion for summary judgment is not a final judgment, order, or proceeding within Rule 60(b) but rather an interlocutory decision); 10A CHARLES A. WRIGHT, ARTHUR R. MILLER &MARY KAY KANE, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: Civ.3d § 2715 at 264 (West 1998) (the denial of a Rule 56 motion is an interlocutory order from which no appeal [to the court of appeals] is available until the entry of judgment following the trial on the merits')."). Further, "ordinarily, an order which terminates fewer than all claims, or claims against fewer than all parties, does not constitute a final' order for purposes of appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291." Carier v. City of Philadelphia, 181 F.3d 339, 343 (3d Cir. 1999).

Due to Plaintiffs' improper resort to Rule 59, Defendants correctly argue that, even if the Court were to construe Plaintiffs motion to alter or amend as a motion for reconsideration, Plaintiffs are time-barred. (Doc. 154, at 4). Pursuant to Local Rule 7.10, "[a]ny motion for reconsideration or reargument must be accompanied by a supporting brief and filed within fourteen (14) days after the entry of the order concerned." Here, Plaintiffs filed their motion on May 12, 2014, 28 days after the Court's April 14, 2014 Order granting the University Defendants summary judgment, and did not file their supporting brief until May 27, 2014. ( See Docs. 141, 145, 146). While district courts may "prescribe rules for the conduct of court business so long as those rules are consistent with the Acts of Congress and the Federal Rules of Procedure, " Anchorage Assocs. v. V.I. Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 173 (3d Cir.1990), the court may only "depart from the strictures of its own local procedural rules where (1) it has a sound rationale for doing so, and (2) so doing does not unfairly prejudice a party who has relied on the local rule to his detriment, " United States v. Eleven Vehicles, Their Equip. & Accessories, 200 F.3d 203, 215 (3d Cir.2000).[2]

In their Reply Brief, Plaintiffs admit that the University Defendants are correct in their assertion that the Court's grant of summary judgment is not "final", and therefore may not be properly heard under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59, and do not specifically address Defendants' timeliness argument. (Doc. 158, at 1-2). However, they assert that this Court has the authority to reconsider its grant of summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). ( Id. ). Plaintiffs rely on Rule 54(b)'s provision that "... any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities." (Doc. 158, at 2(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b))). Nonetheless, reconsideration under Rule 54(b) by a district court "may not usually be changed unless there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent a manifest injustice.'" Official Comm. of the Unsecured Creditors of Color Tile, Inc. v. Coopers & Lybrand, LLP, 322 F.3d 147, 167 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted); see also 1 Moore's Federal Rules Pamphlet § 54.4[5] (2014) (revisitation of an uncertified order "will only occur if consistent with the principles of the case law doctrine."). However, even if the Court interprets Plaintiffs' motion as one pursuant to Rule 54(b), Plaintiffs fail to meet the requisite elements.

B. Plaintiffs' Motion Treated as One for Reconsideration

"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). Specifically, the motion is generally permitted only if (1) there is an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) new evidence becomes available that was not previously available at the time the Court issued its decision; or (3) to correct clear errors of law or fact or prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). Moreover, "motions for reconsideration should not be used to put forward arguments which the movant... could have made but neglected to make before judgment." United States v. Jasin, 292 F.Supp.2d 670, 677 (E.D. Pa. 2003) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted) (quoting Reich v. Compton, 834 F.Supp.2d 753, 755 (E.D. Pa. 1993) rev'd in part and aff'd in part on other grounds, 57 F.3d 270 (3d Cir. 1995)). Nor should they "be used as a means to reargue matters already argued and disposed of or as an attempt to relitigate a point of disagreement between the Court and the litigant." Donegan v. Livingston, 877 F.Supp.2d 212, 226 (MD. Pa. 2012) (quoting Ogden v. Keystone Residence, 226 F.Supp.2d 588, 606 (MD. Pa. 2002)).

Plaintiffs contend that "this Court improperly made findings of fact, ignored facts presented by Plaintiffs, and misconstrued other facts established by Plaintiffs... [and] also used an overly narrow standard for whether or not the ESU Defendants were deliberately indifferent." (Doc. 146, at 3). Plaintiffs do not argue there has been an intervening change in the controlling law or that new evidence is now available that was not previously available at the time the Court granted University Defendants' motion for summary judgment; rather, they appear to focus exclusively on an argument that the Court made clear errors of law or fact. ( See generally, Doc. 146, Doc. 158).

In finding that the plaintiffs failed to establish a violation of Title IX, the Court relied on Plaintiffs' failure both to demonstrate deliberate indifference on the part of the University Defendants, as well as actual knowledge on the part of Dillman, the appropriate person to take corrective action. (Doc. 140, at 41-47, 64). With respect to actual knowledge, the Court determined that "[t]here is an absence of any genuine issue of fact as to the University Defendants' assertion that Dillman, V. Sanders, and Borland, were not aware of any sexual harassment by I. Sanders prior to August 23, 2007... [and] that while the fact as to the timing of the University Defendants' actual knowledge is material, Plaintiffs have not put this fact at issue." (Doc. 140, at 46-47). Plaintiffs do not ...


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