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Reyes v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2014

JOSE REYES, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case.

This case comes before the court on a motion to reconsider our prior opinion and order dismissing this action on statute of limitations grounds. (Doc. 45.) For the reasons set forth below, this motion will be denied.

The pertinent facts here can be simply stated: On April 16, 2013, the pro se plaintiff, a federal prisoner formerly housed in the United States Penitentiary, Canaan, brought this action suing the United States and alleging that in June of 2011 the prison served inmates chicken fajitas. (Doc. 1.) According to the plaintiff, the chicken was bad, and was tainted with salmonella bacteria. (Id.) Consequently, the plaintiff contracted food poisoning, and suffered excruciating pain and symptoms which included headaches, diarrhea, abdominal pains, nausea, chills, vomiting, inability to eat and profuse sweating. (Id.) Alleging negligence on the part of the prison in the preparation and service of this food, the plaintiff seeks damages from the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2675, et seq.

On March 17, 2014 the defendant moved to dismiss this complaint, citing a procedural failure by the plaintiff, a failure to timely file this complaint after exhausting his administrative remedies. (Doc. 27.) Such timely filing is required by law before an inmate may proceed into federal court. This motion to dismiss was supported by a declaration indicating that the plaintiff filed this complaint more than 6 months after his administrative claim was denied. In particular, the uncontested evidence showed that following this food poisoning incident Reyes submitted an administrative tort claim to the Bureau of Prisons Regional Counsel's office on November 9, 2011. (Doc. 28, Declaration of Kimberly Sutton (Ex. A) ¶ 3; SF-95 (Attach. 1)). Shortly after filing this claim, on January 17, 2012 Reyes was transferred out of the United States Penitentiary Canaan to the Federal Correctional Institution Schuylkill. While Reyes asserted that this transfer impeded his ability to file a complaint, the undisputed facts belied this assertion. Thus, on March 14, 2012, the Bureau of Prisons provided Reyes with an acknowledgment of the receipt of his administrative tort claim at his new place of confinement, FCI Schuylkill. (Doc. 28-1.) Further, several months later, on May 8, 2012, the Bureau of Prisons Regional Office notified Reyes that his tort claim was denied. ( Id., Sutton Decl. ¶ 5; Denial Letter (Attach. 2).) This notification was also provided to Reyes at his current place of confinement, FCI Schuylkill, and informed Reyes that if he was dissatisfied with this decision, he "may bring an action against the United States in an appropriate United States District Court within six (6) months of the date of this memorandum." (Id.) Despite this May 8, 2012 written notice that Reyes "may bring an action against the United States in an appropriate United States District Court within six (6) months of the date of this memorandum, " Reyes did not file his complaint for another 11 months, until April 2013. In fact, Reyes' complaint, which was a simple form document, was dated April 11, 2013 and was docketed by the Court on April 16, 2013, almost a year after Reyes was notified that his administrative claim had been denied. (Doc. 1.)

For his part, Reyes initially opposed this motion to dismiss arguing that he was entitled to equitable tolling of this filing deadline since his prison transfer and the loss of some legal files impeded him in filing this action. (Doc. 34.) In our decision dismissing this complaint, we rejected this equitable tolling claim noting, first, that Reyes' transfer occurred in January 2012, long before his filing deadline in this litigation. In addition, we found that it was clear that the notices regarding the disposition of Reyes' administrative tort claim, and the instructions that he needed to act within six months of the denial of that claim, were sent to Reyes at his current place of confinement, FCI Schuylkill. Therefore, Reyes' transfer did not impede his receipt of this notice regarding his administrative tort claim and his duty to timely file his complaint. Further, during this same time period from May through November 2012, we observed that dozens of other inmate-litigants were able to timely file civil complaints arising out of this food poisoning episode, a factor which undermined Reyes' assertion that unusual, extraordinary obstacles preventing inmate filings. Moreover, we found that the complaint which Reyes belatedly filed some 11 months after his administrative tort claim was denied was simply a 7-page form notice pleading of the type submitted by numerous other inmates in the course of this litigation. This form pleading merely required Reyes to fill in his name and address in order to tender this complaint to the court, steps which with the exercise of due diligence Reyes should have been able to complete in less than six months. Accordingly, on these facts, where nearly a year elapsed between the denial of the administrative claim and the filing of this lawsuit, we granted this motion to dismiss and dismissed the plaintiff's complaint. (Docs. 43 and 44.)

Reyes has now filed a motion to reconsider this ruling. (Doc. 45.) That motion simply asserts that Reyes did not receive notice of the denial of his administrative claim, a claim that is contradicted by the records before this court, which show that notice of this denial was sent to Reyes at FCI Schuylkill in May 2012. On the basis of this discredited factual assertion, Reyes asks us to reconsider our ruling in this matter, and reinstate this lawsuit. (Id.) The defendant has opposed this motion, (Doc. 48), and this matter is now ripe for resolution.

For the reasons set forth below, this motion will be denied.

II. Discussion

A. Motion to Re-Consider-The Legal Standard

The legal standards that govern motions to reconsider are both clear, and clearly compelling. "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). Typically such a motion should only be granted in three, narrowly defined circumstances, where there is either: "(1) [an] intervening change in controlling law, (2) availability of new evidence not previously available, or (3) need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice". Dodge v. Susquehanna Univ. , 796 F.Supp. 829, 830 (M.D. Pa. 1992). As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly observed:

"The purpose of a motion for reconsideration... is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Max's Seafood Cafe, 176 F.3d at 677 (quoting Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki , 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir.1985)). "Accordingly, a judgment may be altered or amended if the party seeking reconsideration shows at least one of the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Id . (citation omitted).
Howard Hess Dental Laboratories Inc. v. Dentsply Intern., Inc. , 602 F.3d 237, 251 (3d Cir. 2010).

Thus, it is well-settled that a mere disagreement with the court does not translate into the type of clear error of law which justifies reconsideration of a ruling. Dodge , 796 F.Supp. at 830. Furthermore, "[b]ecause federal courts have a strong interest in the finality of judgments, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly." Continental Casualty Co. v. Diversified Indus., Inc. , 884 F.Supp. 937, 943 (E.D. Pa. 1995). Moreover, it is evident that a motion for reconsideration is not a tool to re-litigate and reargue issues which have already been considered and disposed of by the court. Dodge , 796 F.Supp. at 830. Rather, such a motion is appropriate only where the court has misunderstood a party or where there ...


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