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Butts v. Southwestern Energy Production Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 15, 2014

CHRISTOPHER BUTTS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SOUTHWESTERN ENERGY PRODUCTION CO., Defendant.

OPINION

ROBERT D. MARIANI, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 60) of the Court's Order (Doc. 59) denying its Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 38). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration.

II. Standard of Review

"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 to 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 (M.D. Pa. 2012) (quoting Ogden v. Keystone Residence, 226 F.Supp.2d 588, 606 (M.D. Pa. 2002)).

III. Analysis

A. The Court Properly Applied the Summary Judgment Standard

Defendant Southwestern Energy Production Company ("SEPCO" or "Defendant") contends that the Court committed clear error in its August 12, 2014 Opinion (Doc. 54) by misapplying the standard for a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 61 at 1). SEPCO asserts that the Court applied the standard articulated in Justice Brennan's dissent in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986), which it argues "is materially different than the majority's" analysis. (Doc. 61 at 1).

Though the Court's Opinion denying summary judgment should have, but did not, make clear that its quotation from Celotex on page two of the Opinion was to Justice Brennan's dissenting opinion, the Court's citation to the Brennan dissent does not present an error of law. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has quoted Justice Brennan's dissent in Celotex and stated, "Justice Brennan's dissent does not differ with the opinion of the Court regarding the appropriate standards for summary judgment. The disagreement is with respect to the application of those standards to the record before the Court in Celotex. " In re Bressman, 327 F.3d 229, 237 & n.3 (3d Cir. 2003). In Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., the Third Circuit noted that Justice Brennan's dissent "agreed with the majority's articulation of the appropriate legal standard" for summary judgment and quoted it at length. 812 F.2d 81, 84 n.2 (3d Cir. 1987). See also State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Steffen, 948 F.Supp.2d 434, 438 (E.D. Pa. 2013), appeal dismissed (July 19, 2013) (quoting Justice Brennan's dissent and noting that "[h]is analysis is instructive"); 10A C. Wright et at., Federal Practice & Procedure § 2727 (3d ed. 1998) ("Wright") ("Although the Court issued a five-to-four decision [in Celotex ], the majority and dissent both agreed as to how the summary-judgment burden of proof operates[.]").

In Celotex, "the dissent agreed with the majority that the movant need not present affidavits or new evidence of its own to meet its initial burden, but may premise its summary-judgment motion on an attack of the opponent's evidence." Wright, § 2727. Where the nonmoving party has the burden of persuasion at trial, the Celotex majority stated that the moving party's initial burden of production "may be discharged by showing' - that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. However, the Celotex majority did not make clear what constitutes such a "showing." United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1438 n.19 (11th Cir. 1991) ("Justice Rehnquist's [majority] opinion in Celotex does not explain exactly how the moving party may show the court that the nonmoving party will be unable to prove its case."). Both Justice White's concurring opinion, which provided the decisive fifth vote in Celotex, and Justice Brennan's dissent explained that conclusory assertions that the nonmoving party lacks evidence or factually unsupported motions are insufficient to establish an initial showing. 477 U.S. at 328 (White, J., concurring) ("It is not enough to move for summary judgment without supporting the motion in any way or with a conclusory assertion that the plaintiff has no evidence to prove his case."); 477 U.S. at 332 (Brennan, J., dissenting).

Since Celotex, the Third Circuit has followed Justices Brennan and White in finding that conclusory assertions are insufficient. Wisniewski, 812 F.2d at 84 n.2 ("[A] conclusory assertion that the nonmoving party has no evidence is insufficient.") (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 332 (Brennan, J., dissenting)). See also Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272-73 (2d Cir. 2006) ("Where, as here, the non movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may [not] show prima facie entitlement to summary judgment... simply [by] denying the opponent's pleadings."); Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1105 (9th Cir. 2000) ("A moving party may not require the nonmoving party to produce evidence supporting its claim or defense simply by saying that the nonmoving party has no such evidence."); Logan v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 96 F.3d 971, 979 (7th Cir. 1996) ("But even after Celotex, an unsupported - or naked' - motion for summary judgment does not require the nonmovant to come forward with evidence to support each and every element of its claims."); Handeen v. Lemaire, 112 F.3d 1339, 1346-47 (8th Cir. 1997) ("Any contrary rule would be fundamentally unfair and would permit a defendant, with very little effort on its own part, to place upon a plaintiff an unwarranted responsibility to substantiate each element of its case or face summary dismissal.").

To discharge its "initial burden on summary judgment, " the moving party must "identify those portions of the record demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Cooper v. Hoover, 2008 WL 341639, at *1 (M.D. Pa. 2008) (quoting Justice Brennan's dissent and referring to Wisniewski as "the Third Circuit's interpretation of Celotex"); Wisniewski, 812 F.2d at 84 n.2. "It is well established that a party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145 (3d Cir. 2004) (emphasis added) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). In Wisniewski, the Third Circuit stated that Justice Brennan's dissent "further explained the burden of the moving party" and quoted it at length. Wisniewski, 812 F.2d at 84 n.2.

[A] party who moves for summary judgment on the ground that the nonmoving party has no evidence must affirmatively show the absence of evidence in the record.... This may require the moving party to depose the nonmoving party's witnesses or to establish the inadequacy of documentary evidence. If there is literally no evidence in the record, the moving party may demonstrate this by reviewing for the ...

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