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King v. Mansfield University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

February 27, 2015

PATRICK KING, Plaintiff
v.
MANSFIELD UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Defendants

MEMORANDUM

Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

I. Background

Underlying the instant motion in the captioned closed civil case are Plaintiff’s allegations that Defendant Mansfield University failed to take appropriate action regarding sexual harassment to which Plaintiff was subjected by another employee, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count I), and that two professors failed to accommodate his depression resulting therefrom, in violation of both Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Count VI) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Count VII). On July 28, 2014, the court entered summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s federal claims after finding that each claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, dismissed Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claim against the unidentified defendants, and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims. King v. Mansfield Univ., Civ. No. 11-cv-1112, 2014 WL 3734551 (M.D. Pa. July 28, 2014) (“King I”), recons. denied, 2014 WL 4546524 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 12, 2014) (“King II”). On August 27, 2014, Defendants filed a bill of costs (Doc. 89), to which Plaintiff filed objections (Doc. 94). On November 6, 2014, Defendants filed a response thereto (Doc. 96), and on December 5, 2014, the Clerk of Court taxed costs against Plaintiff in the amount of $6, 553.27[1] (Docs. 97 & 98).

On December 13, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion to have the court review and set aside the clerk’s taxation of costs (Doc. 99), followed by a brief in support on December 25, 2014 (Doc. 100). In his motion to set aside, Plaintiff advanced two primary arguments: first, that Defendants were not prevailing parties and, second, that the costs incurred by Defendants during the litigation were unnecessary because Defendants did not properly litigate the statute of limitations issue. (Id.) Defendants filed a brief in opposition on January 12, 2015. (Doc. 101.) On January 15, 2015, the court denied Plaintiff’s motion to set aside after finding that Defendants were prevailing parties for purposes of Rule 54(d)(1) and that Defendants properly litigated the statute of limitations issue and necessarily incurred the costs claimed. See King v. Mansfield Univ., Civ. No. 11-cv-1112, 2015 WL 224676 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 15, 2015) (“King III”).

Not satisfied with the court’s decision, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for reconsideration. (Doc. 105.) In his motion, Plaintiff advances three arguments: first, that the court “committed harmful procedural error” by denying Plaintiff’s motion to set aside before Plaintiff “had the opportunity to file a reply brief”; second, that the court did not find Plaintiff’s causes of action to be “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation”; and third, that the Clerk of Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to award costs to Defendants under Rule 54(d) because Plaintiff’s action involved claims arising from Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. (See Doc. 105-1.) On February 20, 2015, Defendants filed a response in opposition (Doc. 107), bringing this case to its current posture.

II. Legal Standard

Plaintiff filed his instant motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). (See Doc. 105.) As the court has previously noted, motions for reconsideration under Rule 59(e) serve primarily to correct manifest errors of law or fact in a prior decision of the court. See United States v. Fiorelli, 337 F.3d 282, 288 (3d Cir. 2003). Under Rule 59(e), a judgment may be altered or amended if the party seeking reconsideration establishes at least one of the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not previously available; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. See Max’s Seafood Café ex rel. Lou-Ann Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). The burden is on the movant to demonstrate that the court overlooked controlling decisions or material facts that were before it on the original motion and that might materially have influenced its earlier decision. See Scott v. Warden, F.C.I. Schuykill, Civ. No. 06-cv-1790, 2007 WL 3334997, *3 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 9, 2007). Motions for reconsideration may also be appropriate in instances “where, for example, the Court has patently misunderstood a party, or has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension.” Reaves v. Pennsylvania State Police, Civ. No. 09-cv-2549, 2014 WL 486741, *3 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 6, 2014) (quoting Rohrbach v. AT&T Nassau Metals Corp., 902 F.Supp. 523, 527 (M.D. Pa. 1995)). “A motion for reconsideration is not to 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.” Ogden v. Keystone Residence, 226 F.Supp.2d 588, 606 (M.D. Pa. 2002). Reconsideration of a judgment is an extraordinary remedy, and courts should grant such motions sparingly. D’Angio v. Borough of Nescopeck, 56 F.Supp.2d 502, 504 (M.D. Pa. 1999).

III. Discussion

After considering the instant motion, the court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate his entitlement to relief.

A. Harmful Procedural Error

Plaintiff first argues that the court committed harmful procedural error by denying his motion only three days after Defendants filed their brief in opposition. (Doc. 105-1, p. 4 of 11.) Plaintiff reasons that, by deciding Plaintiff’s motion before Plaintiff filed a reply brief, the court deprived Plaintiff of the ability to distinguish the cases relied upon by Defendants. (See id.) In essence, Plaintiff argues that the court acted too expeditiously. The court disagrees.

Briefing in the Middle District of Pennsylvania is governed by, inter alia, Local Rules 7.5 (governing briefs supporting motions), 7.6 (governing briefs opposing motions), and 7.7 (governing reply briefs). Plaintiff cites to Local Rule 7.7, which provides, in its entirety, as follows:

A brief in reply to matters argued in a brief in opposition may be filed by the moving party within fourteen (14) days after service of the brief in opposition. No further briefs may be filed without leave of court.

M.D. Pa. L.R. 7.7. While it might be good judicial practice to wait for a reply before ruling, a court need not await a reply brief before reaching a decision. This holds true especially in a case such as this, where the response discussed the issues raised by Plaintiff in his opening brief and did not raise issues not addressed by Plaintiff. In support of his motion to set aside, Plaintiff argued that Defendants were not prevailing parties. The court disagreed after finding that its granting summary judgment in Defendants’ favor “materially altered the legal relationship between the parties.” King III, 2015 WL 224676 at *2. Although Plaintiff now asserts that he has the ability to distinguish Sasser v. Amen, 57 F. App’x 307 (9th Cir. 2003), a Ninth Circuit case cited by Defendants, Sasser was not controlling in the court’s decision. (Doc. 105-1, p. 4 of 11.) Indeed, an examination of the court’s memorandum makes clear that the court applied the Third Circuit’s standard of “whether [the] plaintiff achieved ‘some of the benefit sought’ by the party bringing the suit.” King III, 2015 WL 224676 at *2 (citing Institutionalized Juveniles v. Sec’y of Pub. Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 910 (3d Cir. 1985); John T. v. Delaware ...


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