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Lee v. Cameron

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 19, 2017

HAN TAK LEE, Petitioner
KEN CAMERON, ET AL., Respondents


          William J. Nealon United States District Judge


         Presently before the Court is Petitioner's motion for reconsideration of this Court's Memorandum and Order, (Docs. 122-23), issued on January 5, 2016. (Doc. 124). Petitioner requests that this Court reconsider its denial of Petitioner's request to bar the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from future prosecution against Petitioner of any charges relating to the 1989 fire that resulted in the death of his daughter. (Id.).

         For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's motion for reconsideration will be denied.

          Standard of Review

         A motion for reconsideration is a device of limited utility. It may be used only to seek remediation for manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence which, if discovered previously, might have affected the court's decision. Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906 (3d Cir. 1985), cert-denied. 476 U.S. 1171 (1986); Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Maitland, Civil No. 87-0827 (M.D. Pa. March 1, 1989) (Rambo, J.). Accordingly, a party seeking reconsideration must demonstrate at least one of the following grounds prior to the court altering, or amending, a standing judgment: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Cafe v. Ouineros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)). A motion for reconsideration is appropriate in instances where the court has "...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." See Rohrbach v. AT & T Nassau Metals Corp., 902 F.Supp. 523, 527 (M.D. Pa. 1995), vacated in part on other grounds on reconsideration, 915 F.Supp. 712 (M.D. Pa. 1996) (quoting Above the Belt. Inc. v. Mel Bohannan Roofing. Inc., 99 F.R.D. 99, 101 (E.D. Va. 1983)). It may not be used as a means to reargue unsuccessful theories, or argue new facts or issues that were not presented to the court in the context of the matter previously decided. Drysdale v. Woerth, 153 F.Supp.2d 678, 682 (E.D. Pa. 2001). "Because 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).


          In the motion for reconsideration, Petitioner requests that this Court reverse its decision denying Petitioner's request to bar re-prosecution of Petitioner on charges arising from the death of his daughter in 1989, for the following "interrelated" reasons:

(1) in requesting an order barring retrial, [P]etitioner did not contend that such relief was mandated by the words or intendment of the August 8, 2014 order "in itself;" (2) [P]etitioner never argued that it was the Commonwealth's failure to commence a retrial within 120 days of August 8, 2014, that entitled him to an order barring retrial; (3) this Court's [M]emorandum never addresses the arguments actually made by [] [P]etitioner in support of his request for relief; and (4) the Court's [M]emoramdum does not mention the controlling Third Circuit authority on this issue, which is not limited to situations (such as double jeopardy) where the constitutional violation at the original trial is itself the basis for barring any retrial.

(Doc. 125, p. 3).[1]

         Initially, it is noted that Petitioner has never asserted that re-prosecution should be barred because the state did not retry him within the one hundred twenty (120) day period permitted in the conditional grant of writ or that re-prosecution should be barred based on this Court's August 8, 2014 Order. Petitioner is also not arguing that there was an intervening change in controlling law or that there is an availability of new evidence that was not available when this Court granted his habeas petition. Instead, he is arguing that there was a clear error of law that needs to be corrected to prevent a manifest injustice.

         In support of this assertion, Petitioner relies on several decisions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In each of these cases, the issue involved procedural delays on the part of the state court, not a time lapse between a conviction date and the date of a grant of a writ of habeas corpus petition. See Codisposti v. Howard, 589 F.2d 135 (3d Cir. 1978) (The Third Circuit held that because the petitioner's new trial motion filed in state court on the day of his sentencing twelve (12) years earlier had never been addressed by the state court, "[t]he trial court's delay in responding to his post-trial motions has stymied his appeal and barred judicial review" and warranted an evidentiary hearing at the trial court level to determine "whether there were errors committed at Codispoti's trial which were of a constitutional dimension. If there were constitutional violations, the court should further determine whether a new trial should be held or whether due to the passage of time [from the state court appeal] the charges must be dismissed. Even if the court concludes that there were no constitutional violations at the original state trial, the court is free to consider whether the sheer length of the delay in deciding the new trial motion is a violation of Codispoti's constitutional rights."); Heiser v. Ryan, 951 F.2d 559, 564 (3d Cir. 1991) (The Third Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the petition for writ of habeas corpus and remanded back to the court for an evidentiary hearing on the allegations set forth in the petition that the petitioner's procedural due process rights were violated by the state court's failure to rule on both his motion to withdraw his guilty plea and his PCHA petition, and held that "Normally, the remedy for a due process violation is not discharge . . . [] discharge is appropriate when 'attempting an alternative remedy would not vitiate the prejudice of the fundamental unfairness or would itself violate a petitioner's constitutional rights.'"(quoting Burkett v. Cunningham, 826 F.2d 1208, 1221 (3d Cir. 1987), overruled by Betterman v. Montana, 136 S.Ct. 1609 (2016)).[2] Based on these cases, Petitioner argues the following:

. . . [P]etitioner relies on and invokes this Court's discretion at this time and under all the present, post-remand circumstances, to evaluate whether "the prejudice of the fundamental unfairness" (Heiser, quoting Burkett), found by this Court in [Petitioner]'s case (and affirmed by the Third Circuit) is such, "due to the passage of time" (Codispoti), that it could not be "vitiated" (Heiser) by a new trial.
In light of the history of this case (CodispotO, it is only fair that [Petitioner] be judicially declared forever free from any fear of re-prosecution on the same charges. In exercising its remedial discretion under controlling precedent, [P]etitioner asks that this Court take into consideration [] [Petitioner's age (nearing 81), the passage of time since the fatal fire (26 ½ years), the paucity, loss or destruction of most of the original physical and laboratory evidence, without which [Petitioner] almost certainly will never be able to prove (or even scientifically establish a reasonable doubt) whether the fire started by accident, the belated revelation through discovery and hearing before Magistrate Judge Carlson that misleading if not false testimony was presented against him at trial by the now-deceased state police lab chemist, Thomas Pacewicz, and then emphasized in argument to the jury by the District Attorney, the deaths and faded memories of other witnesses, [Petitioner]'s 24 years of unjust incarceration (and all the personal losses associated with that incarceration), the effect of that incarcerations and passage of time on [Petitioner]'s ability to ...

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