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Marinkovic v. Battaglia

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 25, 2017

M. MARINKOVIC, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID K. BATTAGLIA, Defendants.

          OPINION

          Mark R. Hornak United States District Judge.

         Presently pending before the Court are the following motions filed by the Plaintiff: (1) First Motion to Alter Judgment Dismissing and Denying Parties (ECF No. 97); First Motion to Sever Action (ECF No. 98); First Motion for Recusal (ECF No. 99); First Motion in Limine to Admit Tape Recordings (ECF No. 100); First Motion to Modify for Findings (ECF No. 104); and Motion for Leave to File Discovery Requests Directly into Court (ECF No. 108). Defendants have responded to several of the motions. (ECF Nos. 101, 102, 105, 109). Also pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Sanctions Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 (ECF No. 66). For the reasons that follow, each motion is denied.

         I. Background

         In his Amended Complaint (ECF No. 31), Plaintiff alleged that he made several inquiries to the Armstrong County Treasurer's Office from 2011 to 2013 about the process for buying residential property owned by the County through means other than public auctions. Plaintiff ultimately attempted to utilize the County's direct private bid process to obtain several such properties. He contends that he was initially told by Tax Claim Bureau staff that there were no competing bids on any of those properties, but that each submission was ultimately trumped by a last-minute bidder. Plaintiff maintains that this occurred because the County was informing other government officials of his bids in an attempt to prevent him from acquiring the properties. When Plaintiff wrote a letter to the County Commissioners to complain about this alleged misdealing, the County Commissioners ended the private-sale process entirely.

         Based on this alleged wrongdoing, Plaintiff initiated the instant action against Armstrong County and three Armstrong County Commissioners (in both their official and individual capacities). On July 8, 2016, this Court dismissed Plaintiffs claims against the County (including those against the County Commissioners in their official capacities) because Plaintiff had failed to allege that any of the misconduct occurred pursuant to an official policy or custom. (ECF No. 47).

         On March 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint (for the second time) to add the Armstrong County Tax Collector, Jeanne M. Englert, as a defendant. (ECF No. 73). On April 24, 2017, this Court noted during a telephonic hearing that the two-year statute of limitations appeared to have run on Plaintiffs claims against Englert and that he had failed to demonstrate that he could meet the "relation back" requirements of Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 15(c). The Court observed that Plaintiff had clearly been aware of the existence of the Tax Collector when he filed his original complaint but that he had failed to name her as a defendant, indicating that he did not wish to bring suit against that individual. The Court further noted that Plaintiffs request to add Englert as a defendant in her official capacity amounted to an end-run attempt to haul Armstrong County back into the litigation. On April 26, 2017, the Court issued a Memorandum Order denying Plaintiffs Second Motion to Amend on this basis. (ECF No. 94).

         II. Analysis

         A. Motion to Alter Judgment

         In his Motion to Alter Judgment, Plaintiff asks this Court to reconsider the dismissal of Armstrong County from this action and the denial of his request to add the Armstrong County Tax Collector as an additional defendant. Plaintiff contends that this Court erred by: (1) failing to provide sufficient legal reasoning in support of those decisions; (2) failing to address his claims against Englert in her individual capacity; (3) ruling in favor of Defendants on a "surprise" issue that they had not raised in their briefs; (4) ruling in a manner that conflicted with the Court's pretrial order; and (5) ignoring the legal authority cited by Plaintiff in support of his Motion to Amend.

         Although characterized as a request pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 54(b), Plaintiffs request for reconsideration is properly governed by Rule 59(e). Rule 59(e) requires a party seeking reconsideration of a final order to show an intervening change in controlling law, the availability of new evidence not previously available, or "the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). A motion for reconsideration is not properly grounded in a request for a district court to rethink a decision it has already rightly or wrongly made. Williams v. Pittsburgh, 32 F.Supp.2d 236, 238 (W.D.Pa. 1998). Litigants are cautioned to '"evaluate whether what may seem to be a clear error of law is in fact simply a point of disagreement between the Court and the litigant.'" Wave v. First Citizen's Nat'l Bank, 846 F.Supp. 310, 314 n.3 (M.D.Pa. 1994) (quoting Atkins v. Marathon LeTourneau Co., 130 F.R.D. 625, 626 (S.D.Miss. 1990).

         None of the grounds raised by Plaintiff support his request for reconsideration. First, Plaintiff appears to suggest that the Court failed to provide adequate grounds for its reasoning when it dismissed the County from this action and denied Plaintiffs request to add Englert as a Defendant. With respect to the former, the Court articulated that the County was entitled to dismissal because Plaintiff had not articulated any official policy or custom underlying the alleged violation, as required for municipal liability. (See ECF No. 47 at 7-8). As to Englert, the Court explained, both at the oral hearing and in the subsequent Memorandum Order, that Plaintiffs claims were time-barred and that he had failed to satisfy the "relation back" requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c). (See ECF No. 94 at 1-2). To the extent that Plaintiff simply disagrees with these conclusions, a motion for reconsideration is not a vehicle for a party to reargue points of disagreement with the Court as to issues that have already been ruled upon. Wave v. First Citizen's Nat'l Bank, 846 F.Supp. 310, 314 n.3 (M.D.Pa. 1994); Ogden v. Keystone Residence. 226 F.Supp.2d 588, 606 (M.D. Pa. 2002) (explaining that a motion for reconsideration may not be used to reargue issues already argued or relitigate points of disagreement between the litigant and the court).

         Plaintiff next contends that the Court failed to address his request to add Englert as a defendant in her individual capacity. Contrary to Plaintiffs contention, this is precisely the issue that the Court addressed in the Memorandum Order issued on April 26, 2017. As explained in that Opinion, Plaintiffs claims against Englert are time-barred. (ECF No. 94 at 1-2).

         Plaintiff accuses the Court of improperly raising a "surprise" issue in order to deny his request to amend his complaint. According to Plaintiff:

[T]he Court raised a different issue that the defendants did not raise, and then ruled in their favor on it. The Court said plaintiff could have named ENGLERT in the original complaint by title alone, and because plaintiff did not, he is too late now.
The defendants did not argue that issue. The judge did it himself, to help them.

(ECF No. 97-1 at 5-6).

         Plaintiff is simply incorrect. Defendants raised this exact issue in their response to his Motion to Amend, stating that "Rule 17(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that Plaintiff could have named Ms. Englert in his original Complaint by her title as Director of the Tax Claim Bureau of Armstrong County." (ECF No. 83 at 9). At the oral hearing on April 24, 2017, the Court directed Plaintiff to this precise portion of Defendant's brief:

The Court: So Mr. Marinkovic, what do you do about Civil Rule 17(d) that says a public officer sued in official capacity may be designated by official title rather than by name. So you never had an obligation to list anyone's name. You could have always sued them in their official capacity by title. What do you do with that one?
Plaintiff: Well, I have to look at that, Your Honor, now that you have raised it. I would have to do the ...

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