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Rega v. Wetzel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 1, 2018

JOHN E. WETZEL, et al., Respondents.


          Joy Flowers Conti Chief United States District Court.

         On February 15, 2018, the court issued its judgment in this capital habeas case filed by Robert Gene Rega ("Rega"). (ECF No. 93). The court denied Rega's guilt-phase claims and granted him sentencing-phase relief on his claim that his trial counsel were ineffective for failing to investigate his prior criminal records to support the argument that the jury should not find, or give little to no weight to, the aggravating factor at 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9711(d)(9), and his related claim of direct appeal counsels' ineffectiveness. Pending before the court is the Commonwealth's[1] motion requesting that the court reconsider its decision to grant Rega sentencing-phase relief. (ECF No. 96). Also pending before the court is a motion for reconsideration filed pro se by Rega. (ECF No. 98). For the reasons that follow, the court denies the Commonwealth's motion and directs the Clerk of Court to strike Rega's pro se motion.


         The Commonwealth moves for reconsideration under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b).[2] "Although motions for reconsideration under" these two Rules "serve similar functions, each has a particular purpose." United States v. Fiorelli, 337 F.3d 282, 288 (3d Cir. 2003). "[A] timely Rule 59(e) motion suspends the finality of the judgment by tolling the time for appeal" in recognition of "the inherent power that [a district court] has to rectify its own mistakes prior to the entry of judgment for a brief period of time immediately after judgment is entered." Blystone v. Horn, 664 F.3d 397, 414 (3d Cir. 2011) (emphasis omitted). The standard for obtaining relief under Rule 59(e) is difficult for a party to meet. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained:

The scope of a motion for reconsideration, we have held, is extremely limited. Such motions are not to be used as an opportunity to relitigate the case; rather, they may be used only to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence. Howard Hess Dental Labs., Inc. v. Dentsply Int'l Inc., 602 F.3d 237, 251 (3d Cir. 2010). "Accordingly, a judgment may be altered or amended [only] 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 [issued the challenged decision]; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Id. (quotation marks omitted)… We have made clear that "'new evidence, ' for reconsideration purposes, does not refer to evidence that a party...submits to the court after an adverse ruling. Rather, new evidence in this context means evidence that a party could not earlier submit to the court because that evidence was not previously available." Id. at 252. Evidence that is not newly discovered, as so defined, cannot provide the basis for a successful motion for reconsideration. Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985).

Id. at 415-16 (first bracketed text added by the court of appeals, emphasis omitted).

         "[A] Rule 60(b) motion may not be used as a substitute for an appeal, and…legal error, without more does not warrant relief under that provision[.]" Fiorelli, 337 F.3d at 288 (internal quotation and citation omitted). As with Rule 59(e), the standard for obtaining relief under Rule 60(b) is difficult for a party to meet. It allows a party to seek relief from a final judgment under the following limited set of circumstances:

(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
(2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b);
(3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party;
(4) the judgment is void;
(5) the judgment has been satisfied, released or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable; or
(6) any other reason that justifies relief.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 60. A movant seeking relief under Rule 60(b)(6) must "show extraordinary circumstances justifying the reopening of a final judgment." Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 535 (2005) (internal quotations and citations omitted). "Such circumstances ...

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