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United States v. Somerville

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 27, 2019



          Nora Barry Fischer Senior U.S. District Judge.


         This Court issued a Memorandum Opinion on March 22, 2019 denying motions to suppress evidence filed by Defendants David Anthony Somerville and Natel Deque Walker. (Docket No. 139). Shortly thereafter, the Court granted a motion to withdraw filed by Somerville's former counsel and appointed a new lawyer to represent him. (Docket Nos. 145; 146). Presently before the Court are Somerville's motions to reopen the suppression hearing and reconsider the Court's Memorandum Opinion, both of which are opposed by the Government. (Docket Nos. 156; 157; 160). The defense declined to file a reply brief by the deadline established by the Court and the motions are now ripe for disposition. (Docket No. 155). After careful consideration of the parties' positions and for the following reasons, Somerville's motions [156], [157] are denied.


         As parties are well familiar with the facts of this matter, which are fully set forth in the Memorandum Opinion, the Court turns initially to the legal standard governing motions to reopen. Whether to reopen a proceeding is committed to the sound discretion of the District Court. United States v. Smith, 751 F.3d 107, 114 (3d Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). However, “courts should be extremely reluctant to reopen proceedings.” United States v. Kithcart, 218 F.3d 213, 219-20 (3d Cir. 2000) (citation omitted); see also United States v. Trant, 924 F.3d 83, 88 (3d Cir. 2019) (noting that restraint on reopening in Kithcart applies to suppression hearings).

When determining whether to reopen a proceeding, the paramount factor for a district court to consider is whether reopening, if permitted, would prejudice the party opposing it. United States v. Kithcart, 218 F.3d 213, 220 (3d Cir. 2000). Timing is key to this analysis. “If [reopening] comes at a stage in the proceedings where the opposing party will have an opportunity to respond and attempt to rebut the evidence introduced, ” the possibility of prejudice is greatly lessened. Coward, 296 F.3d at 181 (quoting United States v. Blankenship, 775 F.2d 735, 741 (6th Cir. 1985)). In addition, a party that seeks to reopen a proceeding must provide a reasonable explanation for its failure to initially present the evidence. Kithcart, 218 F.3d at 220. In this regard, “[c]onsideration should be given to whether the law on point at the time was unclear or ambiguous.” Coward, 296 F.3d at 182.

Smith, 751 F.3d at 114.

         Here, Somerville seeks to reopen the suppression hearing based upon allegations that his counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to the admission of hearsay evidence during the testimony of Officer Scott Patton at the August 10, 2018 and December 11, 2018 hearings and for failing to utilize certain evidence to cross-examine Officer Patton at the August 10, 2018 hearing. (Docket No. 156). In this Court's estimation, neither argument justifies reopening the suppression hearing for several reasons. First, it is well established that hearsay is admissible at suppression hearings such that defense counsel was not ineffective for failing to object on hearsay grounds. See e.g., United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 679, 100 S.Ct. 2406, 65 L.Ed.2d 424 (1980) (“At a suppression hearing, the court may rely on hearsay and other evidence, even though that evidence would not be admissible at trial.”)); Brosius v. Warden, 278 F.3d 239, 246 n.4 (3d Cir. 2002) (“Hearsay may be considered in a suppression hearing in a federal court.”); United States v. Britton, 2016 WL 7380696, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 20, 2016) (denying § 2255 petition asserting ineffective assistance of counsel due to failure to object to hearsay evidence at suppression hearing). Second, the evidence presented at the August 10, 2018 hearing concerning the chain-of-custody of the narcotics and the lack of dash camera footage was not specifically referenced in the Court's March 22, 2019 Memorandum Opinion denying the suppression motions and otherwise would not support the suppression of evidence. See Docket No. 139; see also United States v. Jackson, 363 Fed.Appx. 208, 210 (3d Cir. 2010) (denying request for an evidentiary hearing on suppression motion when defendant merely pointed to discrepancies in police reports and raised questions about the truthfulness of the accounts provided). Therefore, Defendant has failed to meet his burden to demonstrate that the Court should exercise its discretion to reopen the suppression proceedings. See Smith, 751 F.3d at 114.


         Next, the purpose of a motion for reconsideration “is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” Kabacinski v. Bostrom Seating, Inc., 98 Fed.Appx. 78, 81 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985)); United States v. Kalb, 891 F.3d 455, 467 (3d Cir. 2018). Because “federal courts have a strong interest in the finality of judgments, ” United States v. Hoey, Cr. No. 09-200, 2011 WL 748152, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 15, 2011) (citation omitted), the standard that must be met to prevail on a motion for reconsideration is high, see Berry v. Jacobs IMC, LLC, 99 Fed.Appx. 405, 410 (3d Cir. 2004).

         The Court may grant a motion for reconsideration if the moving party shows: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence which was not available when the court issued its order; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent a manifest injustice. United States v. Banks, Crim No. 03-245, 2008 WL 5429620, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 31, 2008) (citing Max's Seafood Café by Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999)). Motions for reconsideration are not a tool to re-litigate and reargue issues which have already been considered and disposed of by the Court, see Hoey, 2011 WL 748152, at *2 (citation omitted), to express disagreement with the Court's rulings, see United States v. Perminter, Cr. No. 10-204, 2012 WL 642530, at *7 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 28, 2012), or for addressing arguments that a party should have raised earlier, see United States v. Dupree, 617 F.3d 724, 732-33 (3d Cir. 2010) (quotations omitted); Kalb, 891 F.3d at 467. Rather, such a motion is appropriate only where the court misunderstood a party or where there has been a significant change in law or facts since the Court originally ruled on that issue. Hoey, 2011 WL 748152, at *2. At least at the District Court level, motions for reconsideration should be sparingly granted. See Cole's Wexford Hotel, Inc. v. UPMC and Highmark, Inc., 2017 WL 432947, *2 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 2, 2017).

         In support of his motion for reconsideration, Somerville has not cited any changes in the controlling law or the availability of any new evidence. (Docket No. 157). Rather, he submits that the Court erred as a matter of law in that it allegedly applied an incorrect legal standard in evaluating the Terry frisk of his person and did not specifically find that the officer had a reasonable belief that he was armed and dangerous. (Id.). The Government counters that this argument was never raised by the defense and that the Terry frisk of Defendant was justified in any event. (Docket No. 160). Once again, the Court agrees with the Government's assessment.

         In this Court's estimation, Somerville's motion must be denied because the record reveals that he did not raise a challenge to the Terry frisk in his initial motion or proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. (See Docket No. 71 at 2; 136 at 3-4). He cited none of the caselaw raised by his current counsel and focused on challenging the constitutionality of the traffic stop; the search of vehicle; and inculpatory statements he made to law enforcement. (Id.). The Court of Appeals has recognized that:

even the most learned judges are not clairvoyant. Thus, we do not require district judges to anticipate and join arguments that are never raised by the parties. Instead courts rely on the litigants not only to cite relevant ...

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