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Bonilla v. City of Allentown

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 12, 2019

AURELLIO BONILLA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ALLENTOWN; CITY OF ALLENTOWN POLICE PENSION FUND ASSOCIATION; ED PAWLOSKI; JUILO GURIDY; RAY O'CONNELL; JOE DAVIS; JEANETTE EICHENWALD; DARYL L. HENDRICKS; CYNTHIA MOTA; PETER SCHWEYER; GARRET STRATHEAM; MARY ELLEN KOVAL; LOUIS COLLINS; IBOLYA BALOG; JAMES GRESS; RYAN KOONS; JEFF GLAZIER; MICHAEL WILLIAMS; and EDUARDO EICHENWALD, Defendants.

          OPINION PLAINTIFF'S SECOND MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION, ECF NO. 104- DENIED

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Aurelio Bonilla, a former police officer with the City of Allentown, filed this civil rights action alleging that he was wrongfully denied a pension. On February 13, 2019, this Court dismissed Bonilla's due process claims[2] without prejudice as premature because the pension proceedings were not complete. The instant Opinion addresses Bonilla's second[3]motion to reconsider that decision and to certify the order for interlocutory appeal. Bonilla's motion is based solely on the recent Supreme Court decision in Knick v. Twp. of Scott, 139 S.Ct. 2162 (2019). For the reasons set forth below, because Knick has no application to Bonilla's due process claims, the motion to reconsider and to certify for an interlocutory appeal is denied.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Motion for Reconsideration

         “The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). “Accordingly, a judgment may be altered or amended 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 granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice.” Max's Seafood Cafe by Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). A motion for reconsideration “is not properly founded on a request that the Court rethink what [it] had already thought through-rightly or wrongly.” Pollock v. Energy Corp. of Am., 665 Fed.Appx. 212, 218 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal quotations omitted). “Because federal courts have a strong interest in the finality of judgments, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly.” Cont'l Casualty Co. v. Diversified Indus., 884 F.Supp. 937, 943 (E.D. Pa. 1995).

         B. Certification of Order for Interlocutory Appeal

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), a court may certify an order for interlocutory appeal when: (1) the order involves a controlling question of law, (2) as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion, and (3) an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. See 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b). “The party seeking the interlocutory appeal has the burden to establish that all three conditions are met.” Harris v. Kellogg, Brown & Root Servs., No. 08-563, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56193, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 27, 2016); Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp., 867 F.Supp. 319, 320 (E.D. Pa. 1994). “Congress intended that section 1292(b) should be sparingly applied. It is to be used only in exceptional cases where an intermediate appeal may avoid protracted and expensive litigation and is not intended to open the floodgates to a vast number of appeals from interlocutory orders in ordinary litigation.” Milbert v. Bison Labs., Inc., 260 F.2d 431, 433 (3d Cir. 1958). Interlocutory appeals are disfavored because (1) “[p]ermitting piecemeal appeals would undermine the independence of the district judge, as well as the special role that individual plays in our judicial system, ” (2) of the “sensible policy of [avoiding] the obstruction to just claims that would come from permitting the harassment and cost of a succession of separate appeals from the various rulings to which a litigation may give rise, ” and (3) of “the important purpose of promoting efficient judicial administration.” Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Risjord, 449 U.S. 368, 374 (1981) (internal quotations omitted).

         A party may also file an interlocutory appeal of orders “granting, continuing, modifying, refusing or dissolving injunctions, or refusing to dissolve or modify injunctions, except where a direct review may be had in the Supreme Court.” 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(1). For an interlocutory order to be immediately appealable under § 1292(a)(1), the “litigant must show more than that the order has the practical effect of refusing an injunction.” Carson v. Am. Brands, 450 U.S. 79, 84 (1981). “Because § 1292(a)(1) was intended to carve out only a limited exception to the final-judgment rule, [the Supreme Court has] construed the statute narrowly to ensure that appeal as of right under § 1292(a)(1) will be available only in circumstances where an appeal will further the statutory purpose of [permitting] litigants to effectually challenge interlocutory orders of serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). “Unless a litigant can show that an interlocutory order of the district court might have a serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence, and that the order can be effectually challenged only by immediate appeal, the general congressional policy against piecemeal review will preclude interlocutory appeal.” Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Bonilla's motion for reconsideration is based entirely upon the Supreme Court's decision in Knick. This Court therefore begins its analysis with a brief explanation of the facts and holding thereof.

         A. Knick held that a property owner may bring a takings claim in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 without first exhausting state law remedies.

         Rose Mary Knick owned ninety acres of land, part of which included a small graveyard where Knick's neighbor's ancestors were allegedly buried, in Scott Township, Pennsylvania. See Knick, 139 S.Ct. at 2168. In 2012, Scott Township passed an ordinance requiring all cemeteries to be open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours. See id. Knick sought declaratory and injunctive relief in state court on the ground that the ordinance effected a taking of her property. See id. In response, the Township agreed to stay enforcement of the ordinance during the state court proceedings, but the state court declined to rule on Knick's request for relief without an ongoing enforcement action. See Id. Knick then filed an action in federal court alleging the ordinance violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. See id. The District Court dismissed the action because Knick had not pursued an inverse condemnation action in state court, a decision which was affirmed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals based on Williamson County Regional Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985).

         On certiorari review, the United States Supreme Court concluded “that the state-litigation requirement imposes an unjustifiable burden on takings plaintiffs [and] conflicts with [other] takings jurisprudence.” See Knick, 139 S.Ct. at 2167. The Court reasoned that Williamson County (holding that a property owner has not suffered a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights until a state court has denied his claim for just compensation under state law), taken in conjunction with San Remo Hotel, L.P. v. City and County of San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323 (2005) (requiring federal courts to give deference to a state court's resolution of a takings claim), presented individuals whose property had been taken with a “Catch-22.” See Knick, 139 S.Ct. at 2167-69. Specifically, an individual whose property had been taken “cannot go to federal court without going to state court first; but if he goes to state court and loses, his claim will be barred in federal court. The federal claim dies aborning.” Id. at 2167. Knick resolved this dilemma by overruling ...


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