United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
M. MUNLEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court for disposition is a motion for reconsideration,
filed by the following defendants in this matter: West
Pittston Borough; Judy Aita; James Butera; Ellen Quinn; and
Thomas Blaskiewicz (collectively,
“defendants”). (Doc. 67). The defendants' motion
challenges the court's September 10, 2019 memorandum and
order that denied their qualified immunity defense at the
motion to dismiss stage. (Docs. 64 & 65). Also pending
before the court is a motion to stay discovery pending the
resolution of the qualified immunity issue raised by the
defendants. (Doc. 69). Having been fully briefed by the
parties, these motions are ripe for disposition.
facts giving rise to this action stem from the
defendants' administration of the Luzerne County Flood
Disaster Project (hereinafter “Project”) and
Disaster Recovery Buyout Operations Plan (hereinafter
“Plan”), which allegedly violated the
plaintiffs' due process and equal protection
rights. On September 9, 2019, the court issued a
memorandum (Doc. 64) and order (Doc. 65) denying the
defendants' respective motions to dismiss the
plaintiffs' amended complaint (Docs. 21, 36, 37, 38, 39,
& 40). Of relevance here, the court denied the
defendants' motion to dismiss on qualified immunity
grounds “without prejudice to the individual
defendants' right to reassert the qualified immunity
defense in a motion for summary judgment based on a more
fully developed record.” (Doc. 64 at 27-29). On
September 24, 2019, the defendants filed a motion for
reconsideration along with a brief in support thereof. (Docs.
67 & 68). The same day, the defendants also filed a
motion to stay discovery pending the court's
reconsideration of its September 10, 2019 memorandum and
order. (Docs. 69 & 70). The plaintiffs filed opposing
briefs to both motions on October 2, 2019. (Docs. 72 &
73). The defendants then filed their respective reply briefs
on October 16, 2019, (Docs. 76 & 77), bringing this case
to its present posture.
present motion asks the court to reconsider its September 10,
2019 memorandum and order denying the defendants' motion
to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity. “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, 799 F.2d
906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985); Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel.
Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir.
1999). The movant must demonstrate one of three grounds for
such a motion to be granted: (1) an intervening change in
controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence not
previously available; or (3) the need to correct a clear
error of law or to prevent manifest injustice. Max's
Seafood Cafe, 176 F.3d at 677. A motion for
reconsideration is not a proper vehicle merely to attempt to
convince the court to rethink a decision it has already made.
Glendon Energy Co. v. Borough of Glendon, 836
F.Supp. 1109, 1122 (E.D. Pa. 1993); accord In re Blood
Reagents Antitrust Litig., 756 F.Supp.2d 637, 640 (E.D.
Pa. 2010) (“It is improper on a motion for
reconsideration to ask the Court to rethink what it had
already thought through-rightly or wrongly.” (quoting
Glendon Energy, 836 F.Supp. at 1122)).
their motion for reconsideration, the defendants argue that
the court erred in failing to duly consider the issue of
qualified immunity at the earliest possible stage in
litigation. (Doc. 68 at 10). Qualified immunity shields
“government officials performing discretionary
functions . . . from liability for civil damages insofar as
their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 102 (1982). “In considering whether qualified
immunity attaches, courts perform a two-pronged analysis to
determine: (1) ‘whether the facts that the plaintiff
has alleged make out a violation of a constitutional
right,' and (2) ‘whether the right at issue was
“clearly established” at the time of the
defendant's alleged misconduct.'” Kedra v.
Schroeter, 876 F.3d 424, 434 (3d Cir. 2017), cert.
denied, 138 S.Ct. 1990 (2018) (quoting Pearson v.
Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009)). With respect to the
second, “clearly established” prong, the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has explained:
[I]t need not be the case that the exact conduct has
previously been held unlawful so long as the “contours
of the right” are sufficiently clear, [Anderson v.
Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)], such that a
“general constitutional rule already identified in the
decisional law” applies with “obvious clarity,
” [Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 741 (2002)].
“If the unlawfulness of the defendant's conduct
would have been apparent to a reasonable official based on
the current state of the law, it is not necessary that there
be binding precedent from this circuit so advising.”
Brown v. Muhlenberg Twp., 269 F.3d 205, 211 n.4 (3d
Cir. 2001). “[O]fficials can still be on notice that
their conduct violates established law even in novel factual
circumstances, ” because the relevant question is
whether the state of the law at the time of the events gave
the officer “fair warning.” Hope, 536
U.S. at 741 . . . .
Kedra, 876 F.3d at 450.
review, the defendants' motion for reconsideration is not
based on an intervening change in controlling law or new
evidence not previously available. Rather, the defendants
argue that the court committed a manifest error of law by
failing to apply the proper qualified immunity analysis.
(Doc. 68 at 5). Specifically, the defendants contend that the
court provided too general a conclusion regarding the
constitutional right at issue and framed the “clearly
established” prong with insufficient specificity.
(Id. at 9). The defendants also assert that the
court erred in failing to request a more definite statement
from the plaintiffs, if necessary, to facilitate the
assessment of the qualified immunity question “at the
earliest possible stage in litigation.” (Id.)
court is not persuaded by the defendants' contentions. In
the September 9, 2019 memorandum, the court found that, when
taken as true, the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that the
“defendants violated the plaintiffs' constitutional
rights by depriving them of a protected property
interest.” (Doc. 64 at 28). The court additionally
noted that, based on the factual allegations and issues,
qualified immunity did not exist as a matter of law. (Doc. 64
at 28-29). While recognizing that further factual development
may impact its analysis, the court concluded that a finding
of qualified immunity was inappropriate at the pleading stage
of the proceedings. (Id.); see also Reilly v.
City of Atl. City, 532 F.3d 216, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)
(“A decision on qualified immunity . . . ‘will be
premature when there are unresolved disputes of historical
fact relevant to the immunity analysis.'” (quoting
Wright v. City of Philadelphia, 409 F.3d 595, 599
(3d Cir. 2005)); Kovats v. Rutgers, The State Univ.,
822 F.2d 1303, 1313 (3d Cir. 1987) (finding that a qualified
immunity determination was premature when the “legal
issues [were] inextricably intertwined with the factual
issues, ” and evidence as to whether the plaintiffs
possessed a protected property right impacted whether the
defendants violated a clearly established due process right).
Thus, as the court carefully evaluated the issue of qualified
immunity in its previous memorandum, the defendants have
failed to meet their burden on a motion for reconsideration.
See Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 242 (2001)
(holding that a finding of clear error requires a
“definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been
committed.” (citing United States v. U.S. Gypsum
Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948))); Glendon Energy Co.
v. Borough of Glendon, 836 F.Supp. 1109, 1122 (E.D. Pa.
1993) (holding that a motion for reconsideration is not a
proper vehicle to merely attempt to convince the court to
rethink a decision it has already made).
defendants also argue that, if needed to aid in the early
resolution of the qualified immunity issue, the court erred
in failing to request a more definite statement from the
plaintiffs. (Doc. 68 at 9). When a pleading is so deficient
that “a qualified immunity defense cannot reasonably be
framed, ” the Third Circuit has held that a district
court may: (1) “order the plaintiff to reply to the
defendant's answer pleading qualified immunity”;
and (2) “grant a defense motion for a more definite
statement under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e).” See Thomas v.
Indep. Twp., 463 F.3d 285, 289 (3d Cir. 2006). Beyond
these discretionary procedural options, “summary
judgment remains a useful tool for precluding insubstantial
claims from proceeding to trial.” (Id. at
301). Here, the court thoroughly considered the
plaintiffs' factual allegations, found that the claims in
the amended complaint survived dismissal, and determined that
a finding of qualified immunity was premature at the pleading
stage. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (holding that, to defeat a motion to dismiss, a
complaint need only contain “sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face”). Accordingly, given the factual
sufficiency of the amended complaint, the court is not
convinced by the defendants' argument.
these reasons, the defendants' motion for reconsideration
will be denied. In addition, the court will deny the
defendants' motion for a stay of discovery ...