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Blash v. City of Hawkinsville and Pulaski County

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

December 30, 2019

JOHNNY BLASH, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HAWKINSVILLE AND PULASKI COUNTY, GEORGIA, SHERIFF'S OFFICE; HAWKINSVILLE-PULASKI COUNTY; BILLY W. CAPE; and DANNY BRANNEN, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE

         Unlike the Court's Order on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, a long, detailed factual background laying out the facts of this case is unnecessary. However, to provide at least some framework, Plaintiff Johnny Blash sued the above-named Defendants on claims for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after former-Sheriff and Defendant Billy W. Cape fired him on December 1, 2014. While the underlying, case-specific facts are not essential to this Order, a detailed discussion of this case's procedural history since its inception, most certainly is. Before ruling on Defendant Cape and Defendant Danny Brannen's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 64], the Court must first consider Blash's Motion for Reconsideration [Doc. 76], because if granted, it would necessarily re-open discovery and force Defendants to completely revamp their dispositive motion.

         To begin, Blash labeled his motion as a “Motion for Reconsideration, ” but for some unknown reason, he also claims he filed it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Notwithstanding this initial procedural confusion, what is clear is that Blash wants the Court to reinstate two previously-dismissed claims: his Title VII race-discrimination claim against Pulaski County and his individual-capacity claim against Defendant Brannen under Section 1983. [Doc. 76-1 at p. 4]; see also [Doc. 37 at pp. 8-21]. To refresh, Count 1 of Blash's original Complaint asserted a race-discrimination claim via 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) against all Defendants, including Pulaski County, and Count 3 asserted a race-discrimination claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Brannen in both his official and individual capacities, as well as the other Defendants. [Doc. 1 at pp. 13-14 (asserting claims under “42 U.S.C. § 1981”)].[1]Because Defendant Brannen did not move for dismissal of either Count 1 or Count 3 of Blash's original Complaint, the race discrimination claims brought under Title VII and Section 1983 against Defendant Brannen in his official capacity survived the Court's previous order on Defendants' dismissal motions. [Doc. 37 at pp. 22-23].

         Essentially, Blash wants to use Rule 60(b)(2), a post-judgment remedy, to challenge a pretrial Rule 12(b)(6)-based dismissal of his race discrimination claims. As bases for his Motion, Blash contends that the Court's previous order dismissing the two aforementioned claims is both legally and factually erroneous in light of the evidence uncovered during discovery; namely that the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office[2] and Pulaski County were Blash's joint employers, that “Brannen is racist, ” and that notwithstanding his lower position as captain, Defendant Brannen “wielded extraordinary influence over . . . Cape.” [Doc. 76 at pp. 1-2].

         A. Standard of Review

         A motion for reconsideration is not a form of relief explicitly conferred by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Although not specifically mentioned in the Federal Rules, motions seeking to have a district court “reconsider” an earlier ruling are usually governed by Rule 59. Specifically, Rule 59(e) authorizes a motion to alter or amend a judgment after its entry, and reconsideration is only proper if the movant can demonstrate that: (1) there has been an intervening change in the law, (2) new evidence has been discovered that was not previously available to the parties at the time the original order was entered, or (3) reconsideration is necessary to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e); see also Bell v. Houston Cty., No. 5:04-cv-390 (HL), 2007 WL 4146205, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Nov. 19, 2007). “Reconsideration of a prior order is an extraordinary remedy, and should be employed sparingly.” Bell, 2007 WL 4142605, at *2 (citing Am. Assoc. of People with Disabilities v. Hood, 278 F.Supp.2d. 1337, 1339-40 (M.D. Fla. 2003)).

         The decision whether to alter or amend a judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) is “committed to the sound discretion of the district judge.” Mincey v. Head, 206 F.3d 1106, 1137 (11th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). “[A] motion for reconsideration does not provide an opportunity to simply reargue an issue the Court has once determined. Court opinions are not intended as mere first drafts, subject to revision and reconsideration at a litigant's pleasure.” Bell, 2007 WL 4142605, at *2 (quoting Hood, 278 F.Supp.2d at 1340). According to the explicit language of the Rule itself, a motion brought pursuant to Rule 59(e) must be filed no later than 28 days “after the entry of a judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) (emphasis added).

         Rest assured, the Court is fully aware that Blash has moved under Rule 60 and not Rule 59(e); however, in light of the procedural posture of this case, a discussion on the functionality of and distinctions between these rules seems necessary. In fact, Blash makes no reference to Rule 59, instead he presents several factors the Court may “consider in ruling on a Rule 60(b) motion[.]” [Doc. 76-1 at p. 3 (citing Seven Elves, Inc. v. Eskenazi, 635 F.2d 396, 401 (5th Cir. 1981))]. Reconsideration motions can also be governed by Rule 60, the rule governing relief from final judgments and orders. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). Since these motions are not mentioned by name in the Federal Rules, courts have treated such motions to reconsider as being governed by Rule 59(e) if they are filed within 28 days and governed by Rule 60(b) if filed later. Bell, 2007 WL 4142605, at *2 (applying the former ten-day rule) (citing Mahone v. Ray, 326 F.3d 1176, 1177 n.1 (11th Cir. 2003)).

         A motion seeking relief from an order made under Rule 60(b), however, carries a much more relenting deadline. Rule 60(b) permits a court to relieve a party from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for six reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not previously have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; (4) a void judgment; (5) a judgment has been satisfied, released, discharged, reversed, or vacated or that would no longer be equitable to apply; or (6) any other reason that justifies relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1)-(6). As for the timing of the motion, Rule 60(c) states that “[a] motion under Rule 60(b) must be made within a reasonable time-and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) no more than a year after the entry of the judgment or order or the date of the proceeding.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(c)(1).

         Here, Blash filed his Motion later than 28 days following the entry of the June 27, 2018 Order. [Doc. 76 at p. 2]. Accordingly, Rule 59(e) cannot control. Blash did, however, file his Motion based on Rule 60(b)(2)'s “newly discovered evidence” standard exactly one year later on June 27, 2019, just within the one-year timeframe allotted by Rule 60(c) for 60(b)(2) motions. [Id. at pp. 1-2]. Thus, the Court will address his Motion under the Rule 60 framework to determine whether alteration or amendment of its June 27, 2018, ruling is appropriate or even procedurally possible.

         For Rule 60(b) purposes, “[a] final judgment . . . is any judgment that is an appealable order.” Bell, 2007 WL 4142605, at *2 (quoting Solaroll Shade & Shutter Corp. v. Bio-Energy Sys., 803 F.2d 1130, 1131 (11th Cir. 1986). There can be no question that the Court's Order on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss from June 27, 2018, was not a final judgment as contemplated by Rule 60. See generally [Doc. 37]. Based on this, Rule 60 is likewise an inappropriate avenue to obtain the sought-after relief, leaving Blash with only one option: routine motions for reconsideration filed under Local Rule 7.6.

         Normally, these types of motions must be filed within 14 days after the entry of the order in question and “shall not be filed as a matter of routine practice.” LR 7.6, MDGa. They also cannot be used “to offer new legal theories or evidence that could have been presented in conjunction with the previously filed motion or response, unless a reason is given for failing to raise the issue at an earlier stage in the litigation.” Adler v. Wallace Computer Servs., Inc., 202 F.R.D. 666, 675 (N.D.Ga. 2001); cf. O'Neal v. Kennamer, 958 F.2d 1044, 1047 (11th Cir. 1992) (citing Lussier v. Dugger, 904 F.2d 661, 667 (11th Cir. 1990)) (explaining that motions to amend or alter a judgment should not be used to raise arguments which could, and should, have been made before the judgment was issued). And finally, motions for reconsideration are not intended to provide an opportunity for the moving party “to instruct the [C]ourt on how [it] ‘could have done it better' the first time.” Pres. Endangered Areas of Cobb's History, Inc. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 916 F.Supp. 1557, 1560 (N.D.Ga. 1995), aff'd, 87 F.3d 1242 (11th Cir. 1996).

         Clearly, Blash labeled his Motion as one under Rule 60(b) due to the one-year filing deadline. While his Motion may have been timely under Rule 60, the substance of his request simply does not match the rule's plain text. Unreservedly stated, his Motion tries to force a square (substantive) peg into a round (procedural) hole, and the Federal Rules are just not meant to operate in this manner. Therefore, any reconsideration sought in this case, given its procedural posture, must have been cast in a routine motion for reconsideration under the Court's Local Rules. However, because Blash filed his Motion 351 days late, it is procedurally flawed and must be DENIED.

         B. ...


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