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Burton v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 15, 2014

BETTY JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.



This Memorandum addresses the "Motion to Reconsider the Court's Order of April 3, 2014 or, in the Alternative Motion to Bifurcate and Stay Discovery" (ECF 33, the "Motion"), filed by defendants Betty Johnson, Dionne Randolph, [1] and Paul Williams (the "Represented Defendants").

Plaintiff Haymond Burton, originally self-represented, filed suit against four defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of his civil rights based on an assault committed by Correctional Officer Emmanuel Dabiri on February 18, 2013, when plaintiff was housed at Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup, Maryland ("Brockbridge"). See ECF 1 (Complaint). According to plaintiff, the Represented Defendants were "legally responsible" for the operations or the supervision of Brockbridge, and for the welfare of the inmates housed there. Id. ¶¶ 3-5. Dabiri, who is self-represented, filed an Answer on November 15, 2013 (ECF 14). As discussed, infra, Dabiri's current whereabouts are unclear.[2]

The Represented Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, to which three declarations were attached. See ECF 12 & Exh. 1, 2, and 3. No opposition was filed. I construed the Represented Defendants' motion as a motion for summary judgment, which I granted on January 23, 2014. ECF 15, 16.

On February 21, 2014, plaintiff, through counsel, filed a "Motion For Reconsideration Of The Court's Order Of Judgment of January 23, 2014" (ECF 29). He maintained that summary judgment was premature and that discovery is warranted. See ECF 29-1 at 3. The Represented Defendants opposed plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. ECF 31. They noted, inter alia, that, during the time that plaintiff was without legal counsel, he filed no response to their dispositive motion (ECF 12) and never requested discovery before summary judgment was granted. ECF 31 at 2-3. Further, the Represented Defendants maintained that plaintiff's allegations provided insufficient grounds for recovery against them. Id. at 3. As for plaintiff's assertions that Dabiri had "a history of assaulting other inmates" at the facility, the Represented Defendants observed that those claims are found in a declaration that plaintiff failed to attach to his motion for reconsideration. Id.

In an Order of April 3, 2014 (ECF 32), I granted plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, vacated summary judgment in favor of defendants Johnson, Randolph, and Williams, and permitted plaintiff to proceed as to all four defendants. Thereafter, the Represented Defendants filed the Motion at issue (ECF 33), seeking reconsideration of the Court's Order of April 3, 2014. Alternatively, they seek bifurcation of the proceedings and a stay of discovery as to the Represented Defendants. The Represented Defendants invoke Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b), which states, in relevant part:

[A]ny order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.

In the Fourth Circuit, "the precise standard governing a motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory order is unclear." Randolph v. ADT Sec. Services, Inc., 2012 WL 273722, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 30, 2012) (Chasanow, J.). In assessing a Rule 54(b) motion, courts often consider three factors applicable to a motion for reconsideration brought pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 or 60. See id. Specifically, a motion to reconsider under Rules 59 or 60 is granted only "(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Zinkand v. Brown, 478 F.3d 634, 637 (4th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). However, as the Represented Defendants acknowledge, Opp. at 2, "[m]otions for reconsideration of interlocutory orders'" brought pursuant to Rule 54(b) "are not subject to the strict standards applicable to motions for reconsideration of a final judgment.'" Boyd v. Coventry Health Care Inc., 828 F.Supp.2d 809, 814 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting Am. Canoe Ass'n v. Murphy Farms, Inc., 326 F.3d 505, 514-15 (4th Cir. 2003)).

To be sure, a district court retains the power to reconsider and modify an interlocutory judgment at any time before final judgment. Am. Canoe Ass'n, 326 F.3d at 514-15. Accordingly, resolution of a motion to reconsider an interlocutory order is "committed to the discretion of the district court, " id. at 515, with "the goal... to reach the correct judgment under law." Netscape Commc'n Corp. v. ValueClick, Inc., 704 F.Supp.2d 544, 547 (E.D. Va. 2010) (internal citations omitted). Accord Lynn v. Monarch Recovery Management, Inc., 953 F.Supp.2d 612, 618-19 (D. Md. 2013); see also Capitol Sprinkler Inspection, Inc. v. Guest Services, Inc., 630 F.3d 217, 227 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (Rule 54(b) recognizes a court's "inherent power to reconsider an interlocutory order as justice requires'") (quoting Greene v. Union Mut. Life Ins. Co. of Am., 764 F.2d 19, 22-23 (1st Cir. 1985) (Breyer, J.) (observing that "the district judge is in the best position to assess whether or not justice requires' [reconsideration]")).

As reflected in the procedural history recounted above, this case's progression, for a variety of reasons, has been atypical. The Motion represents, in part, an effort to file a classic Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the original pro se Complaint (ECF 1). See Motion at 2-6 (arguing that plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and citing, inter alia, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). But, the Represented Defendants had previously elected to frame their dispositive motion as a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, and had submitted supporting declarations. See ECF 12. And, in ruling on the Represented Defendants' unopposed dispositive motion, the Court construed it as a motion for summary judgment. See ECF 15, 16.

Plaintiff, who is incarcerated, subsequently obtained counsel, who filed a motion for reconsideration (ECF 29). In granting plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, I concluded that summary judgment in favor of the Represented Defendants was premature. See ECF 32 at 3 (citing E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011) (in general, summary judgment is inappropriate "where the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery")). Of relevance to the Motion filed by the Represented Defendants, who seek to undo that ruling, the Fourth Circuit has cautioned that motions for reconsideration create a risk that there will "be no conclusion to motions practice, '" with "each motion becoming nothing more than the latest installment in a potentially endless serial that would exhaust the resources of the parties and the court - not to mention its patience.'" Pinney v. Nokia, Inc., 402 F.3d 430, 453 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Potter v. Potter, 199 F.R.D. 550, 553 (D. Md. 2001) (Grimm, M.J.)). That risk becomes particularly acute when, as here, successive motions for reconsideration have been filed.

For the reasons stated in the Court's Order of April 3, 2014 (ECF 32), and to avoid the endless cycle of re-litigation that the Fourth Circuit warned against in Pinney, the Represented Defendants' Motion (ECF 33) is denied.

Nevertheless, the Represented Defendants' observations regarding the original pro se Complaint, which remains the operative pleading, are not without merit. I had anticipated that, if plaintiff's counsel was successful in obtaining reconsideration, he would then seek to file an amended complaint, in lieu of the pro se complaint.[3] Yet, counsel has not done so. Moreover, plaintiff's allegations are, in effect, scattered throughout several pleadings, including the submissions made in connection with plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. See, e.g., Motion at 3.[4] In my view, an amended complaint would alleviate that issue, and bring clarity to plaintiff's allegations. Accordingly, plaintiff shall be ordered to file an amended complaint by June 6, 2014.

The Represented Defendants have also requested, as an alternative to their dismissal, that the Court "exercise its discretion and to bifurcate these proceedings pursuant to Fed. [R.] Civ. [P.] 42(b)." Motion at 8. Rule 42(b) allows separate trials "[f]or convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize[.]" The Represented Defendants assert: "Because the basis for holding the defendants in this case is tenuous, it would be patently unfair to subject them to the burden and cost of discovery and trial ...

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