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Matthews v. Sullivan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 13, 2014

ALEXANDER OTIS MATTHEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
TIMOTHY JOSEPH SULLIVAN, United States District Court Judge, LIAM O'GRADY and United States District Court Judge ROGER W. TITUS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

FREDERICK P. STAMP, District Judge.

I. Procedural History

The pro se[1] plaintiff, Alexander Otis Matthews ("Matthews"), filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendant, Timothy Joseph Sullivan ("Sullivan"). The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint asserting a claim pursuant to the Federal Torts Claim Act ("FTCA") and adding United States District Court Judge Liam O'Grady ("O'Grady") and United States District Court Judge Roger W. Titus ("Titus") as defendants in this action. The action was then assigned and transferred to the undersigned judge.

In his complaint, Matthews contended that he was due monetary relief from Sullivan based on his ineffective assistance of counsel in his criminal conviction for bank fraud and aiding and abetting in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1344 and 2. See United States v. Matthews, Criminal Action No. 8:11CR87 (D. Md. 2011); United States v. Matthews, Criminal Action No. 1:11CR348 (E.D. Va. 2011). The plaintiff's FTCA contentions as to O'Grady and Titus also stemmed from their involvement in the underlying criminal conviction of the plaintiff.

This Court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint without prejudice as to defendant Sullivan but only for refiling if the plaintiff's federal conviction is overturned pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Further, this Court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint with prejudice as to defendants O'Grady and Titus. This was done under the screening process of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

However, the plaintiff has now filed a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). In his motion, the plaintiff concedes that this Court correctly dismissed defendants O'Grady and Titus as they were protected by judicial immunity and correctly dismissed the constitutional claims raised against Sullivan. The plaintiff does, however, take issue with this Court's dismissal of the common law claims against Sullivan. The plaintiff contends that those claims should not have been considered under Bivens because at the time of Sullivan's alleged actions, he was not a state or federal actor and the plaintiff's suit involves common law claims that should not be dismissed pursuant to Heck.

Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a supplement to his motion. In his supplement, the plaintiff contends that this Court incorrectly considered the magnitude of the conflict of interest his former defense lawyer, James Zelloe ("Zelloe"), was working under while representing the plaintiff. Thus, the plaintiff asserts that he should still be able to raise his ineffective assistance of counsel claim as against Sullivan and his Sixth Amendment claims against Titus.

Despite the plaintiff's assertions, this Court finds that the motion for reconsideration should be denied.

II. Applicable Law

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has recognized three grounds for amending an earlier judgment: (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. Pacific Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co. , 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998). "[Federal] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 59(e) motions may not be used... to raise arguments which could have been raised prior to the issuance of the judgment, nor may they be used to argue a case under a novel legal theory that the party had the ability to address in the first instance." Id . A Rule 59(e) motion may not be used to relitigate old matters and is an extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly. Id . It is improper to use such a motion to ask the court to "rethink what the court has already thought through - rightly or wrongly." Above the Belt, Inc. v. Mel Bohannan Roofing, Inc. , 99 F.R.D. 99, 101 (E.D. Va. 1983).

III. Discussion

The plaintiff asserts that Sullivan provided ineffective assistance of counsel during the plaintiff's prosecution in the District of Maryland and thus, Sullivan and his previous law firm are required to provide the plaintiff with monetary relief. The plaintiff first conceded that his constitutional claims as to Sullivan were correctly dismissed but retracted this through his supplement to his motion. Further, he retracted his concession as to Titus. The plaintiff also argues that this Court incorrectly construed his case as a Bivens case because Sullivan was neither a state nor a federal actor at the time of his alleged wrongdoing. The plaintiff has pleaded negligence, gross negligence, malpractice, and legal or professional malpractice claims against Sullivan.

It is unclear whether this Court properly considered the plaintiff's claims against Sullivan as Bivens claims subject to dismissal under Heck. This will be discussed later in this opinion. However, his constitutional claim as to ineffective assistance of counsel has already been ...


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