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Smith v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 9, 2019

ALTON W. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Alton W. Smith ("Smith") brought this lawsuit against Baltimore City Community College ("BCCC"), the State of Maryland, and three Individual Defendants: Tonja L. Ringgold ("Ringgold"), Enyinnaya Iweha ("Iweha"), and Cynthia Webb ("Webb"), alleging that the termination from his position as an associate professor at BCCC was a breach of his teaching contract and in violation of his federal and state due process rights. (Compl., ECF No. 2.) Smith alleged seven causes of action against Defendants including breach of contract (Count I), interference with economic relationship (Counts II-V), and federal, and state due process claims (Counts VI and VII). On April 4, 2018, this Court granted Summary Judgment[1]in favor of the Defendants on all Smith's claims except Count VI, his federal due process claim against the Individual Defendants, and Count VII, the state due process claim against all Defendants. (See Mem. Order 32, ECF No. 29.)

         Now pending before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 51) on the remaining two claims, Plaintiffs Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 57) of the initial summary judgment decision on Counts I to V, and Plaintiffs Motion to File Corrected Exhibit (ECF No. 58). The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, this Court shall GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 51) and Plaintiffs Motion to File Corrected Exhibit (ECF No. 58) and shall DENY Plaintiffs Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 57).

         BACKGROUND

         In brief, [2] Smith was an associate professor at Baltimore City Community College ("BCCC") from 2005 until he was terminated from his teaching position in 2016. (See Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 2.) Smith filed his Complaint on August 23, 2017 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, and the case was removed to this Court on October 18, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) Smith alleged that the termination was not only a breach of his contract, but that his due process rights were violated, and that the Individual Defendants conspired and interfered with his economic relationship with BCCC. Defendants asserted that Smith's termination was legitimate because he failed to meet the standards necessary to remain an associate professor, including carrying a semester teaching load of 15 Teaching Assignment Units ("TAUs"). Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or, In the Alternative for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18), to which Smith responded with a Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21). This Court considered the documents and affidavits filed outside the pleadings and treated the motions as motions for summary judgment.

         In its decision denying Smith's summary judgment motion and partially granting Defendants' summary judgment motion, this Court held that the various personnel decisions were authorized and made within the scope of each Individual Defendant's employment. (See Mem. Order at 18-19, 23, ECF No. 29.) This Court also rejected Smith's allegations made against each of the Individual Defendants of intentional, willful, and malicious manipulation of his TAUs. (Id. at 20-22.) The two remaining causes of action in this case relate to the allegedly improper process of Smith's termination. Thereafter, Defendants filed the pending motion seeking summary judgment on Counts VI and VII, and Smith filed a motion seeking reconsideration of this Court's decision on Counts I to V. (See ECF Nos. 51, 57.)

         Smith also seeks to correct Exhibit 11 (ECF No. 55-11), which he had attached to his response to Defendants' motion and belatedly realized that it was incomplete. (See ECF No. 58.) There being no objection, this Court GRANTS Plaintiffs Motion to File Corrected Exhibit (ECF No. 58) and accepts the corrected exhibit (ECF No. 58-1) as filed.

         For the reasons that follow, this Court shall DENY Plaintiffs Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 57) and GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 51).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         I. Reconsideration

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) governs reconsideration of orders that do not constitute final judgments in a case. Rule 54(b) provides that "any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties . . . may be revised at any time before the entry of judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities." Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). Resolution of a motion to reconsider an interlocutory order is "committed to the discretion of the district court." Am. Canoe Ass'n v. Murphy Farms, Inc., 326 F.3d 505, 515 (4th Cir. 2003).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit cautions that the discretion afforded by Rule 54(b) "is not limitless" and it has "cabined revision pursuant to Rule 54(b) by treating interlocutory rulings as law of the case." U.S. Tobacco Cooperative Inc. v. Big South Wholesale of Virginia, LLC, 899 F.3d 236, 256-57 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Carlson v. Boston Scientific Corp., 856 F.3d 320, 325 (4th Cir. 2017)). The Fourth Circuit explained that the discretion to revisit earlier rulings in the same case is "subject to the caveat that where litigants have once battled for the court's decision, they should neither be required, nor without good reason permitted, to battle for it again." Id. at 257 (quoting Official Comm. of the Unsecured Creditors of Color Tile, Inc. v. Coopers & Lybrand, LLP, 322 F.3d 147, 167 (2d Cir. 2003)).

         "Compared to motions to reconsider final judgments pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 54(b)'s approach involves broader flexibility to revise interlocutory orders before final judgment as the litigation develops and new facts or arguments come to light." Carlson, 856 F.3d at 325 (citing Am. Canoe, 326 F.3d at 514-15; Cobell v. Jewell, 802 F.3d 12, 25-26 (D.C. Cir. 2015)). "[A] court may revise an interlocutory order under the same circumstances in which it may depart from the law of the case: (1) 'a subsequent trial producing] substantially different evidence'; (2) a change in applicable law; or (3) clear error causing 'manifest injustice.'" Id. (quoting Am. Canoe, 326 F.3d at 515). "This standard closely resembles the standard applicable to motions to reconsider final orders pursuant to Rule 59(e), but it departs from such standard by accounting for potentially different evidence discovered during litigation as opposed to the discovery of new evidence not available at trial." Id. (citations omitted).

         The Fourth Circuit also noted that "where, as here, 'the order was entered by one judge and then reviewed by another,' courts have held that the latter judge should be hesitant to overrule the earlier determination." Id. (quoting Harrell v. DCS Equip. leasing Corp., 951 F.2d 1453, 1460 n.24 (5th Cir. 1992)).

         II. Summary Judgment

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entided to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A material fact is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A genuine issue over a material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge's function is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant submission of the matter for resolution at trial. Id. at 249. Trial courts in the Fourth Circuit have an "affirmative obligation ... to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).

         In undertaking this inquiry, this Court must consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Libertarian Party of Va., 718 F.3d at 312; see also Scott v. Harris,550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). This Court "must not weigh evidence or make credibility determinations." Foster v. University of Md.-Eastern Shore,787 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Or. 2015) (citing Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French, 499 F.3d 345, 352 (4th Cir. 2007)); see also Jacobs v. N.C Admin. Office of the Courts,780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015) (explaining that the trial court may not make credibility determinations at the summary judgment stage). ...


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