United States District Court, D. Maryland
ALTON W. SMITH, Plaintiff,
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.
RICHARD D. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
September 9, 2019, this Court entered its Memorandum Opinion
(ECF No. 61) and Order (ECF No. 62) closing this case and
awarding summary judgment to Defendants Baltimore City
Community College ("BCCC"), the State of Maryland,
and three individual Defendants: Tonja L. Ringgold, Enyinnaya
Iweha, and Cynthia Webb, and against Plaintiff Alton W. Smith
("Plaintiff). On October 7, 2019, Plaintiff timely
filed the pending Motion' to Alter or Amend
Judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. (ECF No. 63). The parties' submissions have
been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See
Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons stated
herein, Plaintiffs Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment (ECF No.
63) is DENIED.
background facts of this action were fully set forth in this
Court's Memorandum and Order of April 4, 2018, and this
Court's Memorandum Opinion of September 9, 2019. (ECF
Nos. 29, 61). To summarize, Plaintiff was terminated from his
employment as an associate professor at BCCC in 2016. (Compl.
¶ 1, ECF No. 2.) He brought this action against BCCC,
the State of Maryland, and three individuals, generally
alleging that the individual defendants acted with ill-will
and personal animus to terminate his employment.
(Id.) His Complaint brought a breach of contract
claim (Count I), interference with economic relationship
claims (Counts II-V), and federal and state due process
claims (Counts VI and VII). (Id.)
April 4, 2018, the Honorable Marvin J. Garbis granted summary
judgment in favor of Defendants on all of Plaintiffs claims
except his federal and state due process claims (Counts VI
and VII). (ECF No. 29.) On July 17, 2018, this case was
transferred to the undersigned. Subsequently, on July 25, 2018,
this Court issued a Memorandum and Order clarifying the scope
of Judge Garbis's Opinion, at the request of counsel.
(ECF No. 37.) This Court explained that Plaintiff could not
challenge the "substantive legitimacy" of his
termination, but could pursue claims that he had been denied
due process under the terms of his contract and faculty
January 11, 2019, Defendants filed a motion for summary
judgment on Plaintiffs remaining due process claims. (ECF No.
51.) On September 9, 2019, this Court awarded summary
judgment to Defendants, and closed this case. (ECF Nos. 61,
62.) On October 7, 2019, Plaintiff filed the present Motion
to Alter or Amend Judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (ECF No. 63), asking this
Court to reconsider its September 9, 2019 Memorandum and
Order (ECF Nos. 61, 62).
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not expressly recognize
motions for "reconsideration." Instead, Rule 59(e)
authorizes a district court to alter, amend, or vacate a
prior judgment. See Katyle v. Penn Nat'l Gaming,
Inc., 637 F.3d 462, 471 n.4 (4th Cir. 2011), cert.
'denied, 132 S.Ct. 115 (2011). The United States
Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has repeatedly
recognized that a final judgment may be amended under Rule
59(e) in only three circumstances: "(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."
See, e.g., Gagliano v. Reliance Standard Life Ins.
Co., 547 F.3d 230, 241 n.8 (4th Cir. 2008); see also
Fleming v. Maryland National Capital Park & Panning
Commission, DKC-11-2769, > 2012 WL 12877387, at *1
(D. Md. Mar. 8, 2012). A Rule 59(e) motion "may not be
used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or
present evidence that could have been raised prior to entry
of judgment." Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire
Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998); see
also Kelly v. Simpson, RDB-16-4067, 2017 WL 4065820, at
*1 (D. Md. Jan. 26, 2017). Moreover, "[t]he district
court has considerable discretion in deciding whether to
modify or amend a judgment." Fleming, 2012 WL
12877387, at *1.
has not met the high bar he faces to succeed on his Motion to
Alter or Amend. There has been no intervening change in
controlling law since this Court's Memorandum Opinion and
Order of September 9, 2019; no new evidence has come to
light; and no clear error of law or manifest injustice has
been identified in this Court's Order. To the extent that
Plaintiff makes new arguments in his Motion to Alter or
Amend, they are arguments that were available to him and
should have been raised in his Opposition to Defendants'
Motion for Summary Judgment. Further, the Plaintiff presents
no reason why these new arguments were not made earlier,
prior to this Court's entry of its Order. Thus, the
Plaintiff has not met the grounds for reconsideration under
Rule 59(e). Nevertheless, Plaintiffs main arguments are
considered in the following discussion.
Plaintiff does not argue that there has been an intervening
change in controlling law or that there is new evidence not
previously available, but essentially argues that there has
been a clear error of law. First, Plaintiff argues that this
Court failed to properly apply the principles of summary
judgment review to the facts and evidence in the record.
Second, Plaintiff argues that this Court's Opinion of
September 9, 2019, is contrary to the "law of the
case" established by Judge Garbis's previous
Memorandum and Order of April 4, 2018. Neither of these
arguments are availing under Rule 59.
Plaintiffs first argument, this Court has emphasized that
"[c]lear error or manifest injustice occurs where a
court has patently misunderstood a party, or has made a
decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the
Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning
but of apprehension ...." Wagner v. Warden,
Civ. No. ELH-14-791, 2016 WL 1169937, at *3 (D. Md. Mar. 24,
2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). "When a party
argues that Rule 59(e) relief is necessary to correct a clear
error of law or to prevent manifest injustice, mere
disagreement with the Court's previous decision will not
suffice." June v. Thomasson, Civ. No.
GLR-14-2450, 20'16 WL 7374432, at *2 (D. Md. Dec. 20,
2016). Instead, to justify altering or amending a judgment on
this basis, "the prior judgment cannot be 'just
maybe or probably wrong; it must ... strike the court as
wrong with the force of a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead
fish.'" Id. (quoting Fontell v.
Hassett, 891 F.Supp.2d 739, 741 (D. Md. 2012)); see
also Bellsouth Teksensor v. Info. Sys. & Networks
Corp., 65 F.3d 166 (4th Cir. 1995). In other words, the
Court's previous judgment must be "dead wrong."
See TFWS, Inc. v. Franchot, 572 F.3d 186, 194 (4th
Cir. 2009). Plaintiffs disagreement with this Court's
finding no genuine issue of material fact that Plaintiff had
been afforded fair notice and an opportunity to be heard does
not warrant the "extraordinary" relief afforded by
Rule 59, which "should be used sparingly." See
Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
This Court has already considered the respective parties'
positions, reviewed the facts and evidence in the record, and
determined that summary judgment should be entered in favor
there a Rule 59 basis for Plaintiffs second argument because
this Court's September 9, 2019 Opinion does not disturb
any "law of the case" that Plaintiff asserts was
established by Judge Garbis's April 4, 2018 Memorandum
and Order. Under the law of the case doctrine, a decision by
a court "should continue to govern the same issues in
subsequent stages in the same case." TFWS,
Inc., 572 F.3d at 191. However, the law of the case
doctrine does not apply to interlocutory rulings, such as a
denial of summary judgment. Chaplick v. Mao, Civil
Action No. TDC-13-2070, 2016 WL 4516061, at *3 (D. Md. Aug.
25, 2016) (citing Winchester Homes, Inc. v. Osmose Wood
Preserving Inc., 37 F.3d 1053, 1058 n.8 (4th Cir.
1994)). Indeed, Judge Garbis's Memorandum and Order,
decided more than a year before the undersigned's
Memorandum and Order, and before the parties had completed
discovery, specifically based its finding of a genuine issue
of material fact on the "evidence now in the
record." (ECF No. 29 at 27.) Thus, Judge Garbis's
finding did not establish a law of the case.
this Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to meet his
burden for the extraordinary remedy of ...