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Lightfoot v. District of Columbia

January 28, 2005

ELIZABETH LIGHTFOOT, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs in this case are members of a class of former and current District of Columbia employees whose disability compensation benefits were terminated, suspended, or reduced by the District of Columbia, its officials, and a third-party administrator. Plaintiffs brought the abovecaptioned action alleging, inter alia, that (1) Defendants' failure to adopt written and consistently applied standards, policies, and procedures governing the termination, suspension, and modification of their benefits violated the Due Process Clause; and (2) Defendants' implicit adoption of unwritten practices regarding the termination, suspension, and modification of Plaintiffs' disability benefits without publishing notice in the District of Columbia Register and without public comment violated the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act ("DCAPA"). In order to obtain judicial resolution as to these claims, Plaintiffs previously filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment concerning Counts VI and VII contained within their Third Amended Complaint. This Court, in a Memorandum Opinion and Order dated September 24, 2004, granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and found that Defendants' system of inadequate notice and insufficient process contravened both the fundamental guarantees of Due Process and the restrictions created by the DCAPA. See Lightfoot v. Dist. of Columbia, 339 F. Supp. 2d 78 (D.D.C. 2004).

Currently pending before the Court is Government Defendants' Motion For Reconsideration, or to Alter or Amend the Order of September 24, 2004, or, in the Alternative, for Clarification of Such Order ("Motion to Reconsider"). Upon consideration of the Government Defendants' Motion to Reconsider, Plaintiffs' Opposition, Government Defendants' Reply, Government Defendants' Notice Regarding Supplemental Authority, Plaintiffs' Response, and the entire record herein, the Court shall deny Government Defendants' Motion to Reconsider.

I. BACKGROUND

On July 6, 2001, Plaintiffs filed this action, initially seeking a preliminary injunction to reinstate their previously-denied disability benefits and to enjoin any future termination of benefits until the District of Columbia instituted a more thorough pre-termination process. In a Memorandum Opinion dated October 29, 2001, this Court, while finding a likelihood of success on the merits, denied Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary Injunction for failure to establish irreparable injury. Lightfoot v. Dist. of Columbia, Civ. No. 01-1484, at 21, 29 (D.D.C. Oct. 29, 2001) (memorandum opinion and order denying preliminary injunction).

After a series of amendments and discovery-related motions, Plaintiffs filed a Third Amended Class Action Complaint on January 22, 2003. Third Amended Class Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief ("Third Am. Compl."). Named as Defendants were the District of Columbia, and the following who were sued in their official capacities as employees of the District of Columbia: Anthony Williams, Mayor of the District of Columbia;

Gregory P. Irish, Director of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services; Milou Carolyn, Director of the District of Columbia Office of Personnel; and James Jacobs, Director of the District of Columbia Office of Risk Management (collectively, the "Government Defendants"). Third Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 10-14. Also named as a Defendant was CLW/Creative Disability Management ("CLW/CDM"), a private entity with which the District has contractually delegated the power to make determinations on disability compensation claims and to terminate, suspend, or modify existing benefit awards. Id. at ¶ 15.

In a ruling issued on January 14, 2004, this Court, over Defendant CLW/CDM's objections, approved Plaintiffs' Renewed Motion for Class Certification under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Lightfoot, Civ. No. 01-1484, at 19 (D.D.C. Jan. 14, 2004) (memorandum opinion and order granting plaintiffs' motion for class certification). As such, the six named plaintiffs now represent a class that constitutes:

All persons who have received or will receive disability compensation benefits pursuant to D.C. Code § 1-623.1, et seq. and whose benefits have been terminated, suspended or reduced since June 27, 1998 or whose benefits may be terminated, suspended or reduced in the future. "Disability compensation benefits" is defined to exclude a scheduled award provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.7 expiring at the end of the statutory term, continuation of pay provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.18(a) expiring at the end of the statutory term, funeral expenses provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.34, a fully paid lump sum settlement provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.35, and credited compensation leave provided in D.C. Code § 1-623.43.

Id. at 4 (quoting Pls.' Renewed Mot. for Class Certification at 1).

After a series of unsuccessful settlement negotiations, the Court addressed Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment concerning two counts contained within the Third Amended Complaint. Count VI alleges that Defendants' failure to adopt written and consistently applied standards, policies and procedures governing the termination, suspension, and modification of disability compensation benefits violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Third Am. Compl. at ¶ 142. Count VII alleges that the Government Defendants' implicit adoption of unwritten practices regarding the termination, suspension, and modification of disability benefits without publishing notice in the District of Columbia Register and without public comment violates D.C. Code § 2-505. Id. at ¶ 144.

The Court, in a Memorandum Opinion and Order issued on September 24, 2004, granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Counts VI and VII. Lightfoot, 339 F. Supp. 2d at 92, 95-96. Essentially, the Court's ruling consisted of two major holdings: First, the Court found that Defendants' system of vague, unwritten "best practices" employed under the current Disability Compensation Program ("the Program") provides "insufficient notice, opaque standards of review, and undetectable procedure" to such a degree that it violates the strictures of Due Process. Id. at 91. The Court identified specific considerations that Defendants should evaluate in issuing written guidelines to "make the 'implicit' explicit and provide stakeholders with transparent guidelines and accountable administration." Id. at 92. Second, the Court concluded that the policies regarding eligibility for the disability benefit program constitute "rules" as defined by the DCAPA. Id. at 93. Because "Defendants' reliance on unwritten 'best practices' and unpublished procedures to guide the Disability Compensation Program constitutes rule-making under the DCAPA," id. at 95, the Court found that Defendants failure to follow the notice and comment procedures outlined in D.C. Code § 2-505(a) renders those rules unlawful, id. at 96.

In the "Remedy" section of its September 24, 2004, Opinion and Order, the Court ordered that "the disability compensation benefits, both cash and medical, of all members of the Plaintiff class be reinstated as of the date of this Opinion and Order until individualized termination, modification, or suspension determinations may be made under validly promulgated rules." Id. While its ruling dealt with prospective relief for the class members, the Court reserved a ruling on possible retrospective relief, referring the parties to Magistrate Judge Facciola for possible resolution of "the issue of possible retroactive relief for Plaintiffs to recover monies for the period stretching from the date of the termination, modification or suspension of their benefits to the date of" the September 24, 2004 Opinion and Order. Id.

On October 6, 2004, Plaintiffs moved for an order requiring the District of Columbia to identify all class members and, in cooperation with Plaintiffs, arranging for their notification of the lawsuit and the Court's September 24, 2004, Opinion and Order. Pls.' Mot. for an Order Providing Notice to All Class Members. The Court, in an Order on November 3, 2004, referred this motion to Magistrate Judge Facciola for a Report and Recommendation to aid in the resolution of this complex issue. Lightfoot, No. 01-1484 (D.D.C. Nov. 3, 2004) (minute order referring Plaintiffs' motion for order providing notice to all class members to Magistrate Judge).

Subsequent to the Court's September 24, 2004, ruling, Government Defendants filed two motions on October 8, 2004, in an effort to forestall the consequences of the Court's holding. First, Government Defendants moved this Court for reconsideration and to alter or amend its Order, pursuant to the Court's authority and Rules 59(e) and 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and, to the extent that the Court did not reconsider, alter, or amend its order, for clarification thereof pursuant to this Court's authority and Rules 58(a) and 60(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Gov't Defs.' Mot. to Reconsider. Second, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 7(b) and Local Civil Rule 7.1, Government Defendants moved contemporaneously to stay the Court's September 24, 2004, Order pending a decision on the Motion to Reconsider. See Gov't Defs.' Mot. to Stay.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

While Government Defendants provide extensive briefing in their effort to re-litigate the conclusions of this Court in its September 24, 2004, Opinion and Order, they provide little connection between their arguments and the rather narrow parameters governing motions for reconsideration under Rules 59(e) and 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The standards governing a motion for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) are somewhat more restrictive than those governing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). See United States v. Pollard, 290 F. Supp. 2d 153, 156-58 (D.D.C. 2003). In relevant part, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) provides:

On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or a party's legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence by which due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud (whether heretofore denominated intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application; or (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b).

The general rule is that a motion for reconsideration is treated as a "[Fed. R. Civ. P.] 59(e) motion if filed within 10 days of entry of the challenged order and as a Rule 60(b) motion if filed thereafter." Pollard, 290 F. Supp. 2d at 156 (quoting United States v. Clark, 984 F.2d 31, 32 (2d Cir. 1993)); see also Derrington-Bey v. Dist. of Columbia Dep't of Corrections, 39 F.3d 1224, 1225-27 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (same); cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) ("Any motion to alter or amend a judgment shall be filed no later than 10 days after entry of the judgment."). While over 10 calendar days passed between the entry of the Court's September 24, 2004, Memorandum Opinion and Order and Government Defendants' Motion to Reconsider filed on October 8, 2004, calendar days are not controlling. Instead, Rule 6(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure dictates: "When the period of time prescribed or allowed is less than 11 days, intermediate Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays shall be excluded in the computation." Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(a); see also Piper v. Dep't of Justice, 312 F. Supp. 2d 17, 21 n.1 (D.D.C. 2004). Because Government Defendants' filed their Motion to Reconsider on Friday, October 8, 2004, less than 10 days -- as computed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a) -- had passed between the filing and the Court's Order of Friday, September 24, 2004. As such, the relevant standard under which to adjudicate Government Defendants' Motion to Reconsider is Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e).

"The district court has considerable discretion in ruling on a Rule 59(e) motion." Piper, 312 F. Supp. 2d at 20 (citing Rann v. Chao, 209 F. Supp. 2d 75, 78 (D.D.C. 2002). Importantly, "[a] motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) to alter or amend judgment after its entry is not routinely granted." Harvey v. Dist. of Columbia, 949 F. Supp. 878, 879 (D.D.C. 1996). "Motions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) are disfavored and relief from judgment is granted only when the moving party establishes extraordinary circumstances." Niedermeier v. Office of Baucus, 153 F. Supp. 2d 23, 28 (D.D.C. 2001).

"Rule 59(e) motions 'need not be granted unless the district court finds that there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct clear error or manifest injustice.'" Anyanwutaku v. Moore, 151 F.3d 1053, 1057 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (quoting Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (per curium)). Rule 59(e) motions are not granted if the court suspects the losing party is using the motion as an instrumentality for arguing the same theory or asserting new arguments that could have been raised prior to final judgment. Taylor v. Dep't of Justice, 268 F. Supp. 2d 34, 35 (D.D.C. 2003) (citing Kattan v. Dist. of Columbia, 995 F.2d 274, 276 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (citations omitted)). Indeed, the law is clear that a "Rule 59(e) motion is not a second opportunity to present argument upon which the Court has already ruled, nor is it a means to bring before the Court theories or arguments that could have been advanced earlier." W.C. & A.N. Miller Co.'s v. United States, 173 F.R.D. 1, 3 (D.D.C. 1997), aff'd sub nom. Hicks v. United States, No. 99-5010, 1999 WL 414253 (D.C. Cir. May 17, 1999); see also New York v. United States, 880 F. Supp. 37, 38 (D.D.C. 1995) ("Rule 59(e) motion to reconsider is not simply an opportunity to reargue facts and theories upon which a court has already ruled."). It is well-established that Rule 59(e) motions "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." 11 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1 at 127-28 (2d ed. 1995).

III. DISCUSSION

Government Defendants make four central arguments to bolster their Motion to Reconsider: (1) the Court's findings of fact concerning the Disability Compensation Program's written instruments are clearly erroneous; (2) the Court's legal findings relating to Due Process exceed any constitutional requirements and should be reconsidered; (3) the Court's legal findings relating to the DCAPA are erroneous and should be reconsidered; and (4) the Court's reinstatement of all class members to the Program, without individualized determinations of entitlement to benefits, is contrary to the controlling authority and should be reconsidered. Gov't Defs.' Mot. to Reconsider at 1-2. Importantly, Government Defendants raised their first three arguments previously, and all were summarily rejected by the Court; in their current Motion to Reconsider, Government Defendants offer no argument as to an intervening change of controlling law and no new evidence for the Court to consider. As to their fourth argument, that the Court's prospective remedy was contrary to controlling authority, Government Defendants had an opportunity to raise this argument in the previous round of filings, explicitly failed to do so, and effectively conceded this point. See Lightfoot, 339 F. Supp. at 96 n.13 ("This point was well-briefed by Plaintiffs. See Pls.' Mem. at 12-14; Pls.' Reply to Opp'n of Gov't Defs. to Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. at 11-12. In its briefing, the Government chose not to respond to this issue. Having reviewed the cases proffered by Plaintiffs, the relevant filings, and additional research, the Court makes its findings.").

Despite these abject failures by Government Defendants, the Court will briefly consider each contention in order to highlight the fact that their arguments are just as groundless in their substance as they are procedurally inappropriate. Before beginning, the Court notes that the only possible basis upon which Government Defendants may substantiate their Rule 59(e) motion is under the "need to correct clear error or manifest injustice" standard. Firestone, 76 F.3d at 1208. While "[c]courts have generally not defined what constitutes 'clear error' under Rule 59(e)," Piper, 312 F. Supp. 2d at 21, "clear error" should conform to a "very exacting standard," id. (quoting Oneida Indian Nation of New York v. County of Oneida, 214 F.R.D. 83, 98 (N.D.N.Y. 2003) (quoting Hopwood v. Texas, 236 F.3d 256, 272 (5th Cir. 2000))). Indeed, district courts should have "a clear conviction of error" before finding that a final judgment was predicated on clear error. Id. (citing Oneida Indian Nation of New York, 214 F.R.D. at 98). As the Seventh Circuit noted, a final judgment must be "dead wrong" to constitute clear error. Parts & Elec. Motors, Inc. v. Sterling Elec., Inc., 866 F.2d 228, 233 (7th Cir. 1988). While the "manifest injustice" standard is even more vague than "clear error," Piper, 312 F. Supp. 2d at 22-23, it can be said that "manifest injustice does not exist where, as here, a party could easily have avoided the outcome, but instead elected not to act until after a final order had been entered." Ciralsky v. CIA, 355 F.3d 661, 673 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (internal quotations omitted); see also Piper, 312 F. Supp. 2d at 23 ("The Court does not find anything 'manifest' about the possible 'injustice' that may result from the Government's prior inaction that would compel the Court to disturb its original judgment."). With an understanding of this framework, the Court shall proceed to analyze the failings of Government Defendants in their quixotic quest to re-litigate the same issues under the same facts and avoid the finality of judgment.*fn1

A. The Absence of Clear, Published Standards Governing the Program Fails to Satisfy Due Process

The Court's September 24, 2004, Opinion and Order recognized the general failure of the District of Columbia to provide clear, published standards guiding the termination, suspension, and modification of disability benefits. As the Court pointed out, "Defendants' repeated citations to any and all possible sources that happen to capture some reference to the Disability Compensation Program are unavailing; virtually every written instrument raised by Defendants contains minimal or no reference to the termination, modification or suspension processes and is not accessible to the disability benefit stakeholders whose interest in such guidelines is paramount." Lightfoot, 339 F. Supp. 2d at 91 (emphasis in original). The Court found that Defendants might well be able to meet the requirements of Due Process if they "are able to articulate their 'best practices' and other rules regarding termination, suspension or modification of benefits in writing and in a manner accessible to both the public and interested stakeholders." Id. at 91-92. In its conclusion, the Court urged Defendants to " strongly consider including explicit written guidelines" relating to eleven relevant considerations:

• What regular opportunities do beneficiaries have to provide medical or vocational information to a claims adjuster prior to a decision to terminate, suspend or modify disability benefits?

• What are the protocols that govern the independent medical evaluation -- when, why, and where one is performed -- and ...


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