United States District Court, D. Columbia
October 24, 2005.
ROBERT WILLIAMS, et al., Plaintiffs,
MIKE JOHANNS, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: COLLEEN KOTELLY, District Judge
This case originally presented the question of whether
Defendants violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act ("ECOA") and
the Fifth Amendment in the settlement of a 2002 discrimination
claim by Plaintiffs and in the denial of Plaintiffs' 2003
application for a farm loan from the United States Department of
Agriculture ("USDA"). In an order and accompanying memorandum
opinion dated July 5, 2005, the Court granted  Defendants'
Renewed Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' ECOA claim related to the
2002 discrimination settlement and Plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment
claims related to both the 2002 settlement and the 2003 farm loan
application.*fn1 The Court is presently ruling on
Plaintiffs'  Motion to Reinstate and Transfer Contract Claim
to the US Court of Claims and for Reconsideration of Dismissal of
Constitution [sic] Claim Against Individual Defendants ("Motion
to Reconsider"). After consideration of Plaintiffs' Motion to
Reconsider,  Defendants' Memorandum in Opposition to
Plaintiffs' "Motion to Reinstate and Transfer Contract Claim to
the US Court of Claims and for Reconsideration of Dismissal of Constitution [SIC] Claim Against Individual Defendants"
("Opposition"),  Plaintiff's [sic] Reply Brief to Defendants'
Memorandum in Opposition to Motion to Reinstate and Transfer
Contract Claim to the US Court of Claims and for Reconsideration
of Dismissal of Constitution [SIC] Claim Against Individual
Defendants ("Reply"),  Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint
["Am. Compl."], and the relevant case law, the Court hereby
orders that Plaintiffs' Motion to Reconsider be DENIED.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiffs Robert and Laverne Williams are African-American
farmers who operate a small farm in Roscoe, Texas. Am. Compl. ¶
11. Plaintiffs brought an action against the Secretary of the
USDA in his official capacity,*fn2 as well as Frederick
Isler and Clyde Thompson, in both their official capacities as
agents of the USDA and in their individual capacities, alleging
discrimination in violation of the Fifth Amendment and ECOA, 15.
U.S.C. § 1691.
Plaintiffs had applied to the Farm Service Agency ("FSA") for a
loan to operate their farm in January 2002. Am. Compl. ¶ 15. In
May 2002, Plaintiffs filed a discrimination complaint with the
USDA's Office of Civil Rights ("OCR"), alleging discrimination by
the USDA in the processing of their loan. Am. Compl. ¶ 20. During
a meeting at Plaintiffs' home with Defendants Isler and Thompson
(which Plaintiffs' attorney did not attend), Plaintiffs settled
their discrimination complaint via an agreement that they
ultimately signed on August 13, 2002. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 22, 23. This
settlement agreement discharged Plaintiffs of all debt owed to
the FSA and provided Plaintiffs with $25,000 in compensatory
damages and additional compensation for attorney's fees. 2002
Settlement Agreement ¶¶ 1-3. By signing the agreement, Plaintiffs
agreed to withdraw their discrimination complaint. Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiffs also agreed to
accept the settlement agreement as "a full, final and complete
settlement" of all claims that they might have against the USDA
"based on facts occurring prior to the date of [the] agreement."
Id. ¶ 5. After Plaintiffs' application to the FSA for another
farm operation loan in 2003 was denied, Plaintiffs filed an
administrative complaint with the OCR alleging discrimination on
the basis of race in the FSA's denial of their 2003 loan
application. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-29.
Plaintiffs had alleged in their complaint that they were
coerced into terminating their attorney and agreeing to the 2002
Settlement Agreement, which, according to Plaintiffs, undervalued
Plaintiffs' 2002 discrimination claim. Am. Compl. ¶ 23.
Plaintiffs had also alleged that race discrimination was the
cause of the FSA's denial of their 2003 loan application. Am.
Compl. ¶ 29. Plaintiffs alleged that both the settlement
agreement and the denial of their 2003 loan constituted
violations of their Fifth Amendment rights and their rights under
the ECOA, which prohibits discriminatory conduct on the basis of
race. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 34, 39, and 40.
Defendants filed their  Renewed Motion to Dismiss on April
30, 2004, requesting that the Court dismiss both of Plaintiffs'
Fifth Amendment claims and Plaintiffs' ECOA claim related to the
2002 Settlement Agreement. After considering Defendants' Renewed
Motion to Dismiss as well as  Plaintiffs' Opposition and 
Defendants' Reply to said motion, the Court granted Defendants'
motion in its  Order and accompanying  Memorandum Opinion
dated July 20, 2005. Therefore, as the Court granted the
dismissal, the only claim that presently remains is Plaintiffs'
claim that the FSA's denial of their loan application in 2003
violated the ECOA.
Plaintiffs filed the instant motion requesting that the Court
reinstate and transfer the dismissed ECOA-based discrimination
claim related to the 2002 Settlement Agreement to the U.S. Court
of Claims as applied to all Defendants and additionally that the
Court reconsider Plaintiffs' dismissed Fifth Amendment claims related to both the 2002
Settlement Agreement and the denial of Plaintiffs' 2003 loan
application as applied to Defendants Isler and Thompson in their
II. LEGAL STANDARD
While Plaintiffs' did not cite any legal standard under which
they brought their motion to reconsider, Defendants' correctly
cite to Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in
their Opposition (which Plaintiffs agree to in their Reply) as
the appropriate basis under which a party can bring a motion to
reconsider dismissed claims when fewer than all claims in an
action have been dismissed.
Under Rule 54(b), when more than one claim is presented to the
the court may direct the entry of a final judgment as
to one or more but fewer than all of the claims or
parties only upon an express determination that there
is no just reason for delay and upon an express
direction for the entry of judgment. In the absence
of such determination and direction, any order or
other form of decision, however designated, which
adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights
and liabilities of fewer than all the parties shall
not terminate the action as to any of the claims or
parties, and the order or other form of decision is
subject to revision at any time before the entry of
judgment adjudicating all the claims and the rights
and liabilities of all the parties.
Accordingly, without express direction for the entry of judgment
on particular claims under Rule 54(b), court action which
terminates fewer than all claims in a case is considered an
interlocutory rather than a final decision and subject to
revision at any time. See also Hill v. Henderson, 195 F.3d 671
672 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (holding that a district court order
dismissing one of several claims without making an explicit
determination under Rule 54(b) is not a final decision subject to
appellate review); Lewis v. United States, 290 F. Supp. 2d 1, 3
(D.C.C. 2003) (stating that a motion to reconsider dismissal of
claims related to one of two parties was properly brought under
Rule 54(b) rather than Rule 60). In the instant case, the Court's
order granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss adjudicated fewer
than all of the claims in the case, as Plaintiffs ECOA-based discrimination claim pertaining to the 2003 loan application
remains because it was not addressed in the Motion to Dismiss.
Thus Plaintiffs' Motion to Reconsider would have been properly
brought under Rule 54(b).
The Court has broad discretion to hear a motion for
reconsideration brought under Rule 54(b): "Unlike Rule 60(b)
which contains a reasonableness provision, Rule 54(b) allows a
court to reconsider its interlocutory decisions `at any time'
prior to a final judgment." Lewis, 290 F. Supp. 2d at 3
(quoting Rule 54(b)). The standard for determining whether or not
to grant a motion to reconsider brought under Rule 54(b) is the
"as justice requires" standard espoused in Cobell v. Norton,
355 F. Supp. 2d 531, 539 (D.C.C. 2005), which requires
"determining, within the Court's discretion, whether
reconsideration is necessary under the relevant circumstances."
Id. See also Singh v. George Washington University,
383 F. Supp. 2d 99, 101 (D.D.C. 2005). Considerations a court may take
into account under the "as justice requires" standard include
whether the court "patently" misunderstood the parties, made a
decision beyond the adversarial issues presented, made an error
in failing to consider controlling decisions or data, or whether
a controlling or significant change in the law has occurred. See
Singh, 383 F. Supp. 2d at 101. Furthermore, the party moving to
reconsider carries the burden of proving that some harm would
accompany a denial of the motion to reconsider: "In order for
justice to require reconsideration, logically, it must be the
case that, some sort of `injustice' will result if
reconsideration is refused. That is, the movant must demonstrate
that some harm, legal or at least tangible, would flow from a
denial of reconsideration." Cobell, 355 F. Supp. 2d at 540.
Cobell also suggests that even if justice does not "require"
reconsideration of an interlocutory ruling, a decision to
reconsider is nonetheless within the court's discretion: "[E]ven
if the appropriate legal standard does not indicate that
reconsideration is warranted, the Court may nevertheless elect to grant a motion for reconsideration if there
are other good reasons for doing so." Id. at 540. However, the
efficient administration of justice requires that a court at very
least have good reason to reconsider an issue which has already
been litigated by the parties: "`The district court's discretion
to reconsider a non-final ruling is, however, limited by the law
of the case doctrine and "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."'" Singh, 383 F. Supp. 2d at 101 (quoting In re
Ski Train Fire in Kaprun, Austria, on November 11, 2004,
224 F.R.D. 543, 546 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) (quoting Official Comm. of the
Unsecured Creditors of Color Tile, Inc. v. Coopers & Lybrand,
322 F.3d 147, 167 (2d Cir. 2003))). Thus if the court chooses to
reconsider a motion even if justice does not so require, there
must be a "good reason" underlying the parties' re-addressing an
already decided issue.
In their motion to reconsider, Plaintiffs request that the
Court reinstate and transfer Plaintiffs' ECOA claim relating to
the 2002 Settlement Agreement to the U.S. Court of Claims.
Plaintiffs also request that the Court reconsider Plaintiffs'
Fifth Amendment claims against Defendants Frederick Isler and
Clyde Thompson in their individual capacities. The Court will
analyze both of these requests in turn.
A. ECOA Claim
In order to grant Plaintiffs' motion to reconsider their ECOA
claim related to the 2002 Settlement Agreement to reinstate and
ultimately transfer the claim to the U.S. Court of Claims, the
Court should determine whether reconsideration of this issue is
necessary to preclude some harm to Plaintiffs. At very least, the
Court must determine that there is a good reason to reconsider
the issue by reinstating and transferring the claim. However, Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the Court's
reinstatement and transfer of this claim to the Court of Appeals
is in the interest of justice; they do not give any reason as to
what harm Plaintiffs would suffer by bringing their dismissed
ECOA claim directly to the U.S. Court of Claims. In dramatic
fashion, Plaintiffs allege that "[s]hould the Court not reinstate
and transfer the contract claim to the US Court of Claims, the
Plaintiffs, [sic] will suffer further economic injury and swift
justice will not be accomplished." Motion to Reconsider at 2.
However, nowhere in their Motion to Reconsider or in their Reply
do the Plaintiffs make any argument as to why they are either
unable to bring the ECOA claim before the US Court of Claims
themselves or what disadvantage would accompany their directly
presenting the ECOA claim to the US Court of Claims.
Nor do Plaintiffs even provide a good reason for the Court to
reinstate and transfer Plaintiffs' dismissed contract claim.
Citing Judge Rosemary M. Collyer's January 24, 2005 memorandum
opinion in Stovall v. Veneman (04-cv-319), Plaintiffs merely
point out that another judge in this District transferred a claim
to the U.S. Court of Claims and suggest that the Court in this
case should follow suit because it is "practice" in the D.C.
District Court. Motion to Reconsider at 7; Reply at 6-8. However,
even noting the obvious fact that one case does not define a
"practice" in a particular district, Plaintiffs fail to
distinguish that in Stovall, Judge Collyer's transfer was
effectuated in response to a motion to dismiss*fn3 (not on a
motion to reconsider) because ancillary jurisdiction over the
greater than $10,000 contract claim was lacking. See id. at
8-9. Plaintiffs state in their Reply that while "transfer of a
case from the District Court to the Court of Claims does not
confer jurisdiction in any particular matter on the Court of
Claims," transfer would "express the D.C. District Court's
recognition that certain claims belong in the Court of Claims
rather than in the District Court." Reply at 7. Since the Tucker Act,
28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2), itself recognizes this distinction by explicitly
stating that district courts share original jurisdiction with the
Court of Federal Claims only over claims under $10,000, the Court
finds that there is no good reason to reinforce existing
statutory law via an "expression."
Accordingly, the Court denies Plaintiffs' request to reinstate
and transfer their dismissed ECOA claim to the U.S. Court of
B. Fifth Amendment Claims Against Defendants Isler and
Thompson in their Individual Capacities
The Court also finds that Plaintiffs neither demonstrate that
reconsideration of their Fifth Amendment claims against
Defendants Isler and Thompson in their individual capacities is
in the interest of justice nor provide a good reason for
reconsidering such claims. Plaintiffs provide few new arguments
in their Motion to Reconsider, largely relying on block quotes
from their Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss which
purport to show why consideration of their Fifth Amendment claims
are in the interest of justice. The Court finds Plaintiffs' use
of nearly three pages of single-spaced, ten-point font block
quotes of arguments that the Court already determined to be
without merit as a waste of the Court's time in light of the fact
that the Court explicitly stated in its  Scheduling and
Procedures Order, filed July 20, 2005, that the Court would not
entertain "motions which simply reassert arguments previously
raised and rejected by the court." Scheduling and Procedures
Order at 5.
The Court also finds that the few new issues that Plaintiffs do
raise in their Motion to Reconsider are without merit. Plaintiffs
allege that "But for the Defendants' continued discrimination,
misrepresentation, coercion, inducement and fraud in the
formation of the 2003 settlement, Plaintiffs would have been in a
financial position to operate their farm without the loans and programs offered by Defendants." Motion to Reconsider at 14.
However, Defendants neither clarify how the 2002 Settlement
Agreement, which absolved Plaintiffs of approximately $400,000 in
federal loan debt, could possibly have put Plaintiffs into a
worse financial position than had such agreement not been
reached. Nor should Plaintiffs raise this argument for the first
time in their Motion to Reconsider, as such an argument involves
factual allegations that could have been proffered at the time
that Plaintiffs initiated their complaint.
Plaintiffs also claim that the 2002 Settlement Agreement "pales
in comparison" to the monetary and injunctive relief awarded to
black farmers in a number of cases cited by Plaintiffs. Motion to
Reconsider at 14. The Court specifically indicated in its
Scheduling and Procedures Order that the Court would not
entertain "arguments which should have been previously raised,
but are being raised for the first time in the `Motion for
Reconsideration.'" Scheduling and Procedures Order at 5-6. It
should be noted that all of the cases cited were adjudicated
prior to Plaintiffs' initiation of this lawsuit and could have
been included in Plaintiffs' Complaint or to refute Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss. Furthermore, the fact that some cases raising
purportedly similar claims to Plaintiffs' claims settled for
larger sums of compensatory damages and injunctive relief does
not create a "clear inference" that "something went awry," as
Plaintiffs suggest. Motion to Reconsider at 15. First of all, the
first case cited by Plaintiffs for this proposition, Pigford v.
Veneman, 206 F.3d 121 (D.D.C 2000), involved an approximately $2
billion settlement of combined debt relief and monetary payments
for a class of approximately 20,000 black farmers. Thus, the
Pigford settlement granted each farmer an average of
approximately $100,000 of combined debt relief and monetary
payments; the combined debt relief and monetary payments provided
to Plaintiffs, however, totaled well over $400,000. Additionally,
settlement negotiations on similar claims need not produce
identical kinds or amounts of relief. The Court will address Plaintiffs' argument that "Plaintiffs
Will Face Harsh Sanction Unless Court Provides Relief"*fn4
in short shrift, as Defendants' Motion to Dismiss was granted on
the merits, and not as a sanction against Plaintiffs for some
procedural misstep or as a deterrent.
Finally, Plaintiffs' argument that granting a motion to
reconsider will not cause irreparable injury to Defendants has no
bearing on whether or not reconsideration of Plaintiffs'
constitutional claims is necessary to prevent harm to
Plaintiffs, nor is it a "good reason" to grant a motion to
consider as it does not help Plaintiffs demonstrate why the Court
should once again hear Plaintiffs' claims.
After considering the parties' briefs and the relevant law, the
Court finds that Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that justice
requires, nor presented any "good reason," for reinstatement and
transfer of Plaintiffs' ECOA-based discrimination claim to the
U.S. Court of Claims or reconsideration of Plaintiffs'
constitutional claims. Therefore, the Court hereby denies 
Plaintiffs' Motion to Reinstate and Transfer Contract Claim to
the US Court of Claims and for Reconsideration of Dismissal of
Constitution [sic] Claim Against Individual Defendants. An
appropriate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
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