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Elliott v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

December 27, 2006

ALFRED ELLIOTT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On October 17, 2006, the Court issued an Order and Memorandum Opinion, inter alia, granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's Privacy Act claim, among other claims. See Order, Memorandum Opinion, Elliott v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, Civ. No. 04-1702, slip. op. (D.D.C. Oct. 17, 2006) (hereinafter "Mem. Op."). Defendant has now filed a Motion for Relief from Summary Judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), arguing that he was entitled to reasonable discovery relating to his claim under Section 5(e) of the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, before this Court granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

Upon consideration of Defendant's Motion, Plaintiff's Opposition, the relevant case law, and the entire record herein, the Court shall grant Defendant's motion. As a result, the Court shall hold in abeyance and stay only that part of the Court's October 17, 2006 Order and Memorandum Opinion that granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's Privacy Act Claim (Mem. Op. at 17-25). The Court shall allow the parties ninety (90) days -- through and including March 30, 2007 -- in which to complete discovery as to the very discrete issue of whether Defendant willfully or intentionally violated the Privacy Act. Upon completion of discovery, Plaintiff shall have three weeks -- through and including April 20, 2007 -- to augment his opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with whatever facts learned in discovery Plaintiff believes supports his claim that Defendant willfully or intentionally violated the Privacy Act, and to file his augmented opposition with the Court. If Plaintiff files an augmented opposition on or before April 20, 2007, the Court shall set a schedule for responsive briefing by Defendant and thereafter shall make a formal ruling as to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. If, however, Plaintiff does not file an augmented opposition, the stay shall be lifted and the Court's October 17, 2006 Order and Memorandum Opinion shall be reinstated on April 23, 2007.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court shall assume familiarity with the Court's October 17, 2006 Memorandum Opinion, which sets forth in detail the factual background of this case, and shall therefore only briefly address such facts as are necessary for resolution of the motion currently before the Court. Plaintiff Alfred Elliot is a federal prisoner currently serving a five year federal sentence for Wire Fraud, Securities Fraud, Racketeering, and Filing False Income Tax Return. Mem. Op. at 2.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered and continues to suffer from a number of ailments and diseases, and that he has undergone a number of medical procedures between 2001 and 2004. Id. at 3-4 (citing Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 2 n.3; Compl. ¶¶ 4(a)-(t); First Am. Coml. ¶¶ 5(a)-(w)).

On October 4, 2004, while incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City, Arkansas (" FCI - Forrest City"), Plaintiff filed a one-count Complaint with this Court, alleging that Defendant violated Section 5(e) of the Privacy Act by using a pre-sentence report prepared in 1989 (when Plaintiff was 45 years old and in better health) in determining that Plaintiff should serve a period of incarceration at FCI - Forrest City. Mem. Op. at 4 (citing Compl. ¶ 3). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant's records regarding Plaintiff's medical condition were "not accurate, timely or complete" because they did not reflect Plaintiff's multiple illnesses and medical procedures. Id. (citing Compl. ¶ 4(a)-(t)). Plaintiff further claimed that Defendant's alleged violation of Section 5(e) of the Privacy Act was willful or intentional, id. (citing Compl. ¶ 5(a)-(f)), and that Defendant's decision to send Plaintiff to FCI - Forrest City was an adverse determination "because while he [was] at FCI - Forrest City, his life and health [were] endangered . . . ." Id. at 4-5 (citing Compl. ¶ 6). Plaintiff's Complaint did not, however, claim that Plaintiff's health was actually damaged in any way by Defendant's alleged Privacy Act violation. Id. at 5. Plaintiff thereafter filed his First Amended Complaint, in which he maintained his Privacy Act claim as Count I, and added two additional claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (Count II) and the Rehabilitation Act ("RA") (Count III). Id. at 6-7 (citing First Am. Compl. ¶ 14-33).

On December 27, 2004, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss and/or Motion for Summary Judgment or, in the Alternative, Motion to Transfer Venue in response to Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. Plaintiff filed his Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and/or Motion for Summary Judgment on June 7, 2005. Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (hereinafter, "Pl.'s Resp."). Thereafter, Defendant filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Dismissal on June 22, 2005. Id. at 7. In relevant part, the Court's October 17, 2006 Memorandum granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's Privacy Act claim. The Court found that Plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate "that Defendant based Plaintiff's initial designation to FCI - Forrest City on an incomplete or inaccurate record[,]" Id. at 18, and assumed that "Defendant's failure to ensure that Plaintiff's medical record was accurate and complete prior to designating him for service at FCI - Forrest City might . . . suffice to demonstrate a violation of section 5(e) of the Privacy Act[,]" id. at 19-20. The Court further assumed that Plaintiff's "initial designation to FCI - Forrest City constituted an 'adverse determination'" of the type required for Plaintiff to recover monetary damages for a Privacy Act violation. Id. at 20.

However, the Court found that Plaintiff had "presented no evidence that the BOP's determination to designate him for service at FCI - Forrest City constituted an intentional or willful violation of the Privacy Act." Id. at 24. As a result the Court found that Plaintiff could not prevail on his claim for monetary damages under Section (g)(4) of the Privacy Act as a matter of law. Id. at 24-25 (citing Deters v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 85 F.3d 655, 660 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). The Court therefore granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's Privacy Act claim.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[o]n 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 . . . (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect . . . or (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). The Rule was intended to preserve "the delicate balance between the sanctity of final judgments . . . and the incessant command of the court's conscience that justice be done in light of all the facts." Bankers Mortgage Co. v. United States, 423 F.2d 73, 77 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 399 U.S. 927, 90 S.Ct. 2242, 26 L.Ed.2d 793 (1970) (emphasis in original); accord, Compton v. Alton Steamship Co., 608 F.2d 96, 102 (4th Cir. 1979); Boughner v. Secretary of HEW, 572 F.2d 976, 977 (3d Cir. 1978); Clarke v. Burkle, 570 F.2d 824, 830 (8th Cir. 1978). But as the Supreme Court has said, "There must be an end to litigation someday, and free, calculated, deliberate choices are not to be relieved from." Ackermann v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 198, 71 S.Ct. 209, 211-12, 95 L.Ed. 207 (1950). Rule 60(b) cannot, therefore, be employed simply to rescue a litigant from strategic choices that later turn out to be improvident. See Marshall v. Board of Educ., 575 F.2d 417, 424 (3d Cir. 1978); Federal's, Inc. v. Edmonton Investment Co., 555 F.2d 577, 583 (6th Cir. 1977); Lubben v. Selective Serv. Sys. Local Bd. No. 27, 453 F.2d 645, 651-52 (1st Cir. 1972).

Good Luck Nursing Home, Inc. v. Harris, 636 F.2d 572, 577 (D.C. Cir. 1980). Rule 60(b) "gives the district judge broad latitude to relieve a party from a judgment," Richardson v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 49 F.3d 760, 765 (D.C. Cir. 1995), but "should be only sparingly used," Good Luck Nursing Home, 636 F.2d at 577, and relief under Rule 60(b)(6) is granted in only "extraordinary circumstances," Ackerman v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 199 (1950). Such extraordinary circumstances may be present "[w]hen a party presents a previously undisclosed fact so central to the litigation that it shows the initial judgment to have been manifestly unjust . . . even though the original failure to present the information was inexcusable." Good Luck Nursing Home, 636 F.2d at 577. However, a party that "has not presented known facts helpful to its cause when it had the chance cannot ordinarily avail itself on rule 60(b) after an adverse judgment has been handed down." Id.

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff has styled his Motion for Relief from Summary Judgment as one brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1), which provides that a court may relieve a party from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1). To this end, Plaintiff "affirmatively states that he was surprised by the Court's order granting summary judgment." Pl.'s Mot. for Relief from Summ. J. (hereinafter "Pl.'s Mot."). However, Plaintiff's "surprise" at the Court's adverse decision does not, without more, rise to the level of "extraordinary circumstances" required for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Nevertheless, the basis for Plaintiff's Motion for Relief from Summary Judgment actually appears to be his argument that he was "entitled to a reasonable opportunity for discovery before the district court granted summary judgment on the basis that [Plaintiff] produced no evidence to show that the Defendant's violation of the Privacy Act was intentional or willful." Pl.'s Mot. at 1. This argument is one that might merit relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6), which allows a court to relieve a party from judgment "for any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment," Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6); therefore, the Court shall consider Plaintiff's Motion for Relief from Summary Judgment as one properly brought under Rule 60(b)(6).

The Court's October 17, 2006 grant of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's Privacy Act claim was premised on the Court's finding that Plaintiff had "presented no evidence that the BOP's determination to designate him for service at FCI - Forrest City constituted an intentional or willful violation of the Privacy Act[,]" and that as a result, Plaintiff could not prevail on his claim for monetary damages under Section (g)(4) of the Privacy Act as a matter of law. Id. at 24-25 (citing Deters v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 85 F.3d 655, 660 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). However, in his Motion for Relief from Summary Judgment, Plaintiff argues that he was precluded from conducting discovery as to whether BOP intentionally or willfully violated the Privacy Act because the Court stayed discovery in this matter on February 12, 2005 pending resolution of the dispositive motions then outstanding. Pl.'s Mot. at 1-2; see also Elliott v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, Civ. No. 04-1702 (D.D.C. Feb. 12, 2005) (Order).*fn2 Plaintiff argues that "discovery in this case is critical since the evidence relating ...


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