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Potts v. Howard University Hospital

June 10, 2009

ROSSI M. POTTS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL AND HOWARD UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 20

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CONSTRUING THE DEFENDANTS'"REPLY" AS A MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND AN INTERLOCUTORY JUDGMENT;RECONSIDERING THE PARTIAL DENIAL OF THE DEFENDANTS'MOTION TO DISMISS

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court on the defendants' submission of March 3, 2009, which, for the reasons discussed below, the court construes as a motion to alter or amend its interlocutory judgment of February 20, 2009. The plaintiff brought this action under the D.C. Code as well as the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ("USERRA"), 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301 et seq., alleging that the defendants, Howard University and Howard University Hospital, discriminated against him on the basis of his gender and military service obligations. The court dismissed the claims brought under the D.C. Code, and it will not revisit that decision here. But because a four-year statute of limitations applies to the plaintiff's USERRA claim pursuant to federal statute, the court reconsiders the reasoning underlying its denial of the defendants' motion to dismiss that claim. As the court's reasoning herein does not affect its previous holding, the court does not alter its denial of the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's USERRA claim.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The court discussed the details of this case in the memorandum opinion issued on February 20, 2009 and will only briefly summarize them here. See Mem. Op. (Feb. 20, 2009). The plaintiff filed a complaint in this court on April 24, 2008, which he amended shortly thereafter. See Compl.; Am. Compl. The plaintiff alleges that during his employment from June 1994 to August 2002, the defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his military service obligations and his gender, which ultimately led to his termination. Am. Compl. at 5-6. The plaintiff claims the defendants' actions violated USERRA. Id. The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff's claims on statute of limitations grounds on August 22, 2008. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss. The plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that because no statute of limitations applies to claims brought under USERRA, his claim should not be dismissed. Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss. The defendants did not timely file a reply in support of their motion.

On February 20, 2009, the court issued a memorandum opinion and order granting in part and denying in part the defendants' motion to dismiss. Mem. Op. (Feb. 20, 2009). More specifically, the court dismissed as time-barred the claims brought under the D.C. Code, but denied the motion to dismiss the USERRA claim. Id. The defendants then submitted a pleading captioned as a "reply" on March 3, 2009. Defs.' Mot. to Alter or Amend Interlocutory J.

Because the defendants submitted the "reply" in support of their motion months after it was due*fn1 -- indeed, after the court had already issued its memorandum opinion and order resolving the motion -- the court construes it as a motion to alter or amend an interlocutory judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). The court now clarifies the reasoning underlying its denial of the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's USERRA claim.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Altering or Amending an Interlocutory Judgment

A district court may revise its own interlocutory decisions "at any time before the entry of judgment adjudicating all the claims and the rights and liabilities of all the parties." FED. R. CIV. P. 54(b); see also Childers v. Slater, 197 F.R.D. 185, 190 (D.D.C. 2000) (citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)'s Advisory Committee Notes). The standard for the court's review of an interlocutory decision differs from the standards applied to final judgments under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b). Compare Muwekma Tribe v. Babbitt, 133 F. Supp. 2d 42, 48 n.6 (D.D.C. 2001) and United Mine Workers v. Pittston Co., 793 F. Supp. 339, 345 (D.D.C. 1992) with LaRouche v. Dep't of Treasury, 112 F. Supp. 2d 48, 51-52 (D.D.C. 2000) and Harvey v. District of Columbia, 949 F. Supp. 878, 879 (D.D.C. 1996). A motion pursuant to Rule 59(e), to alter or amend a judgment after its entry, is not routinely granted. Harvey, 949 F. Supp. at 879. The primary reasons for altering or amending a judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) are an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice. Id.; Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (per curiam). Motions pursuant to Rule 60(b) may be granted for similar reasons. FED. R. CIV. P. 60(b); LaRouche, 112 F. Supp. 2d at 51-52. By contrast, reconsideration of an interlocutory decision pursuant to Rule 54(b) is available "as justice requires." Childers, 197 F.R.D. at 190.

"As justice requires" indicates concrete considerations of whether the court "has patently misunderstood a party, has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the [c]court by the parties, has made an error not of reasoning, but of apprehension, or where a controlling or significant change in the law or facts [has occurred] since the submission of the issue to the court." Cobell v. Norton, 224 F.R.D. 266, 272 (D.D.C. 2004) (internal citation omitted). These considerations leave a great deal of room for the court's discretion and, accordingly, the "as justice requires" standard amounts to determining "whether reconsideration is necessary under the relevant circumstances." Id. Nonetheless, the court's discretion under Rule 54(b) is limited by the law of the case doctrine and "subject to the caveat that, where litigants have once battled ...


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