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Lisa Stewart v. Robert M. Gates

October 27, 2011

LISA STEWART, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT M. GATES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Beryl A. Howell

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before the Court is the motion by the defendants Patrick Keough and William Desautels ("Individual Defendants"), pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for the entry of final judgment on the dismissed claims against them. Individual Defs.' Mot. for R. 54(b) Certification, ECF No. 26, June 21, 2011 ("Defs.' Mot."). The plaintiff Lisa Stewart opposes this motion. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Individual Defs.' Mot. for R. 54(b) Certification, ECF No. 27, June 29, 2011 ("Pl.'s Opp'n"). After review of the memoranda filed by the parties, the applicable law, and the underlying purposes of Rule 54(b), the motion will be denied for the reasons set forth below.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff is a former civilian intelligence officer who worked in the Defense Intelligence Agency's ("DIA") Field Operating Base in Japan. Her original employment discrimination and retaliation complaint asserted claims against the Secretary of Defense, in his official capacity, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The original complaint also asserted claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, against the Individual Defendants, who were her former DIA superiors, in their individual capacities. By Memorandum Opinion and Order, dated May 16, 2011, the Court dismissed the claims against the Individual Defendants "because Title VII provides the exclusive remedy for claims of discrimination in federal employment" and "all of their alleged retaliatory conduct is covered by the plaintiff's Title VII claim against the DIA." Stewart v. Gates, 786 F. Supp. 2d 155, 166 (D.D.C. 2011).

No other claims are pending in the complaint against the Individual Defendants; only the plaintiff's claims under Title VII against the Department of Defense remain.

II. DISCUSSION

The Individual Defendants contend that final judgment should be entered under Rule 54(b) on the claims asserted against them since the circumstances here meet the applicable standard that "there is no just reason for delay." FED. R. CIV. P. 54(b). The plaintiff objects to entry of judgment against the Individual Defendants, arguing that the Court should avoid "creating the potential for piecemeal appeals." Pl.'s Opp'n at 2.

A. Legal Standard

Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure outlines the process for entering a final judgment in situations, as here, in which the court has disposed of some but not all of the claims in a complaint or the claims against some but not all of the defendants. Specifically, this Rule authorizes a court to direct entry of a final judgment on fewer than all the claims or parties "only if the court expressly determines that there is no just cause for a delay." FED. R. CIV. P. 54(b); Blackman v. District of Columbia, 456 F.3d 167,174-75 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (Rule 54(b) expressly requires finding that "there is no just reason for delay"); Bldg. Indus. Ass'n of Superior Cal. v. Babbitt, 161 F.3d 740, 743 (D.C. Cir. 1998) ("express direction and determination is a bright-line requirement" that prohibits appellate court from "imply[ing] a Rule 54(b) determination.").

"Only 'exceptional cases' merit Rule 54(b)'s direct entry, and the district court has discretion in identifying such cases because of its 'familiarity with the case and with any justifiable reasons for delay.'" Grosdidier v. Chairman, Broad. Bd. of Governors, 774 F. Supp. 2d 76, 123 (D.D.C. 2011) (quotingBen-Rafael v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 718 F. Supp. 2d 25, 33 (D.D.C. 2010) and Bldg. Indus. Ass'n of Superior Cal. v. Babbitt, 161 F.3d 740, 743 (D.C. Cir. 1998)); see also Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 446 U.S. 1, 10 (1980) ("sound judicial administration does not require that Rule 54(b) requests be granted routinely").

"Rule 54(b) mediates between the sometimes antagonistic goals of avoiding piecemeal appeals and giving parties timely justice." Taylor v. FDIC, 132 F.3d 753, 760 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (citing Curtiss-Wright Corp., 446 U.S. at 8). The role of the district court in determining whether to grant a motion for entry of final judgment under Rule 54(b) before the entire case is resolved has been described as that of a "dispatcher," who determines "when a claim should proceed on to appellate resolution, and when it should await its fellows." Powers-Bunce v. District of Columbia, 594 F. Supp. 2d 54, 55-57 (D.D.C. 2009) (quoting Taylor, 132 F.3d at 760 (citing Curtiss-Wright Corp., 446 U.S. at 8)); see also Robinson-Reeder v. Am. Council on Educ., 571 F.3d 1333, 1340 (D.C. Cir. 2009) ("Were we to permit the parties' dismissal without prejudice to generate an appealable judgment, we would effectively transfer to the litigants the "dispatcher" function that Rule 54(b) vests in the district court") (citing Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Mackey, 351 U.S. 427, 435 (1956) (under Rule 54(b), "the District Court is used as a 'dispatcher' . . . to determine, in the first instance, the appropriate time when each 'final decision' upon 'one or more but [fewer] than all' of the claims in a multiple claims action is ready for appeal.")).

In determining whether the exercise of discretion under Rule 54(b) is warranted the court must "keep[] in mind the policies the rule attempts to promote." 10 C. WRIGHT, A. MILLER & M. KANE, FED. PRAC. & PROC. § 2659 (3d ed. 2010). "The basic purpose of Rule 54(b) is to avoid the possible injustice of a delay in entering judgment on a distinctly separate claim or as to fewer than all of the parties until the final adjudication of the entire case by making an immediate appeal available." Id. § 2654. Thus, the thrust of Rule 54(b) is to mitigate the danger of hardship resulting from a delay of appeal until the whole action is concluded and to enable a party to file an appeal sooner than would otherwise be available by waiting for a final judgment on all claims against all parties in the lawsuit. See Dickinson v. Petroleum Conversion Corp., 338 U.S. 507 (1950) ("The liberalization of our practice to allow more issues and parties to be joined in one action and to expand the privilege of intervention by those not originally parties has increased the danger of hardship and denial of justice through delay if each issue must await the determination of all issues as to all parties before a final judgment can be had."); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Wetzel, 424 U.S. 737, 744 n.3, (1976) ("Rule [54(b)] was amended to insure that orders finally disposing of some but not all of the parties could be appealed pursuant to its provisions."); Brooks v. Dist. Hosp. Partners, L.P., 606 F.3d 800, 805 n.2 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (Although the text of Rule 54(b) does not distinguish between plaintiffs and defendants, the "motivation behind the amendment was to provide plaintiffs a way to appeal the dismissal of a defendant in a multiple defendant action, not necessarily their own dismissal from a multiple plaintiff case."); Hooks v. Wash. Sheraton Corp., 642 F.2d 614, 616 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1980) ("The primary purpose of Rule 54(b) is to determine finality for purposes of appeal."); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 54(b) Advisory Committee Note (1961) (explaining purpose of amendment adding explicit reference to applicability of Rule 54(b) to partial judgment as to some but not all parties: "The danger of hardship through delay of appeal until the whole action is concluded may be at least as serious in the multiple parties situations as in the multiple claims cases.").

Set against this explicit purpose of Rule 54(b) to mitigate the danger of hardship by allowing an immediate appeal, the Court now examines the ...


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