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Lisa Stewart v. Leon Panetta

November 30, 2011

LISA STEWART, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LEON PANETTA, 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") for reconsideration of this Court's October 27, 2011 Memorandum Opinion and Order denying their motion pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the entry of final judgment on the dismissed claims against them. See ECF Nos. 42 and 43, October 27, 2011 Memorandum Opinion and Order. The plaintiff Lisa Stewart opposes this motion. For the reasons explained below, the motion for reconsideration will be denied.

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.

On June 21, 2011, the Individual Defendants moved for entry of final judgment against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). ECF No. 26. The Court denied that motion in its October 27, 2011 Memorandum Opinion and Order. The Individual Defendants have now moved for reconsideration of that ruling. ECF No. 44, Individual Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's October 27, 2011 Order ("Reconsideration Mot.").

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

"An interlocutory order such as the Court's partial dismissal 'may be revised at any time before the entry of judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.'" Johnson-Parks v. D.C. Chartered Health Plan, No. 09-1492, 2011 WL 3835671, at *1 (D.D.C. Aug. 31, 2011) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b)). "[R]elief upon reconsideration of an interlocutory decision pursuant to Rule 54(b) is available 'as justice requires.'" Id. (quoting Estate of Botvin ex rel. Ellis v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 772 F. Supp. 2d 218, 223 (D.D.C. 2011)). "'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.'" Id. (quoting Estate of Botvin, 772 F. Supp. 2d 218) (alteration in original quotation).

Therefore, "[i]n general, a court will grant a motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory order only when the movant demonstrates: (1) an intervening change in the law; (2) the discovery of new evidence not previously available; or (3) a clear error in the first order." Id. (quoting Zeigler v. Potter, 555 F. Supp. 2d 126, 129 (D.D.C. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

B. Analysis

The Individual Defendants argue that the Court should reconsider its October 27, 2011 ruling primarily because the decision in one of the authorities the Court relied upon, Powers-Bunce v. District of Columbia, 594 F. Supp. 2d 54 (D.D.C. 2009), was later reversed on reconsideration. See Powers-Bunce v. District of Columbia, No. 06-1586, ECF No. 83 (D.D.C. Mar. 13, 2009) (granting motion for reconsideration in part) (hereinafter, "Powers-Bunce Reconsideration Order"). Since the Powers-Bunce Reconsideration Order was not published in the major legal database services, the Court was unaware of this Order when it issued its prior ruling. The Court has determined, however, that the Powers-Bunce Reconsideration Order does not provide any reason for this Court to reverse its prior ruling.

The Court's October 27, 2011 ruling did take into account the authorities cited in the Powers-Bunce Reconsideration Order -- namely, Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 808 (1982) and Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 507-08 (1978). The Court's October 27, 2011 Memorandum Opinion addressed and distinguished these cases. See ECF No. 42 at 7 n.1. As the Court previously noted, and as the Individual Defendants concede, see Reconsideration Mot. at 3, these cases do not address Rule 54(b) entry of final judgment. Rather, these cases address more generally the need for insubstantial lawsuits against federal officials to be quickly terminated due to certain public policy considerations. See Harlow, 457 U.S. at 814 (quoting Butz, 438 U.S. at 507-08). The Court has followed the imperatives expressed in these cases by dismissing the claims against the Individual Defendants in this action.

Whether entry of final judgment is appropriate at this time, however, is a separate questioned governed by Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As the Court previously explained, Rule 54(b) 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"). "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. ...


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