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Jamie A. Carvajal v. Drug Enforcement

July 13, 2012

JAMIE A. CARVAJAL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff, a prisoner incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI") in El Reno, Oklahoma, filed a pro se complaint that was dismissed by the Court*fn1 on June 10, 2009 because plaintiff failed to respond to defendants' summary judgment motion. On November 29, 2011, plaintiff moved to reinstate his case. For the reasons stated below, his motion will be denied.

I. Background

On December 29, 2006, plaintiff filed the complaint in the instant action, suing the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of the Treasury, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and the "Freedom of Information/Privacy Agency for the United States" for allegedly withholding material that he was entitled to receive under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552. Compl. [ECF 1] ¶¶ 1-2.

Defendants moved for summary judgment on November 25, 2008 urging the court to dismiss the case because: (1) the first named defendant, the Drug Enforcement Agency, properly withheld the requested documentation from release under several FOIA exemptions; (2) the second, third, fourth and fifth named defendants -- the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of the Treasury, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- were not sent any FOIA requests; (3) the sixth named defendant, the Attorney General, is not a proper defendant; and (4) the "Freedom of Information/Privacy Agency for the United States" does not exist. See generally Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. [ECF 10].

Defendants initially served plaintiff with a copy of the summary judgment motion at FCI Seagoville, Texas, where plaintiff had previously been housed, but the motion was returned as undeliverable. Defs.' Mem. Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. Recons. [ECF 17] ("Defs.' Opp'n") at 1. On December 31, 2008, defendants served another copy of the motion on plaintiff at the FCI in Edgefield, South Carolina, where plaintiff was housed from September 4, 2008 until March 11, 2009. Notice of New Address for Pl. and of Renewed Service of Mot. Summ. J. [ECF 11]; Defs.' Opp'n, Ex. A at 3 (official inmate history of plaintiff's transfers between FCIs).

Because plaintiff did not respond to defendants' summary judgment motion, the Court issued an order on May 7, 2009 directing plaintiff to respond to the motion by May 18, 2009, and warning him that failure to do so could result in a judgment in favor of defendants. Order Directing Pl. to Respond to Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. [ECF 12]. When plaintiff still did not respond, on June 10, 2009, the Court treated defendants' motion for summary judgment as conceded and granted summary judgment. Order Granting Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J [ECF 13]; Memorandum Opinion [ECF 14]; see Local Civ. Rule 7(b).

More than two years later, on November 29, 2011, plaintiff moved to reinstate his case. He contends that he was subjected to "diesel therapy," or constant transfer between prisons, that prevented the receipt of his legal mail until late 2009. Pl.'s Mot. Reinstate [ECF 15] ("Pl.'s Mot.") at 6. A review of documents provided by the Bureau of Prisons shows the following: on February 7, 2007, plaintiff was transferred out of FCI Seagoville, the location where defendants first served their summary judgment motion. Defs.' Opp'n, Ex. A at 3. Between February 7, 2007 and September 24, 2008 plaintiff was moved more than a dozen times before coming to rest at the FCI in Edgefield, South Carolina, where defendants served him the second time on December 31, 2008. Id. He remained at FCI Edgefield until March 11, 2009. Id. The transfers then re-started, and plaintiff was moved almost ten times before he reached his present facility in El Reno, Oklahoma on August 4, 2009. Id.

Plaintiff contends that he did not receive his personal property until more than two months after his arrival at FCI El Reno, which would be in October 2009. Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. Reinstate [ECF 19] ("Pl.'s Reply") at 3. He then had access to his legal papers in this case, including defendants' summary judgment motion,*fn2 until his papers were confiscated on July 20, 2010 (presumably because plaintiff was keeping the documents in his living quarters instead of an assigned legal locker). See Pl.'s Reply at 3, Ex. D at 1, Ex. E at 1. Hence, assuming the truth of plaintiff's contentions, he had possession of his legal papers for about ten months from fall 2009 to summer 2010. He filed his Motion to Reinstate on November 29, 2011. *fn3

II. Discussion

Plaintiff contends that his case should be reinstated because he was denied access to his legal mail at the time defendants' summary judgment motion was filed and later granted. Pl.'s Mot. at 6. Defendants oppose plaintiff's motion, arguing that his motion was not made within a reasonable time and that there are no extraordinary circumstances that justify the relief plaintiff seeks. Defs.' Opp'n at 3.

Plaintiff's motion does not specify the basis for his request for reinstatement, but the Court will treat the motion as one to alter the judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) or for reconsideration under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). Under Rule 59(e), a motion to alter or amend the judgment must be filed within 28 days of entry of judgment, and "the District Court simply has no power to extend that time limitation." Ctr. for Nuclear Responsibility, Inc. v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, 781 F.2d 935, 941 (D.C. Cir. 1986). Accordingly, if plaintiff's motion was intended as a Rule 59(e) motion, it must be denied as untimely.

A motion for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b), however, need not be filed within 28 days of the entry of judgment. The Court will therefore construe plaintiff's motion for reconsideration as one filed under Rule 60(b). That rule sets forth six grounds for relief from judgment: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) fraud or misrepresentation; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released or discharged; and (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment. Id. As to the first three grounds for relief under the rule, the motion must be made within one year of the entry of judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1). Since the instant motion was filed more than one year after the entry of judgment, those three grounds do not apply to this case. Of the remaining grounds, the only one applicable to this case is Rule 60(b)(6), which allows a court to alter or provide relief from a final order "upon such terms as are just" for any "reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6).

Any motion brought under Rule 60(b) "must be made within a reasonable time." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1). The timeliness of a Rule 60(b) motion is measured from the date of the judgment being attacked. See McMillian v. District of Columbia, 241 F.R.D. 12, 14 (D.D.C. 2006) (collecting cases). The definition of a "reasonable time" varies with the circumstances, and a court must balance the interests of justice and the sanctity of final judgments in determining whether a delay is "reasonable." See, e.g., Good Luck Nursing Home, Inc. v. Harris, 636 F.2d 572, 577 (D.C. Cir. 1980). In this Circuit, courts almost uniformly deny Rule 60(b)(6) motions as untimely when they are filed more than three months after judgment.*fn4 See McMillian, 241 F.R.D. at 14 (citing Brannum v. Buriltanu, No. Civ. A. 96-302 (RMU), 1999 WL 680007, at *2 (D.D.C. July 28, 1999) (synthesizing D.C. Circuit law on what constitutes a "reasonable time" under Rule 60(b)(6) and finding that this Circuit almost always denies 60(b)(6) motions when filed more than three months after judgment is filed)). However, a delay of several years has been found permissible when plaintiff bore no fault for the delay and filed the motion as soon as feasible. See Klapptrott v. United States, 335 U.S. 601, 615 (1949) (holding that a default judgment was properly vacated more than four years after its entry where the petitioner faced a series of extraordinary hardships); but see Ackerman v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 202 (1950) (petitioner was not entitled to relief from judgment where motion was filed more ...


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