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Smith v. Lynch

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

July 15, 2015

RHONDA SMITH., Plaintiff,
v.
LORETTA LYNCH, [1] Attorney General of the United States, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For RHONDA SMITH, Plaintiff: Alan Banov, LEAD ATTORNEY, Stephanie Lynn Rapp, ALAN BANOV & ASSOCIATES, Silver Spring, MD.

For ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., as and his capacity as Attorney General, Defendant: Wyneva Johnson, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.

This Court entered a Memorandum Opinion (" Mem. Op." ), ECF No. 71, and accompanying Order, ECF No. 72, granting summary judgment to the defendant in this action on May 13, 2015. Now pending before the Court is the plaintiff's Motion to Alter or Amend Order Granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (" Pl.'s Mot." ), ECF No. 73. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

The pertinent facts of this case were adequately explained in the Mem. Op and need not be repeated here. See Smith v. Lynch, No. 10-1302, 106 F.Supp.3d 20, 2015 WL 2265100, at *1-11 (D.D.C. May 13, 2015). In short, the plaintiff, who is an African American employee of the U.S. Department of Justice, alleges that she was subjected to discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., based upon her race and alleged disability of right-hand Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (" CTS" ). Id. at *1. This Court held, with respect to the plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claims, in Counts II and IV of the Complaint, that (1) the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act in effect when the plaintiff was allegedly held responsible for co-workers' assignments, [WL] at *4; given discriminatory work assignments, [WL] at *4-5; denied advance sick leave, [WL] at *5-8; charged with tardiness, [WL] at *8; and bumped by her supervisor, [WL] at *8-9, all of which events occurred in 2007, [WL] at 4-9; [WL] at 19 (holding that plaintiff was not " disabled" within the meaning of the pre-ADA Amendments[2] Rehabilitation Act); (2) the plaintiff failed to exhaust her

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administrative remedies, as required by statute, for any events that occurred after the operative definition of disability under the Rehabilitation Act changed on January 1, 2009, [WL] at 19-20 and n.24; [3] and (3), consequently, the plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claims based on alleged discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation failed, [WL] at 20.

With respect to the plaintiff's Title VII race discrimination claims, in Counts I and III of the Complaint, the Court held that the plaintiff failed to provide any admissible evidence sufficient to create a triable issue regarding whether she was treated differently from non-African-American employees or whether the defendant's treatment of her was motivated, in any way, by the plaintiff's race. See id. at 22-23. The Court concluded that " no reasonable jury could find that the plaintiff . . . was subjected to a hostile work environment or retaliation based on her race." Id. at 23. Consequently, the Court granted summary judgment to the defendant on all counts and dismissed this action.[4] Id. ; Order at 1, ECF No. 72.

The plaintiff now seeks to alter the judgment against her pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). Pl.'s Mot. at 1. The defendant timely filed an opposition to the motion, Def.'s Opp'n Pl.'s Mot. (" Def.'s Opp'n" ), ECF No. 74, and the plaintiff did not file a reply. This motion is now ripe for resolution.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to alter or amend a judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) " 'is discretionary and need not be granted unless the district court finds that there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.'" Messina

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v. Krakower, 439 F.3d 755, 758, 370 U.S. App.D.C. 128 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208, 316 U.S. App.D.C. 152 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). A district court's denial of a request for this extraordinary relief is reviewed only for abuse of discretion. See Mohammadi v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 782 F.3d 9, 17 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (stating that " '[r]econsideration of a judgment after its entry is an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly.'" (quoting 11 Charles Alan Wright et al., FEDERAL PRACTICE & PROCEDURE § 2810.1 (3d ed. 2012)); Dyson v. District of Columbia, 710 F.3d 415, 420, 404 U.S. App.D.C. 228 (D.C. Cir. 2013); Messina, 439 F.3d at 759; Anyanwutaku v. Moore, 151 F.3d 1053, 1058, 331 U.S. App.D.C. 379 (D.C. Cir. 1998).

Absent a demonstrated intervening change of controlling law or new evidence, the law is well-settled that litigants may not use Rule 59(e) either to repeat unsuccessful arguments or to assert new but previously available arguments. See Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5, 128 S.Ct. 2605, 171 L.Ed.2d 570 (2008). As the Supreme Court observed, " Rule 59(e) permits a court to alter or amend a judgment, but it may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Messina, 439 F.3d at 759 (finding no error in denying Rule 59(e) motion where " motion did nothing more than rely on the same arguments that [the movant] originally made." ) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). This is because " Rule 59(e) motions are aimed at reconsideration, not initial consideration," and arguments raised for the first time on a Rule 59(e) motion may be deemed " waived." GSS Grp. Ltd. v. Nat'l Port Auth., 680 F.3d 805, 812, 401 U.S. App.D.C. 1 (D.C. Cir. 2012); see also District of Columbia v. Doe, 611 F.3d 888, 896, 391 U.S. App.D.C. 388 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (" [A]n issue presented for the first time in a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) generally is not timely raised; accordingly, such an issue is not preserved for appellate review unless the district court exercises its discretion to excuse the party's lack of timeliness and consider the issue." ); but see City of New York v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 776 F.3d 11, 17, 414 U.S. App.D.C. 11 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (declining to consider on appeal plaintiff's " reformulated" theory of claim, noting that " a party seeking to raise a new issue on appeal should first present it to the district court pursuant to a Rule 59(e) or 60(b)(6) motion" since the D.C. Circuit " continue[s] to insist that a party wishing to raise a new issue after judgment first advance it before the district court" ). Thus, " Rule 59(e) is not a vehicle to present a new legal theory that was available prior to judgment," Patton Boggs LLP v. Chevron Corp., 683 F.3d 397, 403, 401 U.S. App.D.C. 263 (D.C. Cir. 2012), or " a chance for [a party] to correct poor strategic choices," SEC v. Bilzerian, 729 F.Supp.2d 9, 15 (D.D.C. 2010). See also Kattan ex rel. Thomas v. District of Columbia, 995 F.2d 274, 276, 301 U.S. App.D.C. 374 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (" [T]his Court has recognized that a losing party may not use a Rule 59 motion to raise new issues that could have been raised previously." ). " The strictness with which such motions are viewed is justified by the need to protect both the integrity of the adversarial process in which parties are expected to bring all arguments before the court, and the ability of the parties and others to rely on the finality of judgments." U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. McGraw-Hill Cos., Inc., 403 F.Supp.2d 34, 36 (D.D.C. 2005); accord Silk v. Sandoval, 435 F.2d 1266, 1268 (1st Cir. 1971) (acknowledging " the complementary interest in speedy disposition and finality, clearly intended by Rule 59" ).

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To constitute " clear error" within the meaning of Rule 59(e), courts have required " 'a very exacting standard,'" Bond v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 286 F.R.D. 16, 22 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Lightfoot v. District of Columbia, 355 F.Supp.2d 414, 422 (D.D.C. 2005)), such that the " final judgment must be 'dead wrong' to constitute clear error," Lardner v. FBI, 875 F.Supp.2d 49, 53 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Parts & Elec. Motors, Inc. v. Sterling Elec., Inc., 866 F.2d 228, 233 (7th Cir. 1988)). Indeed, the Seventh Circuit has vividly observed that " [t]o be clearly erroneous, a decision must strike [a court] as more than just maybe or probably wrong; it must . . . strike [the court] as wrong with the force of a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish." Parts & Electric Motors, 866 F.2d at 233. Hence, a fortiori, " '[m]ere disagreement does not support a Rule 59(e) motion.'" United States ex rel. Becker v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 305 F.3d 284, 290 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Hutchinson v. Staton, 994 F.2d 1076, 1082 (4th Cir. 1993)).

Finally, although " [t]he term 'manifest injustice' eludes precise definition," Roane v. Gonzales, 832 F.Supp.2d 61, 64 (D.D.C. 2011), it is clear that " manifest injustice" is an exceptionally narrow concept in the context of a Rule 59(e) motion. The D.C. Circuit has said that manifest injustice arises from " rulings that upset settled expectations--expectations on which a party might reasonably place reliance," Qwest Servs. Corp. v. FCC, 509 F.3d 531, 540, 379 U.S. App.D.C. 4 (D.C. Cir. 2007), and does not result merely because a harm may go unremedied, accord Assoc. Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 536, 103 S.Ct. 897, 74 L.Ed.2d 723 (1983) (" [T]he judicial remedy cannot encompass every conceivable harm that can be traced to alleged wrongdoing." ). Instead, " manifest injustice" must entail more than just a clear and certain prejudice to the moving party, but also a result that is fundamentally unfair in light of governing law.

III. DISCUSSION

As the defendant correctly points out, the plaintiff makes no attempt to offer new evidence or assert an intervening change of law to justify her motion. Def.'s Opp'n at 3; see generally Pl.'s Mot. Thus, it is only necessary to address whether the plaintiff has raised a " clear error" in the Court's previous opinion sufficient to warrant reconsideration of the ...


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