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Trudel v. Suntrust Bank

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 4, 2018

DEBORAH A. TRUDEL, et al., Plaintiffs,
SUNTRUST BANK, et al., Defendants.



         This case began decades ago, with the assassinations of Yevgenyi Scherban, a Ukrainian businessman, and Nadejda Nikitina, his wife. Scherban left more than $100 million behind, along with three sons - Evgenyi, Ruslan, and Yevgen - who have since been hunting for their missing inheritance. As part of that quest, they sued Defendant SunTrust Bank, which allegedly mishandled an account holding a sliver of Scherban's fortune. In its most recent Opinion, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of SunTrust, “thereby closing the book on the Bank's role in this unfortunate tale.” Trudel v. SunTrust Bank (Trudel II), 2018 WL 564557, at *1 (D.D.C. Jan. 25, 2018). Or so it thought. Plaintiffs now seek to write an epilogue, asking the Court to reconsider its decision or accept their proposed Third Amended Complaint. The Court will decline both invitations.

         I. Background

         The Court has already provided a detailed account of the Scherban family history, see Trudel v. SunTrust Bank (Trudel I), 223 F.Supp.3d 71, 76-81 (D.D.C. 2016). For today, it suffices to say that around 1994, Scherban opened a savings account (with terminal digits 5216) with SunTrust at its branch in Boca Raton, Florida. Plaintiffs allege this account once housed more than a million dollars, but over time, its funds mysteriously dwindled. To wit, a statement dated March 31, 2001, shows $3, 773.04 remaining, yet SunTrust has little explanation of how hundreds of thousands of dollars vanished. See ECF No. 71-2 (Pl. Reply to Mot. to Reopen Discovery). In 2003, the Bank apparently closed the account, but it again offers few details as to what happened to the $3, 773 balance.

         On November 6, 2015, the three sons brought suit in this Court, alleging inter alia, that SunTrust had mishandled the account from 1996 to 2003. After Deborah Trudel (the representative of Nikitina's estate) was subbed in for Evgenyi and Yevgen as a proper plaintiff, the Court dismissed the lion's share of the Complaint, holding that ten of the twelve counts were either untimely or had failed to state a claim. That left only two counts standing - one for accounting and one for fraudulent concealment - and on January 25, 2018, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of SunTrust on both. See Trudel II, 2018 WL 564557. Plaintiffs now ask the Court to either (1) reconsider its ruling on the fraudulent-concealment count or (2) reopen the case so that they can amend their Second Amended Complaint. See ECF No. 104 (Mot. to Alter Judgment).

         II. Legal Standard

         Ordinarily, leave to amend a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Under Rule 15, a district court must provide sufficient reason to deny leave to amend, such as “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive . . . [or] repeated failure to cure deficiencies by [previous] amendments.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). The entry of final judgment, however, is a game changer. At that point, a plaintiff can amend his “complaint only by filing . . . [a] motion to alter or amend a judgment” under Rule 59(e) “combined with a Rule 15(a) motion requesting leave of court to amend [his] complaint.” Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996). “Rule 15(a)'s liberal standard . . . governs once the court has vacated the judgment, . . . [b]ut to vacate the judgment, Appellants must first satisfy Rule 59(e)'s more stringent standard.” Id.

         “A Rule 59(e) motion 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.'” Id. (citation omitted); see also 11 C. Wright & A. Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 2810.1 at 158-62 (3d ed. 2017) (noting “four basic grounds” for Rule 59(e) motion include “manifest errors of law or fact, ” “newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence, ” “manifest injustice, ” and “intervening change in controlling law”).

         III. Analysis

         Unhappy with the Court's ruling, Plaintiffs move for reconsideration on three grounds. Generously construed, their arguments fall into three camps: (1) manifest injustice; (2) manifest error of law and fact; and (3) newly discovered evidence. The Court discusses each in turn.

         A. Manifest Injustice

         Plaintiffs believe the Court should re-open the case because of a “[r]egrettable procedural surprise”: they filed only a “provisional” opposition to SunTrust's Motion for Summary Judgment, they say, and expected either a future status conference or further discovery before a ruling. See Mot. at 1-3. This argument has several flaws. First, the status conference. Trudel and Ruslan latch onto a Minute Order, which advised, “At the next status conference (yet to be set), Plaintiffs shall provide further information on service of Defendant Gwynfe.” Minute Order of Sept. 27, 2017. That status conference, however, related to a wholly different Defendant - Gwynfe Holding Ltd., a Virgin Islands corporation that has never appeared in this case - and whether Plaintiffs could effect service on it. The Court need not have detained SunTrust's summary-judgment motion for a status hearing on that separate issue. Second, the Court did consider whether to defer a summary-judgment ruling to allow additional discovery. It declined to do so, reasoning that after a lengthy discovery process, it had “all the information needed to rule on summary judgment, and none of Plaintiffs' proposed avenues could yield facts that would change the outcome.” Trudel II, 2018 WL 564557, at *12.

         Third, to the extent Plaintiffs wanted to amend their Complaint in light of what they had already discovered, they should have moved to do so. As the Court explained, their attempt to “reserve[]” the right to amend through summary-judgment briefing was improper, id.; there is simply no such thing as a “provisional” summary-judgment opposition. In any event, the Court ultimately addressed Plaintiffs' newest theory - namely, that SunTrust closed their account with at least $3, 773 remaining and fraudulently concealed that fact by failing to escheat the balance to Florida. Id. at *6. Although the Court noted the addition was procedurally improper, it nevertheless went on to conclude that any such claim would be time-barred under Florida's 12-year statute of repose. Id., at *6-7. Not surprisingly, Plaintiffs also challenge that holding, to which the Court now turns.

         B. Ma ...

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