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Thorp v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 30, 2018

MARK THORP, Plaintiff,
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



         In a May 24, 2018, Opinion, this Court granted summary judgment to Defendants District of Columbia and a police officer on claims arising from the search of Plaintiff Mark Thorp's home and the subsequent seizure of his Doberman Pinscher. In now seeking reconsideration, Thorp contends that the Court committed numerous errors in its analysis of his constitutional and common-law claims. Although Plaintiff spends thirty pages describing his many criticisms of the prior Opinion's findings (as well as launching a variety of ad hominem attacks on Defendants and the Court), he demonstrates no cause for reconsideration under the requirements of Rule 59(e).

         I. Background

         Given that the Court has already described this suit at length in a couple of prior Opinions, see Thorp v. D.C. (Thorp I), 142 F.Supp.3d 132 (D.D.C. 2015); Thorp v. D.C. (Thorp II), 2018 WL 2364291 (D.D.C. May 24, 2018), it will include only a brief summary of the facts and procedural history below.

         This case arose out of events that took place over three years ago, when Lieutenant Ramey Kyle of the Metropolitan Police Department executed a search warrant of Plaintiff's home. Although the initial warrant was predicated on an allegation of animal cruelty committed by Thorp against his dog, an inspection of his freezer during the search revealed substances that tested positive for amphetamines. Following that discovery, Kyle sought an additional search warrant and subsequently arrested Plaintiff on charges of animal cruelty and possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs.

         Aggrieved by the search of his home and the seizure of his dog, Thorp brought this suit against the District and Kyle. See Thorp I, 142 F.Supp.3d at 136-37. He filed his First Amended Complaint on February 15, 2015, see ECF No. 12, and added a Second Amended Complaint on July 13, 2015. See ECF No. 22 (Second Amended Complaint). That latter Complaint, which remains the operative pleading in this case, originally advanced ten separate counts under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 and the common law of the District of Columbia. Id., ¶¶ 81-133. After Defendants subsequently moved to dismiss, see ECF Nos. 23, 24, 26, the Court winnowed the claims to the following: Counts II and III against Kyle only, for limited Fourth Amendment violations; Count IV against the District only, under D.C. law for negligent supervision and retention; and Counts VIII and IX, consolidated into a single abuse-of-process claim, against Kyle on a direct-liability theory and against the District on a vicarious-liability theory. See Thorp I, 142 F.Supp.3d at 149. Both sides subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment and, on May 24, 2018, the Court granted Defendants'. See Thorp II, 2018 WL 2364291. The next month, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Reconsideration, which Defendants subsequently opposed. See ECF Nos. 119 (Mot. for Recon.), 121 (Def. Opposition). Although Plaintiff filed no reply, the Motion is ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) permits the filing of a motion to alter or amend a judgment when such motion is filed within 28 days after the judgment's entry. The Court must apply a “stringent” standard when evaluating Rule 59(e) motions. See Ciralsky v. CIA, 355 F.3d 661, 673 (D.C. Cir. 2004). “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.” Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also 11 C. Wright & A. Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 2810.1 at 158-62 (3d ed. 2012) (stating that “four basic grounds” for Rule 59(e) motion are “manifest errors of law or fact, ” “newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence, ” “prevent[ion of] manifest injustice, ” and “intervening change in controlling law”). Critically, 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 (D.C. Cir. 2012).

         III. Analysis

         In seeking reconsideration, Thorp launches a fusillade of attacks on the Court's prior Opinion. Although certain of his arguments are difficult to parse, the Court believes it most efficient to begin with two threshold disputes - Thorp's filing of depositions and the application of qualified immunity with respect to Defendant Kyle - before moving on to Plaintiff's more specific grievances.

         A. Depositions

         Thorp's Motion asserts that the Court improperly “proceed[ed] to judgment without at least some effort to obtain [deposition] transcripts or even a cursory mention to the parties of their absence.” Mot. at 6. The Court had noted in the prior Opinion that “Thorp does not attach copies of the depositions to which he cites, ” and that it was therefore “rely[ing], when available, on the excerpts of those depositions provided by Defendants.” Thorp II, 2018 WL 2364291, at *1. Thorp now claims that he “provided all deposition transcripts to this Court at the time of filing Plaintiff's summary judgment motion, ” Mot. at 2, attaching as proof Postal Service records demonstrating that a compact disk was sent to chambers. See Mot., Exhs. 2 (Shipping Label Receipt); 3 (Package Tracking Printout). He also notes that his “forty-five-page memorandum in support of the Motion for Summary Judgment contained over four hundred lines of deposition excerpts, ” Mot. at 6, a fact he asserts should have put the Court on notice of the need to procure the depositions, regardless of whether it in fact received the CD allegedly containing such materials. The District responds that none of Thorp's arguments related to the depositions justifies reconsideration, as “Defendants' briefing engaged with all the lines plaintiff cited, filed or not, ” and that they “prevailed because the record supported their position, not because of Plaintiff's clerical errors.” Opp. at 4-5.

         The Court agrees with the District. It first notes that while Thorp's printout of the package tracking may state “delivered, ” no compact disk of depositions ever made its way to chambers. The Court need not linger here because any delivery failure is of no moment. The Court was able to review all relevant depositions either by relying on Thorp's admittedly voluminous in-text quotations or, where available, by looking to Defendants' exhibits. To the extent Plaintiff meant to rely on other portions of the depositions existing on the elusive CD, it was his obligation to have cited them during briefing. See Jackson v. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, 101 F.3d 145, 151 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (“[A] district court should not be obliged to sift through hundreds of pages of depositions, affidavits, and interrogatories in order to make [its] own analysis and determination of” the disputed claims). It was no “clear error” or “manifest injustice” for the Court to consider only those excerpts of the depositions relied upon and cited by Plaintiff - whether the source of such materials came from his own filings or Defendants' exhibits.

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Thorp next sets his sights on the qualified-immunity analysis in the prior Opinion. He asserts that the Court improperly granted such immunity to Defendant Kyle because “government officials are not entitled to [this] immunity for intentional constitutional violations” and because the “Court improperly usurp[ed] the duty of the jury to determine probable cause and the reasonableness of Kyle's actions.” Mot. at 6-7, 12 n.4. The District retorts that such arguments are merely a rehashing of those in Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment, and, “[t]o the extent [he] raises new arguments . . . in discussing qualified immunity[, ] . . . those arguments do not warrant the Court's consideration both because they are unavailing . . . and because they ‘could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.'” Opp. at 2-3.

         Turning first to the proper role of the Court, the D.C. Circuit has explained that “whether an objectively reasonable officer would have believed his conduct to be lawful” - i.e., whether he is entitled to qualified immunity - “is a question of law that must be resolved by the court, not the jury.” Pitt v. District of Columbia, 491 F.3d 494, 509-10 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (emphasis added). It is thus clear that ...

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