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Pigford v. Perdue

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 2, 2019

TIMOTHY PIGFORD et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SONNY PERDUE, Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture, Defendant. CECIL BREWINGTON et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SONNY PERDUE, Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the renewed motion for reconsideration [Dkt. No. 2077] filed by Derrick K. Jones as Conservator of the person and estate of Maurice McGinnis.[1] The Conservator's motion seeks reconsideration of the Court's opinion and order of May 31, 2018, granting the government's motion to dismiss the petition for monitor review of Mr. McGinnis's Track B arbitration claim. See Pigford v. Perdue, 330 F.Supp.3d 1 (D.D.C. 2018). The government has filed a memorandum in opposition to the Conservator's renewed motion for reconsideration, see Gov't Opp., and the Conservator filed a reply. See Reply. Having considered the parties' arguments, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court will deny the Conservator's renewed motion for reconsideration.[2]

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Court's prior opinions summarize the factual and procedural history of this case, beginning with Mr. McGinnis's Track A award and continuing through his Track B arbitration proceeding. See, e.g., Pigford v. Vilsaek, 961 F.Supp.2d 82, 83-87 (D.D.C. 2013), aff'd, 777 F.3d 509 (D.C. Cir. 2015); Pigford v. Perdue, 330 F.Supp.3d at 3-9. The Court therefore limits its discussion here to those facts relevant to the instant motion, which pertains to Mr. McGinnis's Track B arbitration proceeding.

         Throughout the course of his Track B arbitration proceeding, Mr. McGinnis was represented by John M. Shoreman. See Pigford v. Perdue, 330 F.Supp.3d at 4-8. According to the Conservator, notwithstanding his representation by counsel, "[Mr.] McGinnis made a series of irrational decisions not to comply with the requirements of the Consent Decree and the Revised Hearing Notice." See Ren. Mot. Recon. at 4. He and his counsel failed to meet deadlines - even after they were rescheduled - and failed to provide a timely expert report or any written testimony. See Pigford v. Perdue, 330 F.Supp.3d at 4-7. After a series of extensions of time granted by the Arbitrator, the government moved for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that Mr. McGinnis had not introduced any evidence and had not "articulate[d] the bases for his discrimination claims or the source and nature of any alleged economic damages." See Mot. J. Law at 89. On December 13, 2016, the Arbitrator granted the government's motion for judgment as a matter of law and denied Mr. McGinnis's Track B claim, reasoning that "[Mr. McGinnis] ha[d] neither demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that [the] USDA discriminated against him, nor ha[d] he established any damages." See Arb. Decision at 111; see also Pigford v. Perdue, 330 F.Supp.3d at 7.

         On April 12, 2017, Mr. Shoreman submitted a petition for monitor review of the Arbitrator's decision purportedly on behalf of Derrick K. Jones, the alleged conservator of Mr, McGinnis's person and estate. See Pet. Mon. Review at 202; see also Pigford v. Perdue, 330 F.Supp.3d at 7-8. The initial petition for monitor review "[did] not dispute that Mr. McGinnis repeatedly failed to meet deadlines and, as a result, did not submit sufficient evidence to prove his claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Rather, the petition assert[ed] that these failures resulted from Mr. McGinnis's diminished mental capacity and deteriorating ability to assist his counsel, issues which assertedly arose due to the stressful and long-running nature of the case." See Pigford v. Perdue, 330 F.Supp.3d at 8. The petition concluded that because "[t]he strict application of procedural deadlines to a Claimant so obviously incompetent resulted in a fundamental miscarriage of justice," the Monitor should direct the Arbitrator to re-examine his decision to grant the government's motion for judgment and to re-set procedural deadlines so that Mr. McGinnis's Track B arbitration claim could proceed under the direction of Mr. McGinnis's conservator. See Pet. Mon. Review at 207-08.

         The government moved to dismiss the petition for monitor review of Mr. McGinnis's Track B arbitration claim. The matter was fully briefed and the Court granted the government's motion on May 31, 2018. See Pigford v. Perdue, 330 F.Supp.3d at 12.[3] In so deciding, the Court declined to reappoint the Monitor - who had been released from her duties under the Consent Decree in March 2012 - and to direct her to review the petition because "there [was] simply insufficient evidence in the relevant record [before the Arbitrator] of Mr, McGinnis's alleged mental incapacity to support a finding by the monitor that 'clear and manifest error' ha[d] resulted or [was] likely to result in 'a fundamental miscarriage of justice.'" See Id. at 12; see also Stip. & Order at ¶ 1(a)(5).[4]

         Mr. Shoreman subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration [Dkt. No. 2067] of the Court's opinion and order by and through Derrick K. Jones, the alleged conservator of the person and estate of Mr. McGinnis. The Court denied that motion without prejudice on August 6, 2018, because Mr. Jones had not been substituted as a party in this case pursuant to Rule 25(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Mem. Op. & Order.[5] The Court has since granted [Dkt. No. 2075] Mr. Jones's motion for substitution of party [Dkt. No. 2070], and Mr. Jones has been properly substituted for plaintiff Maurice McGinnis as a party to this action.

         Pursuant to the Court's order, Mr. Jones, as Conservator, filed a renewed motion for reconsideration on October 31, 2018 on behalf of the estate of Mr. McGinnis. See Ren. Mot. Recon. The Conservator's renewed motion for reconsideration - now before the Court - asks the Court to reconsider under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure its order and opinion of May 31, 2018. See Ren. Mot. Recon. at 7. He requests that the Court deny the government's motion to dismiss the petition for monitor review. See Ren. Mot. Recon. Proposed Order [Dkt. No. 2077-3].

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Conservator has styled the instant motion as a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Ren. Mot. Recon. at 5. Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have no rule specifically addressing motions to reconsider, "[t]he D.C. Circuit has stated that motions to reconsider are routinely construed as motions to clarify or alter or amend judgment under Rule 59(e)." See Piper v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 312 F.Supp.2d 17, 20 (D.D.C. 2004). After entry of judgment, a timely motion for reconsideration under Rule 59(e) may be filed to "alter or amend [the] judgment." See Fed. R, Civ. Pro. 59(e).

         The Supreme Court has explained that Rule 59(e) was enacted to allow a district court "to rectify its own mistakes in the period immediately following the entry of judgment." See White v. N.H. Dep't of Emp't Sec, 455 U.S. 445, 450 (1982). But Rule 59(e) "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." See Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5 (2008); see also Piper v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 312 F.Supp.2d at 21 ("Rule 59(e) motions are not granted if the court suspects the losing party is using the motion as an instrumentality of arguing the same theory or asserting new arguments that could have been raised prior to final judgment."). A Rule 59(e) motion, therefore, "is discretionary and need not be granted unless the district court finds that there is [1] an intervening change of controlling law, [2] the availability of new evidence, or [3] the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice." See Dyson v. District of Columbia, 710 F.3d 415, 420 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting Ciralsky v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 355 F.3d 661, 671 (D.C. Cir. 2004)); see also Firestone v, Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996).

         III. DISCUSSION

         As noted, the Court may grant the Conservator's motion to reconsider its prior decision to dismiss the petition for monitor review of Mr. McGinnis's Track B claim if it "finds that there is [1] an intervening change of controlling law, [2] the availability of new evidence, or [3] the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice." SeeDyson v. District of Columbia, 710 F.3d at 420 (quoting Ciralsky v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 355 F.3d at 671). In his motion, the Conservator does not suggest that there has been an intervening change of controlling law or that new evidence has become available since the Court's May 31, 2018 decision. Instead, using language almost identical to that found in the original petition, the Conservator argues that the Court should reconsider its decision because "under the circumstances of this case[, ] the Arbitrator's strict application of procedural deadlines to a Claimant so obviously ...


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