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Bowser v. Smith

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 4, 2019

MARK K. BOWSER, Plaintiff,
SERGEANT D. SMITH, et al. Defendants.


          TREVOR N. MCFADDEN, U.S.D. J.

         Plaintiff Mark K. Bowser, an inmate at the District of Columbia Jail, sued the District of Columbia and Sergeant Douglas Smith under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. But the Court granted the District's and Sgt. Smith's motions to dismiss. See Bowser v. Smith, 288 F.Supp.3d 136 (D.D.C. 2018) (Bowser I); Bowser v. Smith, 314 F.Supp.3d 30 (D.D.C. 2018) (Bowser II). The Court at first found that Mr. Bowser had failed to state a claim for municipal liability but had stated a claim against Sgt. Smith. See Bowser I, 288 F.Supp.3d at 144. On reconsideration, the Court determined that Sgt. Smith had a right to qualified immunity. See Bowser II, 314 F.Supp.3d at 35-36.

         The Court permitted Mr. Bowser to file an amended complaint, but the Court required that he file it by June 29, 2018, or his claims would be dismissed with prejudice. Bowser II, 314 F.Supp.3d at 35. By July 11 Mr. Bowser had not filed his amended complaint. The Court thus dismissed the complaint with prejudice and directed the Clerk to close the case. See July 11, 2018, Minute Order.

         Mr. Bowser now moves for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Pl.'s Mot. for Relief from J. (“Pl.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 32. He asserts that his failure to comply with the Court's order “rises to the level of excusable neglect” under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1), and extraordinary circumstances justify relief under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6). Id. at 3-5; id. at 6. Out of an abundance of caution, the Court held Mr. Bowser's motion in abeyance and permitted him to file an amended complaint so that he could establish a meritorious claim. See October 9, 2018, Minute Order. Having now considered Mr. Bowser's motion, the pleadings, relevant law, related legal memoranda in opposition and support, and the entire record, the Court will deny Mr. Bowser's motion for relief from judgment.


         While Mr. Bowser asks for relief under Rule 60(b), “[a] document filed pro se is to be liberally construed.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). So the Court will evaluate whether to consider Mr. Bowser's motion under the more lenient Rule 59(e) standard. See Arabaitzis v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., -- F.Supp.3d --, 2018 WL 6530534, * 2 (D.D.C. Dec. 11, 2018). “As a general matter, courts treat a motion for reconsideration as originating under Rule 59(e) if it is filed within 28 days of the entry of the order at issue and as originating under Rule 60(b) if filed thereafter.” Owen-Williams v. BB&T Inv. Servs., Inc., 797 F.Supp.2d 118, 121-22 (D.D.C. 2011). Mr. Bowser's motion for relief from judgment is dated July 30, 2018, less than 28 days after the Court's July 11 Minute Order dismissing the case. Thus, he is entitled to consideration under Rule 59(e) and its more forgiving standard. See Arabaitzis, 2018 WL 6530534 at * 2.

         But even Rule 59(e) has its limits. “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.” Leidos v. Hellenic Republic, 881 F.3d 213, 217 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (quoting Exxon Shipping v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 486 n.5 (2008)). “And the moving party has the burden of proving that relief under Rule 59(e) is warranted.” Arabaitzis, 2018 WL 6530534 at * 2. Courts may grant a Rule 59(e) motion only “(1) if there is an intervening change of controlling law; (2) if new evidence becomes available; or (3) if the judgment should be amended in order to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Leidos, 881 F.3d at 217 (cleaned up). None applies here.


         Mr. Bowser has pointed to no intervening change in law or new evidence. See Pl.'s Mot.; Pl.'s Am. Compl., ECF No. 40. Instead, he seeks relief because he claims that his failure to comply with the Court's order to file an amended complaint by June 29, 2018, stemmed from circumstances outside his control. See Pl.'s Mot at 5. But the Court is convinced that Mr. Bowser alone is responsible for violating the order. And there is no manifest injustice when “a party could have easily avoided the outcome, but instead elected not to act until after a final order had been entered.” Arabaitzis, 2018 WL 6530534 at * 2 (quoting Ciralsky v. CIA, 355 F.3d 661, 665 (D.C. Cir. 2004)).

         Mr. Bowser asserts that he could not comply with the Court's order because the jail suddenly moved him to a different housing unit and jail staff separated him from his property. Pl.'s Mot. at 5. He also claims that jail staff prevented him from accessing the jail's law library and his case manager. Id. But no convincing evidence supports his claims, and Sgt. Smith has submitted a declaration from Jennifer Postell, Department of Corrections' Program Support Specialist, refuting Mr. Bowser's allegations, see Postell Decl., ECF No. 34-1.

         Ms. Postell acknowledges that the jail moved Mr. Bowser to a new housing block from June 19 to July 12, 2018, so that the jail could address a plumbing issue in his original housing block. Id. ¶ 4. But “[d]uring the move, the inmates were responsible for packing their own belongings and moving them.” Id. ¶ 5. What is more, “Mr. Bowser lives in restrictive housing, and, as such, does not have regular access to the jail law library.” Id. ¶ 6. “Rather, he must submit an inmate request slip through his case manager, requesting the law librarian's assistance.” Id. “Mr. Bowser continued to have access to the law library through the request slip system, after being moved, ” id., and the jail's records reflect that Mr. Bowser had access to his case manager during the move, see Id. ¶ 7. More still, Mr. Bowser sent two pieces of mail on June 25, 2018, before the filing deadline. Id. ¶ 9. He therefore could have sent a motion to the Court requesting an extension of time if he was denied access to his legal resources. But he did not take that step.

         Mr. Bowser responds with his own declaration, alleging that Ms. Postell is wrong. See Reply in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Relief from J., ECF No. 38. But this declaration does not move the needle. Mr. Bowser bears the burden to show that he is entitled to relief under Rule 59(e), Arabaitzis, 2018 WL 6530534 at * 2, and Mr. Bowser's self-serving declaration does not persuade the Court to disbelieve Ms. Postell, whose declaration is based on access to “housing records, telephone logs, mail logs, and library logs, ” Postell Decl., ¶¶ 3, 4, 6-9. Indeed, the assertions in Mr. Bowser's declaration-that Ms. Postell “has never personally been to [his] housing unit” and the records she cites do not exist-are irrelevant and not credible, respectively. And Mr. Bowser has cited no authority that would require the Court to credit his declaration over Ms. Postell's.

         Naturally, Mr. Bowser's request for relief also fails under the more stringent Rule 60(b) standard. See Arabaitzis, 2018 WL 6530534 at * 2 (“Relief under Rule 60(b) is more restrictive than under Rule 59(e).”). For the reasons already given, there was no “excusable neglect” here that would warrant relief under Rule 60(b)(1). “[F]ault in the delay remains a very important factor-perhaps the most important factor-in determining whether neglect is excusable.” Webster v. Pacesetter, Inc., 270 F.Supp.2d 9, 14 (D.D.C. 2003) (quoting City of Chanute v. Williams Natural Gas Co., 31 F.3d 1041 (10th Cir. 1994)). This “most important” factor cuts against Mr. Bowser.[1]

         Nor is relief warranted under Rule 60(b)(6), because relief under that rule is appropriate only in “extraordinary circumstances.” See Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 536 (2005). The only “extraordinary circumstances” Mr. Bowser cites is the jail staff allegedly denying him access to legal resources. See Pl.'s Mot. at 6. Having already found that Mr. Bowser has failed to carry his burden to offer convincing evidence that the jail staff denied him access to those resources, ...

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