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McNeil v. Brown

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 28, 2019

ROBERT A. MCNEIL, et al., Plaintiffs,
JANICE R. BROWN, et. al, Defendants.





         After a judgment from this Court dismissing Plaintiffs' claims for lack of Article III standing, Plaintiffs have now filed a motion pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seeking to alter or amend the judgment. Plaintiffs seek to reargue points this Court has already decided, most of which were immaterial in the decision to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For these reasons, the motion will be denied.


         The Court has previously described the facts of this case, see McNeil v. Brown, No. 17-cv-2602, 2018 WL 4623057, at *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 26, 2018), and confines its recital here to the most relevant facts. Plaintiffs previously filed suits against the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Justice (“DOJ”), alleging a conspiracy to falsify tax records to wrongfully fine and incarcerate them. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. Each of Plaintiffs' ten lawsuits were dismissed as barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. McNeil, 2018 WL 4623057, at *2. Plaintiffs then sued Judge Brown, one of the judges who affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiffs' cases. Id. The Department of Justice appeared and purported to represent Judge Brown in the matter. Def.'s Notice Appearance at 1, ECF No. 9. Judge Brown filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiffs lacked standing and that the Court accordingly lacked subject matter jurisdiction over their claim. Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 3, 6, ECF No. 11-1. Then, Plaintiffs filed a motion to strike Judge Brown's motion to dismiss from the record. McNeil, 2018 WL 4623057, at *5. Plaintiffs claimed that because they had sued Judge Brown in her personal capacity, she was not entitled to legal representation by the Department of Justice. Id. Plaintiffs also argued, as relevant here, that Judge Brown was not the author of the three orders upholding dismissal of Plaintiffs' prior cases and that this Court could redress the violation by granting declaratory relief. Id. at *3.

         On September 26, 2018, the Court issued an opinion resolving these issues. Id. at * 8. The Court denied the motion to strike, reasoning that the Attorney General has the discretion to procure Department of Justice representation, and that the Court would not interfere with that decision. Id. at *5. The Court rejected Plaintiffs' other arguments, reasoning that “the Court is not capable of granting the relief Plaintiffs seek because the declaratory judgment . . . would not void, recognize as void, or indeed have any legal effect on Judge Brown's three orders.” Id. at *6. Because it accordingly found that Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring their claims, the Court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. And although neither party addressed whether judicial immunity is available in a declaratory relief action, the Court separately raised the issue in a footnote, noting that Plaintiffs' claims were likely barred independently of standing because “judges acting in their judicial capacity, as here, are likely to be absolutely immune from actions for equitable relief under Bivens.” Id. at 4 n. 4.

         Plaintiffs now ask this Court to alter its September 26, 2018 opinion based on four points. First, Plaintiffs argue that the Court wrongfully procured Department of Justice representation for Judge Brown. Pls.' Mot. Alter J. at 10-11, ECF No. 34. Second, they allege the Court erred in assuming the authorship of the three appellate orders affirming the dismissal of their cases. Id. at 8-9. Third, Plaintiffs allege that the Court erred in finding that the declaratory relief sought would not redress their claimed injuries. Id. at 6-8. And fourth, Plaintiffs assert that the Court erred when it suggested that absolute judicial immunity likely barred their claims for equitable relief. Id. at 9-10.


         A motion under Rule 59(e) is “disfavored and relief from judgment is granted only when the moving party establishes extraordinary circumstances.” Niedermeier v. Office of Baucus, 153 F.Supp.2d 23, 28 (D.D.C. 2001) (citing Anyanwutaku v. Moore, 151 F.3d 1053, 1057 (D.C. Cir. 1998)); see also Ciralsky v. CIA, 355 F.3d 661, 671 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Granting a Rule 59(e) motion “is discretionary and [the motion] 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 Solomon v. Univ. of S. Cal., 255 F.R.D. 303, 305 (D.D.C. 2009). And in the Rule 59(e) context, “clear error” is “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)), tantamount to a requirement that the judgment be “dead wrong, ” 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)). “Manifest injustice” on the other hand, requires a demonstration not only of “clear and certain prejudice to the moving party, but also a result that is fundamentally unfair in light of governing law.” Slate v. Am. Broad. Cos., Inc., 12 F.Supp.3d 30, 35-36 (D.D.C. 2013).

         Rule 59(e) affords no opportunity for the parties to “relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Niedermeier, 153 F.Supp.2d at 28 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also New York v. United States, 880 F.Supp. 37, 38 (D.D.C. 1995) (“A Rule 59(e) motion to reconsider is not simply an opportunity to reargue facts and theories upon which a court has already ruled.”). The party seeking reconsideration bears the burden of establishing that relief is warranted. Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 811 F.Supp.2d 216, 226 (D.D.C. 2011).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs claim that Rule 59(e) relief is appropriate due to the “manifest injustice on Plaintiffs and their cause” caused by the Court's alleged clear errors. Pls.' Mot. Alter J. at 1. The Court first reviews Plaintiffs' arguments, and notes that Plaintiffs seek reconsideration based solely on arguments previously considered and rejected by the Court. Compare Id. at 5-10, and McNeil, 2018 WL 4623057, at *2-3. Mindful that a Rule 59(e) motion is not intended as an opportunity to reargue facts or theories already decided, the Court then considers whether its prior grant of dismissal was in clear error or created manifest injustice. The Court denies the motion.[1]

         A. Plaintiffs' Arguments Are Duplicative of ...

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