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Wilcox v. Georgetown University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 29, 2019

DARRELL WILCOX and MICHAEL MCGUIRE, individually and as representatives of a class of participants and beneficiaries in and on behalf of the GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY DEFINED CONTRIBUTION RETIREMENT PLAN and the GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION RETIREMENT PLAN, Plaintiffs,
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.


          Rosemary M. Collyer, United States District Judge.

         In this Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) case, the Court previously dismissed Plaintiffs' Complaint, in part for lack of jurisdiction and in part for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs have asked leave to file a First Amended Complaint and Defendants- now limited to Georgetown University and former Trustee Christopher Augostini-oppose because Plaintiffs filed too late to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), which governs motions to amend or alter a judgment. Plaintiffs argue that no judgment has been entered in this case and thus they were not required to comply with Rule 59(e). Because a final judgment was entered and Plaintiffs' motion does not survive analysis under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) or 60(b), the motion will be denied.

         I. FACTS

         Messrs. Darrell Wilcox and Michael McGuire have sued Georgetown University and former Trustee Christopher Augostini (collectively, Georgetown) for alleged breaches of fiduciary duties under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461. At issue are the Georgetown University Defined Contribution Retirement Plan and the Georgetown University Voluntary Contribution Retirement Plan (the Plans).[1]

         After thorough consideration of Plaintiffs' allegations, this Court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and dismissed the Complaint and the action. See Memorandum Opinion [Dkt. 35] at 28 (“For the aforementioned reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Dkt. 18, will be granted.”); Order [Dkt. 36] (“Complaint, Dkt. #1, is dismissed without prejudice.”); 1/8/2019 Docket Entry (“This case is closed.”). The Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order on the Motion to Dismiss were entered on January 8, 2019. Plaintiffs filed their Motion Seeking Leave to Amend thirty (30) days later, on February 7, 2019.[2] Plaintiffs' Motion is fully briefed and ripe for decision.[3]

         In Opposition, Georgetown responds that the January Order was final and appealable and, therefore, Plaintiffs were required to file a motion for reconsideration under Rule 59(e) within 28 days of the dismissal. Since Plaintiffs missed this deadline by two days, Georgetown asks the Court to deny their motion. Plaintiffs protest that a “final, appealable judgment” was not entered in January 2019 or at any time since. Reply at 1 (“Defendants have also failed to apprehend the fact that reconsideration under Rule 59(e) is appropriate only where a court enters a final, appealable judgment-an event that has yet to occur in this case.”). Rather, Plaintiffs cite Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), which allows amendment to a complaint upon agreement of the parties or “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2); see also Reply at 1-2.


         A. Title 28 U.S.C. § 1291: What is “Final and Appealable”?

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, federal courts of appeals have jurisdiction over appeals from “all final decisions of the district courts of the United States.” “A ‘final decision' is one ‘by which a district court disassociates itself from a case.'” Gelboim v. Bank of Am. Corp., 135 S.Ct. 897, 902 (2015) (quoting Swint v. Chambers Cnty. Comm 'n, 514 U.S. 35, 42 (1995)); see also Catlin v. United States, 324 U.S. 229, 233 (1945) (stating a final decision is “one which ends the litigation on the merits and leaves nothing for the court to do but execute the judgment”). Section 1291 's “‘core application is to rulings that terminate an action.'” Dhiab v. Obama, 787 F.3d 563, 565 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Gelboim, 135 S.Ct. at 902). The D.C. Circuit has instructed that “dismissal of an action-whether with or without prejudice-is final and appealable, ” even if a plaintiff “may be able to re-file because the dismissal was without prejudice” because “in the absence of such an affirmative act on [the plaintiffs] part, the case is at an end.” Ciralsky v. CIA, 355 F.3d 661, 666-67 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

         B. Amendment of Pleadings

         Amendment of pleadings is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a).[4]Rule 15(a)(1) allows parties to amend their pleadings once as a matter of right if they do so within specified timeframes. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). Rule 15(a)(2) provides that, once the time for amendment as a matter of right has lapsed, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Ordinarily, courts “should freely give leave when justice so requires, ” id., so long as certain factors are not present such as “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of [the] amendment.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). However, after a final judgment is entered, a district court must first set aside that judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) or 60(b) before considering a motion to amend under Rule 15(a)(2). Bldg. Indus. Ass'n of Superior Cal. v. Norton, 247 F.3d 1241, 1245 (D.C. Cir. 2001); see Ciralsky, 355 F.3d at 673 (“[O]nce a final judgment has been entered, a court cannot permit an amendment unless the plaintiff first satisfies Rule 59(e)'s more stringent standard for setting aside that judgment.”) (quoting Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996)).

         A motion under Rule 59(e) to alter or amend a judgment must be filed “no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), 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.” Fox v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 389 F.3d 1291, 1296 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting Firestone, 76 F.3d at 1208). Courts do not have the discretion to extend the 28-day filing deadline. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(b) (providing that courts “must not extend the time to act” under Rule 59(e) and certain other Rules).

         A motion under Rule 60(b) may be filed “within a reasonable time, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(c), but may only provide for relief ...

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