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McGehee v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 18, 2019

FIELDING MCGEHEE et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         In 2001, Plaintiffs Fielding McGehee and Rebecca Moore sued the Department of Justice, under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), seeking documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the infamous Jonestown Massacre.

         In the latest chapter of this decades-old litigation, the Court granted the Department's unopposed Motion for Summary Judgment. Before the Court now is the Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration. Because the Plaintiffs have not shown that they are entitled to relief, the Court will deny their Motion.

         I.

         The Plaintiffs submitted a FOIA request to FBI Headquarters, requesting information about the victims and investigations of the Jonestown Massacre in Jonestown, Guyana. See McGehee v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 800 F.Supp.2d 220, 226 (D.D.C. 2011).[1] They eventually sued the FBI's parent agency, the Department of Justice, alleging that the production that they received was inadequate. Id. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which were granted in part and denied in part. Id.

         Later, the FBI discovered and then released more material to the Plaintiffs. Seventeenth Hardy Decl. (“Hardy Decl.”) ¶ 15, ECF No. 256-3. The Court ordered the Plaintiffs to “submit a final comprehensive list of document requests” to the FBI. 5/19/14 Order, ECF No. 191. The FBI conducted additional searches and released more material including photographs, audio tapes, and video tapes. Hardy Decl. ¶ 23.

         After the Plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment, and the Department moved for summary judgment, the Court denied the Plaintiffs' Motion and granted the Department's Motion. McGehee v. U.S. Dep't of Justice (“McGehee II”), 362 F.Supp.3d 14, 22 (D.D.C. 2019).[2] The Plaintiffs have now moved for reconsideration of that Order. See Pls.' Mem. of Points and Authorities (“Pls.' Mem.”), ECF No. 268. The Department opposes. See Def.'s Opp., ECF No. 270.

         II.

         Courts generally treat a motion for reconsideration as originating under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) if a party files it within 28 days of the entry of the order at issue. Owen- Williams v. BB&T Inv. Servs., Inc., 797 F.Supp.2d 118, 121-22 (D.D.C. 2011). The Plaintiffs filed their motion on April 1, 2019, precisely 28 days after the Court's March 4, 2019 Order. See Pls.' Mem. So they are entitled to consideration under Rule 59(e).[3] Arabaitzis v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., 351 F.Supp.3d 11, 14 (D.D.C. 2018).

         “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), or “a chance for [a party] to correct poor strategic choices.” SEC v. Bilzerian, 729 F.Supp.2d 9, 15 (D.D.C. 2010).

         “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)). 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.” Id. (cleaned up). “And the moving party has the burden of proving that relief under Rule 59(e) is warranted.” Arabaitzis, 351 F.Supp.3d at 14.

         III.

         The Plaintiffs have failed to satisfy Rule 59(e)'s standard. First, they allege no change in law or new evidence. See generally Pls.' Mem. In fact, the Plaintiffs admit that “the situation has not changed since [their] previous listings of documents . . . .” See Pls.' Reply at 3, ECF No. 271.[4] And the Plaintiffs do not allege that reconsideration is necessary to prevent manifest injustice. See generally Pls.' Mem.

         As to alleging a “clear error, ” the Plaintiffs claim that the Court “uncritically adopted the FBI's representations” in its briefing and relevant declarations. Id. at 5. They complain that “this court and others continue to accept Mr. Hardy's representations” even though, allegedly, he has little credibility. Id. But they offer no caselaw or record citations to support a claim that this Court should-or even could-disregard the sworn ...


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