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De La Fuente v. DNC Services Corporation

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 2, 2019

ROQUE “ROCKY” DE LA FUENTE, and ROCKY 2016 LLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
DNC SERVICES CORPORATION, and DEBORAH WASSERMAN SCHULTZ Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On April 23, 2019, this Court dismissed without prejudice Mr. Roque De La Fuente's claims against the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) and its then-chairperson, Deborah Wasserman Schultz.[1] See generally De La Fuente v. DNC Servs. Corp., No. 18-cv-336 (RC), 2019 WL 1778948 (D.D.C. Apr. 23, 2019). Mr. De La Fuente now moves under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) to ask this Court to alter or amend its April 23, 2019 Memorandum Opinion (“April 23 Opinion”). See generally Pl.'s Mot. Alter or Amend J., ECF No. 22. He further requests 30 days to file an Amended Complaint. See id. at 3. Having considered Plaintiff's Motion to Amend or Alter Judgment, Defendants' Opposition to the Motion, Plaintiff's Reply, and Defendants' Surreply, this Court denies Plaintiff's Motion.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Mr. De La Fuente is a Mexican-American entrepreneur who ran to become the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential nominee. See Compl. at ¶ 5. In a Complaint filed on February 20, 2018, Plaintiff argued that Defendants deliberately undermined his campaign because they feared that Hispanic Americans would prefer his candidacy to that of Hillary Clinton. Id. ¶¶ 20, 23. Mr. De La Fuente asserted claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, race discrimination, conspiracy to violate civil rights, and misrepresentation. See De La Fuente, 2019 WL 1778948, at *1. He sought over $6 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages as a remedy. See Compl. at ¶ 141. As explained in detail in this Court's April 23 Opinion, Plaintiff's Complaint was dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See De La Fuente, 2019 WL 1778948, at *2. On May 21, 2019, Mr. De La Fuente moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) and asked this Court to alter or amend the April 23 Opinion so that he will be able to seek leave to amend his Complaint. See Pl.'s Mot. Alter or Amend J. at 3. Mr. De La Fuente did not simultaneously move to amend his Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 15.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Mr. De La Fuente argues that this Court should grant his Rule 59(e) motion because the April 23 Opinion resulted in manifest injustice. See Pl.'s Mot. Alter or Amend J. at 4. He maintains that, while the April 23 Opinion dismissed his claims without prejudice, he cannot file a new complaint because the statute of limitations has run for his claims. See Pl.'s Reply Mot. Alter or Amend J. at 5-6. ECF No. 24. He therefore requests that this Court alter or amend its April 23 Opinion to enable him to file an Amended Complaint. See Pl.'s Mot. Alter or Amend J. at 4.

         However, a Rule 59(e) motion can be brought only after a court has issued a final judgment. See Cobell v. Jewell, 802 F.3d 12, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2015). When a court grants a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court has the option of dismissing the entire action or only the complaint. See Ciralsky v. C.I.A., 355 F.3d 661, 666 (D.C. Cir. 2004). “A district court's dismissal of an entire action is a final appealable judgment.” Robinson-Reeder v. Am. Council on Educ., 571 F.3d 1333, 1338 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (citing Ciralsky, 355 F.3d at 666). But if a court dismisses just the complaint without prejudice-and not the underlying action-then there is no final judgment. See Murray v. Gilmore, 406 F.3d 708, 712 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

         In its April 23 Opinion, this Court's ruling on Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion “dismiss[ed] Mr. De La Fuente's complaint without prejudice.” De La Fuente, 2019 WL 1778948, at *1 (emphasis added). This Court explicitly did not dismiss the entire action. Rather, the Court chose to dismiss only the complaint because it concluded that Mr. De La Fuente was “entitled to another bite at the apple, ” id., in the instant action. Because the Court dismissed Mr. De La Fuente's Complaint without prejudice and did not dismiss the underlying action, there has not been a final judgment. See Robinson-Reeder, 571 F.3d at 1338. Therefore, Mr. De La Fuente's Motion is improper, and this Court accordingly denies Mr. De La Fuente's request to alter or amend the April 23 Opinion.[2]

         Nonetheless, this denial does not preclude further steps by Mr. De La Fuente, who may still seek leave to amend his Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 15. When a court dismisses only a complaint and not the underlying action, a plaintiff is able to “file[ ] a new complaint in his original case” without having to commence a new action. See Cohen v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of the Dist. of Columbia, 819 F.3d 476, 478-79 (D.C. Cir. 2016). Moreover, because the underlying action is ongoing, if any new claims relate back to the filing of the original complaint, then “the statute of limitations [is] tolled from the date of [the] original complaint.” Sodexo Operations, LLC v. Not-for-Profit Hosp. Corp., 210 F.Supp.3d 138, 145 (D.D.C. 2016) (quoting Cohen, 819 F.3d at 478-79). Therefore, a district court's dismissal of a complaint without prejudice is “akin to a grant of leave to amend under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c).” Murray, 406 F.3d at 713.

         Here, this Court's April 23 Opinion dismissed only the complaint, such that Mr. De La Fuente was granted the opportunity to amend his original complaint. Although Plaintiff makes several statute of limitations arguments, his concerns are wrong-headed. Because the April 23 Opinion was not a final judgment, the underlying action is ongoing. Thus, if any new claims relate back to the filing of the original complaint, then the statute of limitations is tolled for Mr. De La Fuente's claims. See Sodexo Operations, LLC, 210 F.Supp. at 145 (citation omitted). Accordingly, any amendments that Mr. De La Fuente makes to his Complaint that relate back to the date of his original Complaint raise no statute of limitations barriers. The April 23 Opinion did, in short, exactly what it stated: “afford Mr. De La Fuente another opportunity to remedy the complaint's defects.” De La Fuente, 2019 WL 1778948, at *11.

         As yet, Mr. De La Fuente has not availed himself of that opportunity by filing a Rule 15 motion with a Proposed Amended Complaint. Instead, he asked this Court to grant him 30 days to seek leave to amend his Complaint. See Pl.'s Mot. Alter or Amend J. at 3. This Court is perplexed as to why Mr. De La Fuente did not move to amend his Complaint under Rule 15 in lieu of the instant motion, or why he now requires 30 additional days to do so. Nevertheless, it is within this Court's discretion to grant Mr. De La Fuente another opportunity to seek leave to amend. See Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). This Court will exercise that discretion and provide Mr. De La Fuente with one final opportunity to seek leave to amend his complaint. It therefore grants Mr. De La Fuente 30 days to seek leave to amend his Complaint under Rule 15.

         IV. CONCLUSION

         For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment is DENIED. An Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion is separately and contemporaneously issued. Plaintiff is granted 30 days ...


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