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Delaware Federal Court Examines Requirements for Motions for Reconsideration

Deborah Jester v. State of Delaware Dept. of Safety, et al.
Case No. 14-1124-LPS (United States District Court for the District of Delaware, August 26, 2016)

by Richard J. Medoff, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at: http://www.ded.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions/lps/2016/august/14-1124.pdf

Deborah Jester v. State of Delaware Department of Safety, et al. involved a Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of a Court order dismissing her civil rights lawsuit against her former employer on the basis that the Court had misunderstood the allegations in her Complaint. The U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware disagreed, however, and held that reconsideration was not warranted because Plaintiff did not identify a “clear error of law or fact.” Accordingly, the Court denied Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration.

By way of factual background, on September 3, 2014, Plaintiff Deborah Jester (“Plaintiff”) filed an employment discrimination lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2) against Defendants, Joshua Bushweller (“Bushweller”) and the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security (“DDSHS”) (collectively, “Defendants”). On August 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint.

Plaintiff alleged in her Amended Complaint that she was employed by the Division of State Police (“DSP”), an agency of DDSHS, and that Bushweller served as the Assistant Director of Human Resources for the DSP. According to the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff was placed in the DSP Weight Control Program (“WCP”) due to her weight on April 5, 2011, was found to be in non-compliance with the WCP on May 18, 2013, and was constructively discharged on June 2, 2013. Plaintiff alleged that Bushweller failed to provide her with due process by “denying her request to seek medical intervention by a divisional health care provider,” refusing to provide a factual basis for her constructive termination, and failing to provide her with a pre-termination hearing before a neutral decision maker.

On September 29, 2015, the Court granted a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim against Bushweller, reasoning that “while Plaintiff may have adequately alleged a violation of her due process rights, she did not sufficiently allege that Defendant Bushweller was responsible for any such violation.” Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of the Court's order dismissing the Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e).

The Court began its analysis by noting that the purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to “correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” See Max’s Seafood Café ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). The Court explained that “a proper Rule 59(e) motion  must rely on one (1) of three (3) grounds: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice.” See Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666, 669 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court further explained that “litigants who fail in their first attempt to persuade a court to adopt their position may not use a motion for reconsideration either to attempt a new approach or correct mistakes made in their previous one or to argue new facts or issues that inexcusably were not presented to the court in the matter previously decided.” See In re W.R. Grace & Co., 398 B.R. 368, 371-72 (D. Del. 2008); see also Ciena Corp. v. Corvis Corp., 352 F.Supp.2d 526, 527 (D. Del. 2005)(“Motions for reargument or reconsideration should be granted sparingly and may not be used to rehash arguments which have already been briefed by the parties and considered and decided by the Court”); Bhatnagar v. Surrendra Overseas Ltd., 52 F.3d 1220, 1231 (3d Cir. 1995) (“a motion for reconsideration is not intended to present a litigant with a ‘second bite at the apple’”).

Turning to the facts of the case, Plaintiff argued that the Court should reconsider its previous order because the Court “misunderstood the allegations set forth in the Amended Complaint.” Plaintiff, however, failed to persuade the Court that it had previously misunderstood the allegations in the Amended Complaint. According to the Court, in explaining why the Amended Complaint did not adequately associate Bushweller with any potential civil rights violations, the Court had conducted a detailed examination of the allegations and found that the Amended Complaint described the problematic actions in the passive voice, without any indication of who was responsible for Plaintiff’s involuntary termination.

The Court explained that, in her motion for reconsideration, Plaintiff did not identify any allegations that the Court failed to consider, nor did Plaintiff explain how the allegations supported a plausible inference that Bushweller was responsible for Plaintiff’s involuntary termination. Instead, the Court noted that Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration simply quoted portions of the Amended Complaint and then concluded, without justification, that the pleadings were sufficient for the Court to reasonably infer that Bushweller was the person responsible for denying Plaintiff her due process rights. The Court, however, disagreed and held that reconsideration was not warranted because Plaintiff did not identify a “clear error of law or fact.” Accordingly, the Court denied Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration.


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