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Murphree v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

February 13, 2015

JEFFREY MURPHREE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KARON OWEN BOWDRE, Chief District Judge.

This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff's "Motion to Alter, Amend, or Vacate Order Granting Summary Judgment and for Additional or Amended Findings, " requesting that the court reconsider under Rules 52(b) and 59(e) its Amended Final Order granting summary judgment in favor of the Defendant. (Doc. 41). The Defendant filed a response. (Doc. 42). For the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the court FINDS that the motion is due to be GRANTED, and the court will further AMEND its prior Amended Memorandum Opinion (doc. 39) as discussed below. However, for reasons stated below, the court FINDS that a reconsideration of this matter renders the same result; summary judgment is due to be entered in this case in favor of the Defendant Agency and against the Plaintiff Murphree, and the court WILL CONFIRM its Amended Final Order (doc. 40) to that effect.

BACKGROUND

On March 4, 2014, the court entered an Order (doc. 33), with an accompanying Memorandum Opinion (doc. 32), granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment (doc. 18) on every claim except the retaliation claims involving the Plaintiff's suspension in June of 2008 and his failure to receive the 2008 ROC award. (Doc. 33). On April 1, 2014, Defendant filed a timely motion for reconsideration challenging the denial of the motion for summary judgment on those two retaliation claims. (Doc. 34; see Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(b) & 59(e) both providing that the motions must be "filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment). The Plaintiff filed no motion for reconsideration of that Order or of the findings in the Memorandum Opinion. On May 12, 2014, the court granted the motion for reconsideration (doc. 38), and upon reconsideration, determined that summary judgment was due to be entered in favor of the Defendant on the two remaining retaliation claims because the Plaintiff did not meet head on Defendant's legitimate business reasons for the two instances of discipline, and thus, did not meet his burden of establishing pretext. The court, therefore, entered an Amended Memorandum Opinion (doc. 39) and Amended Final Order (doc. 40) on May 12, 2014, entering summary judgment as to all claims. On June 9, 2014, the Plaintiff timely filed the current motion.

STANDARD OF LAW

The Plaintiff brings this request for reconsideration under Rules 52(b) and 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On Rule 52(b) motions, the court may make amendments of fact or additional findings of fact "whether or not an alteration of the judgment would be required if the motion is granted." Williams v. Bolger, 633 F.2d 410, 412 (11th Cir. 1980) (emphasis supplied). Rule 59(e) is a motion to alter or amend a judgment.

In determining what rule the Plaintiff's motion falls under, the court must look at the "type of relief requested" not by the labels the movant places on it. Wright v. Preferred Research, Inc., 891 F.2d 886, 889 (11th Cir. 1990). "Rule 59 applies to motions for reconsideration of matters encompassed in a decision on the merits of a dispute, " such as orders on motions for summary judgment. Id. Courts have found, however, that a Rule 52(b) motion is improper when the matter was decided on summary judgment. See Orem v. Rephann, 523 F.3d 442, 451 n.2 (4th Cir. 2008) abrogated on other grounds as recognized by Sawyer v. Asbury, 537 F.Appx. 283 (4th Cir. 2013); Silva v. Potter, No. 804-CV-2542T17-EAJ, 2006 WL 3219232 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 6, 2006) (stating that "a Rule 52(b) motion to amend judgment is improper where the district court enters an order on a motion for summary judgment because the findings of fact on a summary judgment motion are not findings of fact in the strict sense that the trial court has weighed evidence and resolved disputed factual issues"); Florham Park Chevron, Inc. v. Chevron U.S.A, Inc, 680 F.Supp. 159, 161 (D.N.J. 1988) ("a district court does not engage in fact-finding within the meaning of Fed.R.Civ.P. 52 on a motion for summary judgment... so defendant's motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52, for reconsideration or amendment of findings made in connection with the summary judgment motion is procedurally inappropriate."). Accordingly, the court FINDS that Rule 52 does not apply to the instant motion, and it will consider the request under Rule 59(e).

A motion to alter or amend under Rule 59(e) does not provide a mechanism for a dissatisfied party to re-litigate a matter. Arthur v. King, 500 F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2007) ("A Rule 59(e) motion cannot be used to relitigate old matters, raise argument or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment"). The Eleventh Circuit has recognized two grounds for granting a Rule 59 motion: "[1] newly-discovered evidence or [2] manifest errors of law or fact." Id. at 1343 (quoting In re Kellogg, 197 F.3d 1116, 1119 (11th Cir. 1999)). The Eleventh Circuit and a federal district court sitting in the Middle District of Alabama have recognized that an intervening change in controlling law is also a ground for reconsideration and an exception to the law of the case doctrine. See, e.g., Summit Med. Ctr. of Ala., Inc. v. Riley, 284 F.Supp.2d 1350, 1355 (M.D. Ala. 2003) (addressing a Rule 59 motion); Oliver v. Orange Cnty., Fla., 456 F.Appx. 815, 818 (11th Cir. 2012) (listing the following exceptions to the law of the case doctrine, allowing a district judge to reconsider a prior ruling: "(1) new evidence; (2) an intervening change in the law that dictates a different result; or (3) that the prior decision was clearly erroneous and would result in manifest injustice.").

ANALYSIS

As discussed in the Standard of Law section, the court FINDS that this motion is appropriately addressed under Rule 59(e), and that Rule 52 does not apply to its circumstances. In his motion, Murphree does not present new evidence or an intervening change in the law. Therefore, having eliminated all other proper grounds for reconsideration under Rule 59(e), the court must assume that Murphree's reason for the motion to alter or amend its order is the existence of "clear error" that would result in manifest injustice. The court will address separately the arguments in each paragraph of his motion.

1. Alleged Factual Error re Management of Albertville and Retaliation re Discipline of Garrison

Murphree first points to the court's statement in the fact section of its opinion that Garrison "received a transfer from the Gadsden office to the Albertville office, which Murphree did not manage." (Doc. 39, at 3). Murphree objects that this statement is inaccurate because he is the District Manager of the Gadsden, Alabama field office, which includes the Agency's offices in both Gadsden and Albertville.

The court notes that it only has access to the facts that the parties present to it. Murphree may well "manage" the Albertville office, but the facts presented to the court in the briefs did not spell that fact out, and Rule 56(c)(3) states that the court need only consider the cited materials. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). The facts in Defendant's original brief, which Murphree did not correct or clarify, reflected that Murphree serves as the Agency's "GS-14 District Manager (DM) in Gadsden Alabama" (doc. 19, at 3); referred to the Albertville management team as "DM Melissa Hill and OS Carla Edwards" and did not refer to Hill as an Assistant Manager under Murphree (doc. 19, at 17); and also referred to the management staff in the Gadsden office as including Murphree himself as well as the "Assistant District Manager (ADM) Teresa Lott (White) and Operations Supervisor (OS) Jacque Allen (African American)" (doc. 19, at 7). Those facts also indicate that Murphree had some supervisory relationship to the Albertville office (doc. 19, at 7), but did not state that he was part of the management team there.

Accordingly, the court is not convinced that the challenged statement is "clear" error based on the information presented to the court when it entered its Memorandum Opinion and Order on the motion for summary judgment. To the extent, if any, that the statement is a factual error, Murphree has not pointed the court to evidence in the record showing that it is clear error and explaining how Murphree could be the District Manager of both the Gadsden and Albertville office when the facts presented to the court list another District Manager of the Albertville office, Melissa Hill. The time to clear up any ambiguities in the facts presented was in the responsive brief to the motion for summary judgment, not the ...


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