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Longmire v. City of Mobile

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

May 16, 2017

CITY OF MOBILE, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Alter or Amend (doc. 64).

         Plaintiff, Carla Longmire, is a City of Mobile police officer who sued the City, the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the former Assistant Chief of Police, the Mobile County Personnel Board, and the Board's former Personnel Director after being demoted for having sexual relations with a subordinate police officer on duty. In this action (one of two lawsuits she has pursued to challenge her demotion), Longmire maintains that defendants violated her procedural due process rights under the U.S. Constitution and the Alabama Constitution in connection with her disciplinary proceedings. On April 10, 2017, after extensive briefing (including nearly 100 pages of briefs filed by plaintiff alone), the undersigned entered a 31-page Order (doc. 62) and Judgment (doc. 63) granting defendants' motions for summary judgment and dismissing this action with prejudice.

         Now Longmire (by and through counsel of record) has filed a 30-page motion to reconsider, in which she attacks the April 10 Order in myriad respects. Longmire presents her arguments in a manner that evinces hostility toward this Court, lack of familiarity with record facts and governing law, and a propensity to distort and misstate the April 10 Order. It would be neither an efficient nor a constructive use of stretched judicial resources to engage in a comprehensive point-by-point refutation of this misguided Motion; however, the undersigned has identified, and will address herein, some of the more egregious errors.

         I. Rule 59(e) Standard.

         As a preliminary matter, plaintiff's sprawling filing devotes a bare two lines to the stringent legal standard governing her Motion. She appears heedless of the black-letter principle that motions for reconsideration are a disfavored, extraordinary remedy that must be employed sparingly. See, e.g., Iberiabank v. Case Construction, LLC, 2015 WL 5457889, *2 (S.D. Ala. Sept. 16, 2015) (“Motions to reconsider are disfavored in federal court and are granted only in narrowly circumscribed circumstances.”).[1] Authority is legion for the proposition that motions to reconsider “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.” Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 128 S.Ct. 2605, 2617 n.5, 171 L.Ed.2d 570 (2008) (citation omitted). Rule 59(e) does not afford an unsuccessful litigant “two bites at the apple.” American Home Assur. Co. v. Glenn Estess & Associates, Inc., 763 F.2d 1237, 1239 (11th Cir. 1985). Nor are such motions properly filed “as a kneejerk reaction by a dissatisfied federal court loser.” Lee v. Thomas, 2012 WL 3137901, *2 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 1, 2012); Hughes v. Stryker Sales Corp., 2010 WL 2608957, *2 (S.D. Ala. June 28, 2010) (rejecting notion that motions to reconsider “are appropriate whenever the losing party thinks the District Court got it wrong”). “They are neither appeal substitutes nor a ‘dry run' to test arguments in anticipation of a forthcoming appeal.” Lee, 2012 WL 3137901, at *2. “A Rule 59(e) motion is not a chance for a party to correct poor strategic choices, nor are such motions to be used by litigants to cry over spilled milk.” U.S. E.E.O.C. v. St. Joseph's Hospital, Inc., 842 F.3d 1333, 1349 (11th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted).

         As a general proposition, motions to reconsider are permissible “only when one of the following has occurred: an intervening change in controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Longcrier v. HL-A Co., 595 F.Supp.2d 1218, 1247 (S.D. Ala. 2008) (citations and internal punctuation omitted); see also United States v. Marion, 562 F.3d 1330, 1335 (11th Cir. 2009) (“The only grounds for granting [a Rule 59] motion are newly-discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact.”) (citation and internal marks omitted). None of Longmire's arguments come close to satisfying the “manifest errors of law or fact” test.

         II. Longmire's Assignments of Error Relating to Facts.

         Longmire spends the first 13 pages of her Motion to Alter or Amend quarreling with the factual and procedural background set forth in the April 10 Order. Such a stratagem is puzzling, at best. Recall that the Complaint asserts procedural due process claims relating to notice and disciplinary proceedings. We know what notice was provided to Longmire because the written notices are part of the summary judgment record. (See, e.g., docs. 13-4, 13-5, 13-7.) And we know what happened during the disciplinary proceedings because the transcripts of those hearings are also in the record. (See docs. 18-2, 18-6.) Insofar as Longmire's state-court appellate proceedings challenging the demotion decision are relevant, we have written rulings from the state courts documenting their decisions and the grounds upon which they rest. (See, e.g., docs. 13-8, 34-2, 34-3, 34-4, 54 at Exh. A.) And the Personnel Board Rules and Regulations are also a matter of record. (See doc. 13-3.) The point is simple: the summary judgment record clearly chronicles the events that Longmire claims were inimical to her constitutional right to procedural due process. It is no wonder, then, that the April 10 Order observed from the outset that “[t]he material facts for all four pending summary judgment motions are largely uncontested.” (Doc. 62, at 3 n.2.) In most material respects, we know from these objective exhibits exactly what process was or was not given. The only question remaining in this case is whether that process comported with constitutional guarantees.

         None of these realities dissuade Longmire from railing for pages on end that the April 10 Order's summary of the facts is “highly prejudicial, ” “chose between conflicting testimony, ” engaged in a “judgmental assessment, ” violated Rule 56 “in material and fatal ways, ” and a litany of other inflammatory characterizations. Plaintiff's objections in this regard miss the mark by a wide margin. Several examples will illustrate the point.[2]

         First, plaintiff complains that the April 10 Order did not consider the Declaration of Carla Longmire (doc. 18-1) - inaccurately referred to as an “Affidavit” throughout the Rule 59(e) Motion - but instead proceeded “as if Longmire never submitted a single piece of paper.” (Doc. 64, at 5.) The April 10 Order did not cite the Longmire Declaration not because the Court failed to review it, but because the overwhelming majority of that exhibit was unhelpful. In her 33-paragraph Declaration, Longmire held forth about what the December 10 Notice said and did not say. Of course, the summary judgment record contains a true and accurate copy of the December 10 Notice; therefore, a Declaration from Longmire as to its contents is superfluous. Similarly, the Longmire Declaration includes numerous averments about what did or did not happen at the pre-disciplinary hearing; what her demotion letter did or did not say; and what did or did not happen at the post-deprivation hearing. All of those transcripts and notices are part of the summary judgment record; therefore, Longmire's Declaration is pointless insofar as it retreads that ground.

         Second, in an oft-echoed refrain, plaintiff's Rule 59(e) Motion accuses the Court of making credibility determinations and crediting the Affidavit of Donald Dees over the Longmire Declaration, all in derogation of basic Rule 56 principles. (Doc. 64, at 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 12, 20.) Let us be clear. The April 10 Order cited the Dees Affidavit (doc. 13-1) for the limited purpose of his averments that when Longmire appealed her demotion, Dees made certain determinations (i.e., that Longmire had received advance written notice of the pre-disciplinary hearing, that the notice specified the factual allegations against her, that the Mayor demoted her, that Longmire was given notice of her demotion, and that her appeal was timely) and set the matter for a de novo hearing before the Personnel Board. (Doc. 62, at 6.) The Longmire Declaration contradicts none of this. To the contrary, the Longmire Declaration admits that she received written notice of a disciplinary hearing on December 10, 2013, six days in advance. (Longmire Decl., ¶ 4.) The Longmire Declaration does not deny that the December 10 Notice specified the factual allegations against her. The Longmire Declaration does not deny that an “Official Notice of Demotion” on the letterhead of “The City of Mobile, Alabama Office of the Mayor” and purportedly bearing the signature of “William S. Stimpson, Mayor” was provided to her on or about December 17, 2013; to the contrary, she admits that the record contains an accurate copy of that letter. (Longmire Decl., ¶ 10.).[3] And the Longmire Declaration acknowledges that she appealed from that demotion decision. (Id., ¶ 23.) In light of the foregoing, plaintiff's repeated insistence that the Court made credibility determinations favoring the Dees Affidavit over the Longmire Declaration is divorced from reality.[4]

         Third, the Rule 59(e) Motion protests that the April 10 Order made passing reference to facts and testimony derived from the hearing transcripts, such as Longmire's admission in the pre-disciplinary hearing that she had sexual contact with Officer Latham while he was on duty, her guilty pleas to both disciplinary charges, Assistant Chief Kennedy's testimony that Longmire and Officer Latham's conduct was “the worst thing I can possibly imagine, ” his explanation for not firing her, and so on. Longmire characterizes these references as “highly prejudicial, ” “highly inflammatory, ” “beyond an abuse of discretion, ” and “highly misplaced, ” and says the Court “seemed highly concerned over the alleged merits of the charges” rather than the constitutionality of the process. (Doc. 64, at 2, 4, 5, 8.)[5] The passages of the April 10 Order to which Longmire takes such umbrage were in a section labeled “Factual and Procedural Background.” Thus, they were included in a background discussion of the disciplinary proceedings against Longmire. The clear focus of that discussion was on the procedural aspects of the disciplinary process; however, there is nothing improper (much less “highly prejudicial”) about the summary judgment order mentioning record facts concerning substantive testimony and the outcome of those hearings, as a means of placing the procedural dispute in context. The April 10 Order did not - and this Court does not - make any findings or express any opinion as to whether Longmire was or was not guilty of the conduct to which she admitted, whether such conduct was as reprehensible as the Trial Board deemed it to be, or whether the City would or would not have been justified in disciplining her more or less severely than it did. This objection is much ado about nothing. Plaintiff's subjective dissatisfaction with certain facts accurately culled from the record and mentioned in the April 10 Order is a far cry from establishing the stringent “manifest error of law or fact” legal standard governing this Rule 59(e) Motion. Her claims of prejudice and impropriety are wholly unfounded.

         Fourth, Longmire's Rule 59(e) Motion oddly takes the April 10 Order to task for not crediting Longmire's Declaration that Mayor Stimpson did not attend the pre-disciplinary hearing. (Doc. 64, at 3.) Plaintiff is invited to review page 4 of the April 10 Order, which states as follows: “Mayor Stimpson (the ultimate decision maker) did not attend.” (Doc. 64, at 4.) In the same vein, plaintiff theorizes that the record does not show that the December 10 Notice “came from Stimpson either” and that “[w]e don't even know if Stimpson actually signed the demotion letter.” (Doc. 64, at 3-4.) On its face, the December 10 Notice is captioned as being sent to Longmire from “Mayor William S. Stimpson (Designated Appointing Authority)” (doc. 13-4). Likewise, as noted supra, the December 17 demotion letter is on letterhead from the Office of the Mayor, City of Mobile, Alabama, and purports to be signed by “William S. Stimpson, Mayor” (doc. 13-5). Plaintiff has offered nothing other than wild speculation and reckless innuendo that those documents were falsified ...

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