• U.S. District Court Examines Motion for Reargument Standard Under FRCP 59(e)
  • June 19, 2015
  • Law Firm: Semmes Bowen Semmes A Professional Corporation - Baltimore Office
  • American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v. Department of Correction, State of Delaware, No. 09-179 (United States District Court for the District of Delaware, April 29, 2015)

    In American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v. Department of Correction, State of Delaware, a case involving a motion for reargument filed pursuant to Rule 7.1.5 of the Local Rules of Civil Practice and Procedure of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, and Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware concluded that the motion was untimely and that the issue presented in the motion was not appropriately preserved for review. Thus, Judge Sue L. Robinson denied the motion as procedurally barred.

    By way of factual background, in 2013, plaintiff American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (“plaintiff” or “ACLF”) filed a motion to compel enforcement of an order and agreement dated September 19, 2011, in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. The September 19, 2011, order and agreement involved defendant Delaware Department of Correction’s (“defendant” or “DOC”) compliance with, inter alia, the Prison Rape Elimination Act. On July 23, 2013, the Court referred plaintiff’s motion to Magistrate Judge Fallon. On October 23, 2013, Judge Fallon issued her Report and Recommendation. The defendant timely filed objections to Judge Fallon’s Report and Recommendation, and plaintiff responded to the objections. On January 10, 2014, the Court issued its ruling, adopting in part and overruling in part the Report and Recommendation. The Court ordered defendant to comply with the recommendations contained in the Report and Recommendation as revised, and required that Magistrate Judge Fallon maintain jurisdiction to monitor defendant’s compliance.

    Plaintiff thereafter filed a motion for attorney’s fees which defendant opposed. On September 17, 2014, Judge Fallon issued her ruling, recommending that the Court grant the motion for fees, but for only 80 percent of the fees requested. Defendant timely filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. While defendant objected to the award of fees, the only observation defendant made with respect to the amount of fees, if awarded, was the following:

    DOC has not waived the right to challenge the calculation of any fee awarded, and, as noted by the Magistrate Judge, DOC cited the fee demand as “outrageously excessive.” R&R at 10, footnote 8. This Court retains full authority to examine de novo the amount of the fee claim. In particular, the award of 80% of fees claimed cannot be sustained, where the plaintiff ultimately failed to prevail on more than 90% of the claims set forth in the motion, and did not even bother to pursue claims of so-called “bad faith” on the part of DOC and BWCI officials. Any fee award must be based on the scope of the plaintiff’s success, if any. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-435 (1983).

    The Court overruled the objection and adopted Judge Fallon’s recommendation, concluding that plaintiff’s “motion to compel motivated DOC to push ahead more energetically with its efforts to comply with the Order.” With respect to the reasonableness of the fee award, the Court reasoned:

    [Defendant] did not address in its objections the amount of the requested fee, instead reserving the right to challenge such at a later time. I am not confident that the rules contemplate a bifurcated objection process. In any event, I will not address the merits of the fee award on the record presented.

    On December 22, 2014, 28 days after the above order issued, defendant moved for relief from the payment of the $125,269 in fees awarded, pursuant to Rule 7.1.5 of the Local Rules of Civil Practice and Procedure of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, and Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. DE R USDCT LR 7.1.5; Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). Defendant argued that it had “properly preserved its right to contest the amount of the fees awarded,” and that “a ruling that fails to consider factors such as lack of success in argument and an excessive hourly rate in awarding attorney fees would not be sustainable on appeal.” Defendant proposed that

    [t]he record for purposes of the fee award would support an award of either:
    • 25% of the total fees sought (reflecting the compliance issues originally raised by the plaintiff, compared to the uncontested areas of full compliance by DOC) or $31,317.25;
    • 35% of the total fee claim (representing the percentage of issues raised in the motion on which the ACLF ultimately prevailed) or $43,844.15; or
    • 53% of the total fee claim (representing the degree of success achieved, on the issues actually submitted to the Court for determination) or $66,392.57.
    Defendant argued that “an award in excess of these figures would not be supported by the record.” Plaintiff responded with two main arguments: “(1) defendant’s motion presents a new issue, that is, the proper lodestar; and (2) defendant is procedurally barred from challenging the amount of the fee award.”

    The Court began its analysis by noting that “a motion for reargument under Local Rule 7.1.5 is the functional equivalent of a motion to alter or amend judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e),” and that “the standard for obtaining relief under Rule 59(e) is difficult to meet.” See Jones v. Pittsburgh Nat’l Corp., 899 F.2d 1350, 1352 (3d Cir. 1990). The Court explained that the purpose of a motion for reargument is to “correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence,” and that a court should exercise its discretion to alter or amend its judgment “only if the movant demonstrates one of the following: (1) a change in the controlling law; (2) a need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice; or (3) availability of new evidence not available when the judgment was granted.” See Max’s Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). The Court further explained that a motion for reargument “is not properly grounded on a request that a court rethink a decision already made, and may not be used as a means to argue new facts or issues that inexcusably were not presented to the court in the matter previously decided.” See Brambles USA, Inc. v. Blocker, 735 F. Supp. 1239, 1240 (D. Del 1990); Glendon Energy Co. v. Borough of Glendon, 836 F. Supp. 1109, 1122 (E.D. Pa. 1993).

    Turning to the facts of the case, the Court found that two (2) “procedural irregularities ... precluded substantive consideration of the issues presented.” First, the Court concluded that the motion was “untimely in the first instance.” The Court explained that the motion at bar was filed 28 days after the Court’s memorandum and order issued, and that motions for reargument filed pursuant to Local Rule 7.1.5 must be filed “within 14 days after the Court issues its opinion or decision, with the exception of motions filed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e), which shall be filed in accordance with the limits set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e).” The Court reasoned that although motions filed pursuant to Rule 59(e) “may be filed as late as 28 days after the entry of judgment,” Rule 59(e) was “not applicable to the facts of record, where judgment was entered long ago and the remaining issues (motion to compel and motion for attorney fees) were ancillary to the entry of judgment.”

    Second, the Court concluded that “the issue presented in the motion for reargument was not appropriately preserved for review.” The Court explained that pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), when a nondispositive pretrial matter is referred to a magistrate judge to hear and decide, “the magistrate judge must issue a written order stating the decision. A party may serve and file objections to the order within 14 days after being served with a copy. A party may not assign as error a defect in the order not timely objected to.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a). Although defendant had noted in its objections that it was not waiving its right to challenge the calculation of any fee actually awarded, the Court found that this was insufficient. The Court reasoned that it was not “the practice of the court to allow a party to preserve what amounts to a conditional objection,” and that “such a bifurcated procedure would be inefficient at best, and contrary to the spirit (if not the letter) of those rules governing the use of magistrate judges.” Accordingly, the Court denied defendant’s motion for reargument as procedurally barred.