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Hughes v. Gallion

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

March 28, 2018

MARTIN E. HUGHES, Plaintiff,



         This is a pro se prisoner's civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Martin E. Hughes (“Plaintiff”) against Lt. Butch Gallion (“Defendant”), the Jail Administrator at Hawkins County Jail (“HCJ”). Plaintiff's complaint alleges that the legal mail policy at the HCJ violated his First Amendment rights as a pretrial detainee [Doc. 1 at 7; Doc 10 at 4]. By Memorandum Opinion and Order dated June 1, 2017, the Court found that Defendant is shielded by qualified immunity from liability for damages and granted summary judgment in his favor [Docs. 90, 91].

         Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) based on clear error of law [Doc. 95]; motion for relief from judgment based on misconduct pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(3) [Doc. 96]; and motion to amend the Rule 60(b) motion to add a ground for relief based on “newly discovered evidence” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(2) [Doc. 110].[1]

         The government has filed a response in opposition to the Rule 59(e) and Rule 60(b)(3) motions [Doc. 98] as well as a response opposing the motion to amend to add newly discovered evidence as a ground for relief under Rule 60(b)(2) [Doc. 113]. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motions for relief pursuant to Rule 59(e) [Doc. 95] and Rule 60(b)(3) [Doc. 96], and his motion to amend pursuant to Rule 60(b)(2) [Doc. 110], all will be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initially filed a § 1983 complaint against Defendant Gallion, Attorney Robert Russell Mattocks and Attorney Greg Eichelman alleging, inter alia, claims for interference with his legal mail and denial of medical care while he was detained at the HCJ [Doc. 1]. Upon screening, the Court entered an order dismissing Mattocks and Eichelman as defendants and dismissing all of Plaintiff's asserted claims except for his mail-interference and medical care claims [Doc. 10]. Although finding that both of those claims, as pled, were insufficient to state a claim under § 1983, the Court offered Plaintiff an opportunity to amend the complaint to cure the deficiencies related to those claims [Id.].

         Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint alleging that his incoming mail from this Court, his attorney and other purported legal sources was confiscated, photocopied out of his presence, and misdirected; that the originals were not contained in his property when he was transferred to another facility; and that Defendant trained his officers to treat mail in this fashion [Doc. 12]. He further alleged that his outgoing legal mail, including a civil rights complaint against Defendant, also was interfered with, and that this unlawful method of handling mail was employed pursuant to a policy established by Defendant [Id.]. The Court found that Plaintiff's amended complaint set forth allegations sufficient to state a claim for interference with legal mail [Doc. 22 at 1-2].[2]

         Following discovery, both parties filed motions for summary judgment [Docs. 51, 58]. The Court concluded that Plaintiff failed to carry his burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and denied his motion for summary judgment [Doc. 90 at 8]. Turning to Defendant's summary judgment motion, and viewing the facts supported by the record and evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court found that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact regarding Defendant's entitlement to qualified immunity [Id. at 9]. Specifically, the Court determined that the facts in the record, viewed in Plaintiff's favor, are insufficient either: (1) to establish a constitutional violation arising from the HCJ mail policy, whether as to interference with legal mail or as to denial of access to the courts [id. at 13-20]; or (2) to establish that a reasonable officer would have believed, in light of clearly established law, that the mail policy violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights [Id. at 20-21].

         Finding as a matter of law that Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court granted Defendant's summary judgment motion and dismissed Plaintiff's civil rights action [Doc. 91], opening the floodgates to Plaintiff's torrent of submissions challenging that judgment.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Rule 59(e) Motion-Clear Error of Law

         Plaintiff has filed a motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) [Doc. 95] and various supplements [Docs. 97, 100, 104, 106] alleging that the Court committed a clear error of law in granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment.[3] In support, Plaintiff argues that the Court erred in not permitting him an opportunity to present evidence “in open court” on the qualified immunity issue [Docs. 95, 97]; that the Court “misled” him into believing he would have the opportunity to do so [Doc. 101, 102, 105]; that the Court failed to respond to his “transport request, ” [Doc. 95, 109]; that he was “hindered” by lack of counsel and “physical barriers” from presenting his evidence [Docs. 95, 103]; and that the Court erred in “not viewing the evidence more favorably” towards him [Doc. 95].

         1. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) allows a party to file a motion to alter or amend a judgment no later than 28 days after the judgment is entered. A Rule 59(e) motion should only be granted if there was (1) a clear error of law; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) an intervening change in controlling law; or (4) a need to prevent manifest injustice. Michigan Flyer LLC v. Wayne County Airport Authority, 860 F.3d 425, 431 (6th Cir. 2017).

         Although Rule 59(e) permits a court to alter or amend a judgment, it “'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, 485 n 5 (2008) (citation omitted). Where a movant merely “views the law in a light contrary to that of this Court, ” his “proper recourse” is not by way of a motion for reconsideration “but appeal to the Sixth Circuit.” McConocha v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield Mut. of Ohio, 930 F.Supp. 1182, 1184 (N.D. Ohio 1996) (quoting Dana Corp. v. United States, 764 F.Supp. 482, 489 (N.D. Ohio 1991)).

         “The grant or denial of a Rule 59(e) motion is within the informed discretion of the district court, reversible only for abuse.” Betts v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 558 F.3d 461, 467 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). In exercising this discretion, the Court must balance the need for finality with the need to render just decisions. Day v. Krystal Co., 241 F.R.D. 474, 476 (E.D. Tenn. 2007); see also GenCorp, Inc. v. American Intern. Underwriters, 178 F.3d 804, 834 (6th Cir. 1999).

         2. Discussion

         Plaintiff's primary contention throughout his multiple filings is that the Court committed a clear error of law in not permitting him to present evidence in open court on the qualified immunity issue. He argues that this evidence, consisting of “eyewitnesses” and other documents [Doc. 95], would have proven that Defendant used the mail policy to interfere with Plaintiff's ongoing criminal cases [Doc. 109] and to “cover-up” evidence helpful to his defense in his criminal case, which hindered the attorney-client relationship and caused him legal harm [Docs. 103, 106]. He also alleges that he has evidence to show that legal mail was not delivered and to establish alternative ways to handle the mail that would not have violated his constitutional rights [Doc. 121]. Plaintiff is not entitled to relief under Rule 59(e) on this ground.

         As an initial matter, the Sixth Circuit has held that “'Rule 56 does not require an oral hearing on a motion for summary judgment.'” Himes v. United States, 645 F.3d 771, 784 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Banfield v. Turner, 66 F.3d 325, 1995 WL 544085, at *4 (6th Cir.1995). “[T]he plain language of Rule 56 ‘does not specifically require or even expressly authorize receipt of oral evidence and other types of evidence in a hearing setting.'” March v. Levine, 249 F.3d 462, 473 (6th Cir. 2001) (“oral testimony is not favored in summary judgment proceedings due to the well- founded reluctance to turn a summary judgment hearing into a trial”) (citations omitted). Instead, Rule 56 “simply requires an adequate chance to present evidence and arguments, and respond to those of one's opponent.” Himes, 645 F.3d at 784.

         Here, Plaintiff had the opportunity to present any and all relevant arguments and submit any and all relevant evidence, and to respond to Defendant's arguments and evidence, in his written response to Defendant's motion for summary judgment. And he in fact did file an 8-page single-spaced handwritten response to Defendant's summary judgment motion along with 17 attachments consisting of 163 additional pages of evidence [Doc. 80]; a 6-page single-spaced handwritten reply brief with another exhibit attached [Doc. 84]; and a 5-page single-spaced handwritten supplemental response along with another exhibit [Doc. 85].

         Plaintiff should have submitted all evidence that he had on the qualified immunity issue with his response in opposition to summary judgment, his reply or his supplemental response. If he had “eyewitnesses, ” he should have included affidavits setting forth whatever facts those eyewitnesses could provide in accordance with Rule 56(b)(4). Instead, Plaintiff decided to save his evidence for presentation at a hearing that never was scheduled. Plaintiff's purported reasons for doing so are unavailing.

         First, Plaintiff's allegation that the Court “misled” him into believing there would be a hearing is wholly without merit. The Court entered a scheduling order early in the case setting a non-jury trial date of May 16, 2017, along with deadlines for discovery and motions for summary judgment [Doc. 33]. With regard to summary judgment, the order set a deadline of March 21, 2017, for such motions and indicated responses were to be filed in accordance with Local Rule 7.1 [Id. at ¶ 2]. The order does not set a date for a hearing on summary judgment motions and Plaintiff's misinterpretation of the date set for a non-jury trial as the date for a summary judgment hearing is not the fault of the Court.

         Plaintiff's assertion that his ability to submit his evidence on the qualified immunity issue was hindered by a “gang riot/hostage situation” in his prison [Docs. 96, 103, 104] is undercut by the fact that he was able to submit voluminous amounts of other evidence during the same time period. Moreover, his contention that, had the Court responded to his “transport request” and informed him there would be no hearing on the summary judgment motion, he would have submitted the evidence with his response [Doc. 95][4] is an acknowledgement that the evidence in fact was available for submission at the time the response was filed.

         Plaintiff also alleges that the Court committed legal error by failing to consider the evidence presented in a light most favorable to him as the opposing party, then goes on to reargue the positions he advanced in his responses in opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment and to explain why he disagrees with this Court's analysis. However, as already noted, a Rule 59(e) motion is not properly used as a vehicle to re-hash old arguments or to advance positions that could have been argued earlier. Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians v. Engler, 146 F.3d 367, 374 (6th Cir. 1998).

         The Court adheres to its previous ruling granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant and finds no basis to alter or amend its judgment under Rule 59(e). Plaintiff's proper recourse for his disagreement with that ruling is to file a notice of appeal. McConocha, 930 F.Supp. at 1184. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Rule 59(e) motion [Doc. 95] will be denied.

         B. Rule ...

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