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Rogers v. Rivera

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

November 13, 2017

PAUL ROGERS, Plaintiff
v.
MARTIN RIVERA, ERWIN YOUNG, and RON SAAVEDRA, in their individual capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration [Doc. 66], in which Plaintiff requests that this Court reconsider its Order entered on March 28, 2017 granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Res Judicata [Doc. 43; Doc. 65]. The Court has considered the parties' submissions and the relevant law, and is otherwise fully informed. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion.

         I. Background

         The details of the underlying action and procedural history leading to this matter are described more fully in this Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order filed on January 25, 2016. [Doc. 15] In short, Plaintiff Paul Rogers (Plaintiff) filed a complaint in state court against Defendants Martin Rivera, Erwin Young, and Ron Saavedra (collectively, Defendants) in January 2014 alleging, among other things, violations of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. [Doc. 15] Plaintiff later filed an Amended Complaint (State Amended Complaint). [Doc. 15] Approximately a year later, in January 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Violations of Constitutional and Civil Rights in this Court (the Complaint). [Doc. 1; Doc. 15] After alleging facts which, for all relevant purposes, are the same as those alleged in his State Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants used excessive and unreasonable force against him, thereby depriving him of his constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. [Doc. 1, ¶¶ 35, 39, 40] U.S. Const. amend. IV. He further alleges that Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable and illegal seizure and arrest because they lacked probable cause to arrest him. [Doc. 1; Doc. 15]

         Five months after Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court, Defendants moved for dismissal based on the Colorado River doctrine and the Younger abstention doctrine. [Doc. 6] See Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 818 (1976); Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 41 (1971). In the Motion to Dismiss in Lieu of Answer, Defendants argued that “the complaints are virtually identical with the exception of the detailed [F]ourth [A]mendment claims which follow the fact allegation section in the federal complaint, ” and that this Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over the matter under either the Colorado River or Younger doctrine in order to preserve judicial resources. [Doc. 6, pg. 3] Defendants also explicitly stated that they “bring this Motion pursuant to Rule 12 and therefore reserve this right to state available affirmative defenses in an Answer, should one become necessary.” [Doc. 6, pg. 1, n.1] Defendants went on, “However, Defendants without limitation state the following affirmative defenses: Plaintiff has failed to state a claim under which relief may be granted; Plaintiff's claims are barred by res judicata, priority jurisdiction, and collateral estoppel; . . . .” [Doc. 6, pg. 1, n.1] In January 2016, this Court held that the two suits were not “parallel proceedings, ” declined to apply either the Colorado River or Younger doctrines, and denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in Lieu of Answer. [Doc. 15]

         Defendants then filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint. [Doc. 18] In the Answer, Defendants asserted that “plaintiff has filed this second duplicative complaint in an effort to unnecessarily increase the cost of litigating this claim which is currently be[ing] litigated in state court; therefore, the claim is filed for an inappropriate purpose” [Doc. 18, pg. 9] and that “plaintiff's state[1] claims are barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata.” [Doc. 18, pg. 10]

         In May 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Voluntary Dismissal of Case in state court for dismissal of the State Amended Complaint with prejudice. [Doc. 43, ¶ 6; Doc. 52, pg. 5; Doc. 43-2] In the Motion for Voluntary Dismissal, Plaintiff stated that “[w]hile Plaintiff . . . and Defendants have engaged in and completed discovery in this matter, that discovery is directly applicable in the parallel federal proceeding involving the individual defendants here and Plaintiff . . . concerning the incident in question.” [Doc. 43-2, pg. 1] Plaintiff went on, “Plaintiff[] (and even the Defendants) understand[s] that the costs concerning discovery in this matter are directly applicable to the federal matter, and therefore Defendants will suffer no harm by the dismissal of the state case with prejudice.” [Doc. 43-2, pg. 1-2] Plaintiff also stated that “[d]ismissal would actually work an advantage to Defendants since by pursuing only the federal matter, Plaintiff . . . will forgo his municipal liability claim [and other claims].” [Doc. 43-2, pg. 2]

         In an email to Plaintiff's counsel, Defendants' counsel wrote that “[w]hile my clients disagree with some of the assertions made in the motion [to dismiss], they are going to consent in the motion and have the case dismissed with prejudice.” [Doc. 52-5 (sent June 3, 10:13 a.m)] Shortly after this email, Defendants filed their response to Plaintiff's motion to dismiss, in which they stated that “Defendants disagree with most of the basis and argument contained in [P]laintiff's motion. However, [D]efendants do not oppose full dismissal with prejudice.” [Doc. 43-3, pg. 2 (filed June 3, 12:18 p.m.)] Plaintiff's motion to dismiss with prejudice was granted by the state court the same day. [Doc. 43-7] In July 2016, forty-eight days after the state action was dismissed and roughly eighteen months after Plaintiff filed suit in this Court, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment Based on the Doctrine of Res Judicata [Doc. 43], arguing that Plaintiff's federal suit was barred by the entry of a dismissal with prejudice in the state district court.

         In September 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Substitute Order Granting Dismissal, in which he requested that the state court “substitute an Order of Dismissal Without Prejudice on the basis of mistake under Rule 1-060(b) NMRA.” [Doc. 63-1] In his Motion to Substitute Order Granting Dismissal, Plaintiff argued that “while it was his intent to dismiss the state claims in order to pursue the federal case, he did not realize that dismissal ‘with prejudice' would have a detrimental effect on the claims now pending in federal court.” [Doc. 63-1] The federal case was stayed pending resolution of Plaintiff's Motion to Substitute Order Granting Dismissal in state court and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment in this Court, which depended upon the nature of the state court's dismissal. [Doc. 60]

         In February 2017, the state court denied Plaintiff's Motion to Substitute Order Granting Dismissal. [Doc. 63-1] The state court held that “courts will not grant relief when the mistake of which the movant complains is the result of an attorney's deliberate litigation tactics” and that “Rule 60(b)(1) relief is not available for a party who simply misunderstands the legal consequences of his deliberate acts.” [Doc. 63-1] It concluded, “It is clear to the [c]ourt that the decision to pursue the case only in federal court was a strategic decision made by counsel with the consent of the Plaintiff.” [Doc. 63-1]

         Based on the state court's decision, on February 8, 2017, Defendants filed a notice [Doc. 64] that briefing was complete on their Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Res Judicata [Doc. 43]. Plaintiff did not dispute that the matter was ripe for decision at that time. Instead, on February 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed an appeal of the state court's denial of his Motion to Substitute Order Granting Dismissal. [Doc. 66, Exh. 1] One day after this Court granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on March 28, 2017, and before final judgment was entered pursuant to Rule 58, Plaintiff moved for reconsideration on the ground that the state district court's order was not final because it was pending appeal. [Doc. 66] See Fed. R. Civ. P. 58(a) (stating that “[e]very judgment and amended judgment must be set out in a separate document”).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff asserts that the Court should reconsider its order because “the underlying legal issue that this Court rests its decision on has not been resolved by the [s]tate court and the judgment dismissing the case would work a manifest injustice.” [Doc. 70, pg. 1] He argues that he is entitled to a reconsideration of the judgment under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [Doc. 70, pg. 2]

         Rule 59(e) provides for motions to “alter or amend” a judgment if the motion is filed within twenty-eight days of the judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). Although a final judgment consistent with Rule 58 has not yet been entered here, Plaintiff's Motion is properly considered under Rule 59(e) because the summary judgment order at issue disposed of all claims. See Wagoner v. Wagoner, 938 F.2d 1120, 1123 (10th Cir. 1991) (holding that a motion that “questioned the correctness of the district court's statute of limitations analysis[] [wa]s properly deemed filed pursuant to Rule 59(e)” even though it “was filed after the district court announced the action it would take but before formal entry of a final judgment”); Hilst v. Bowen,874 F.2d 725, 726 (10th Cir. 1989) (stating that a motion to alter judgment may be filed under Rule 59 “before a formal judgment has been entered” under Rule 58); 1-800 Contacts, Inc. v. Lens.com, Inc., No. 2:07-CV-591 CW, 2011 WL 5403368, at *2 (D. Utah Nov. 4, 2011) (stating that “[t]he court's summary judgment ruling, . . . did adjudicate all the claims in this case” and “a judgment ...


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