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Schmidt v. Shasta County Marshal's Office

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 16, 2017

JAIME SCHMIDT, DEBRA KNOWLES, ELIZABETH SAMPSON, and RYAN HENRIOULLE, Plaintiffs,
v.
SHASTA COUNTY MARSHAL'S OFFICE and JOEL DEAN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MORRISON C. ENGLAND, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this action, Plaintiffs-three former and one current employee of Defendant Shasta County Marshal's Office (“SCMO”)-brought several claims against the SCMO based on alleged sexual discrimination they suffered while working there. On February 21, 2017, the Court granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 48, based mainly on Plaintiffs' failure to demonstrate that the harassment they received was because of sex. Before the Court now is Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration of that order, ECF No. 51, in which Plaintiffs claim this Court committed clear error. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART. The Motion is denied except with regard to Plaintiff Jamie Schmidt's retaliation claim.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Jaime Schmidt, Elizabeth Sampson, and Ryan Henrioulle are former employees of the SCMO, while Plaintiff Debra Knowles is a current employee. Schmidt, Sampson, and Knowles all claim to have been harassed by their boss, Defendant Joel Dean, once he was promoted to sergeant. All three brought claims against Defendants based on a hostile work environment theory, as well as claims of retaliation. Plaintiff Henrioulle brought only a retaliation claim, alleging that he had been terminated in retaliation for standing up for Schmidt, Sampson, and Knowles.

         On August 25, 2016, Defendants moved for summary judgment, ECF No. 25, arguing that the undisputed evidence showed that the claims made against them were meritless. Plaintiffs sought and received leave for an extension of time to file an opposition to that motion, filing an opposition on October 6, 2016, and an amended opposition the next day. See ECF Nos. 32, 34, 36, 39-40. The Court ultimately granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment on all claims on February 21, 2017. ECF No. 48. The Court found that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the harassment they suffered was because of sex. Mem. & Order, at 10. The Court noted that Plaintiffs “fail[ed] to . . . provide a legal theory to support a finding that the harassment was because Plaintiffs are women.” Id. at 14. Instead, Plaintiffs' opposition consisted mainly of a recitation of facts. Accordingly, the Court analyzed Plaintiffs' claims according to two theories that fit best with those facts, but found the evidence provided was insufficient as a matter of law to establish that Plaintiffs suffered harassment “because of sex.” See id. at 11-15. The Court also granted summary judgment on Plaintiffs' retaliation claims on the basis that they failed to show Defendants violated Title VII. Id. at 15. /// /// ///

         STANDARD

         A motion for reconsideration is properly brought pursuant to either Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) or Rule 60(b). Taylor v. Knapp, 871 F.2d 803, 805 (9th Cir. 1989). A motion for reconsideration is treated as a Rule 59(e) motion if filed within twenty-eight days of entry of judgment, but as a Rule 60(b) motion if filed more than twenty-eight days after judgment. See Am. Ironworks & Erectors, Inc. v. N. Am. Constr. Corp., 248 F.3d 892, 898-99 (9th Cir. 2001). Plaintiffs here bring a timely Rule 59(e) motion.

         A court should be loath to revisit its own decisions unless extraordinary circumstances show that its prior decision was clearly erroneous or would work a manifest injustice. Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 817 (1988). This principle is embodied in the law of the case doctrine, under which “a court is generally precluded from reconsidering an issue that has already been decided by the same court, or a higher court in the identical case.” United States v. Alexander, 106 F.3d 874, 876 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Thomas v. Bible, 983 F.2d 152, 154 (9th Cir. 1993)). Nonetheless, in certain limited circumstances, a court has discretion to reconsider its prior decisions.

         While Rule 59(e) permits a district court to reconsider and amend a previous order, “the rule offers an ‘extraordinary remedy, to be used sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of judicial resources.'” Kona Enters., Inc. v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting 12 James William Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 59.30[4] (3d ed. 2000)). Indeed, a district court should not grant a motion for reconsideration “absent highly unusual circumstances, unless the district court is presented with newly discovered evidence, committed clear error, or if there is an intervening change in the controlling law.” 389 Orange St. Partners v. Arnold, 179 F.3d 656, 665 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing Sch. Dist. No. 1J v. ACandS, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 (9th Cir. 1993)). Mere dissatisfaction with the court's order, or belief that the court is wrong in its decision, is not grounds for relief under Rule 59(e). Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. Dunnahoo, 637 F.2d 1338, 1341 (9th Cir. 1981).

         Additionally, Local Rule 230(j) requires a party filing a motion for reconsideration to show the “new or different facts or circumstances claimed to exist which did not exist or were not shown upon such prior motion, or what other grounds exist for the motion.” Finally, motions for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) are addressed to the sound discretion of the district court. Turner v. Burlington N. Santa Fe R.R., 338 F.3d 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003).

         In order to succeed, a party making a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 59(e) must “set forth facts or law of a strongly convincing nature to induce the court to reverse its prior decision.” Pritchen v. McEwen, No. 1:10-cv-02008-JLT HC, 2011 WL 2115647, at *1 (E.D. Cal. May 27, 2011) (citing Kern-Tulare Water Dist. v. City of Bakersfield, 634 F.Supp. 656, 665 (E.D. Cal. 1986), aff'd in part and rev'd in part on other grounds, 828 F.2d 514 (9th Cir. 1987)). A motion for reconsideration should not be used to raise arguments or present evidence for the first time when the arguments or evidence could reasonably have been raised earlier in the litigation. 389 Orange St. Partners, 179 F.3d at 665.

         Furthermore, “courts avoid considering Rule 59(e) motions where the grounds for amendment are restricted to either repetitive contentions of matters which were before the court on its prior consideration or contentions which might have been raised prior to the challenged judgment.” Costello v. United States, 765 F.Supp. 1003, 1009 (C.D. Cal. 1991); see also Taylor, 871 F.2d at 805. This position stems from the district courts' “concerns for preserving dwindling resources and promoting judicial efficiency.” Costello, 765 F.Supp. at 1009. Rule 59(e) and motions for reconsideration are therefore not intended to “give an unhappy litigant one additional chance to sway the judge.” Frito-Lay of P.R., Inc. v. Canas, 92 F.R.D. 384, 390 (D.P.R. 1981) (quoting Durkin v. Taylor, 444 F.Supp. 226, 233 (N.D. Ohio 1967)).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs claim that the Court committed clear error in four ways: (1) “failing to consider the special rules regarding [s]ummary [j]udgment [m]otions of employment cases”; (2) “considering only gender-specific conduct directed towards Plaintiffs themselves”; (3) “h[olding] that only that conduct which is sex[-] or gender-specific may be considered in determining whether there was a hostile work environment”; (4) and “holding that an employee's opposition is not protected ...


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