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Bryant v. Mississippi Division of Medicaid

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

November 25, 2014

SAMANTHA BRYANT, Plaintiff,
v.
MISSISSIPPI DIVISION OF MEDICAID, and DEBORAH CARTER WOODS, in Her Individual Capacity, Defendants.

ORDER DENYING RECONSIDERATION

DEBRA M. BROWN, District Judge.

By order dated July 29, 2014, the Court dismissed Defendant Deborah Carter Woods, in her individual capacity, from this lawsuit based on Plaintiff Samantha Bryant's failure to state a claim against Woods under Title VII, § 1981, and § 1983. Specifically, in granting the Defendants' motion to dismiss, the Court found that: (1) individual employees cannot be held liable under Title VII; (2) Plaintiff abandoned her claim under § 1981; (3) Plaintiff did not state a First Amendment retaliation claim against Woods under § 1983 because she failed to allege causation as to Woods; and (4) Plaintiff did not state a claim against Woods under § 1983 for race discrimination and/or equal protection violation because she failed to allege that Woods singled out a particular group for disparate treatment.

On August 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for reconsideration, challenging the Court's findings and arguing that Woods should not have been dismissed from the case. Woods opposes the motion and argues that it should be denied because Plaintiff fails to establish adequate grounds for reconsideration. Plaintiff's motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision. Upon due consideration and for the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion is denied.

I

As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not explicitly provide for motions to reconsider a district court's rulings. However, the Fifth Circuit has held that a district court may entertain a motion to reconsider and should treat one as either a motion to "alter or amend" under Rule 59(e) or a motion for "relief from judgment" under Rule 60(b). Teal v. Eagle Fleet, Inc., 933 F.2d 341, 347 (5th Cir. 1991); Fletcher v. Apfel, 210 F.3d 510, 511 (5th Cir. 2000). If a motion to reconsider is filed within twenty-eight days after entry of the judgment upon which reconsideration is sought, the motion falls under Rule 59(e); if it is filed after that time, the motion falls under Rule 60(b). Fletcher, 210 F.3d at 511; Towns v. Northeast Miss. Elec. Power Ass'n, No. 3:09-cv-136-M-A, 2011 WL 3267887, at *1 (N.D. Miss. July 29, 2011). Plaintiff filed the instant motion[1] within twenty-eight days after entry of the order granting Defendants' motion to dismiss; therefore, the Court treats Plaintiff's motion as a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the judgment.

Under Rule 59(e), a court should only reconsider its ruling in a case if there is: (1) new evidence not previously available; (2) an intervening change in controlling law; or (3) a need to prevent manifest injustice. See Demahy v. Schwarz Pharma, Inc., 702 F.3d 177, 182 (5th Cir. 2012); In re Benjamin Moore & Co., 318 F.3d 626, 629 (5th Cir. 2002); Molina v. Equistar Chems. LP, 261 F.Appx. 729, 733 (5th Cir. 2008); Brown v. Miss. Co-op Extension Serv., 89 F.Appx. 437, 439 (5th Cir. 2004); Towns, 2011 WL 3267887, at *1 (citing Atkins v. Marathon LeTourneau Co., 130 F.R.D. 625, 626 (S.D.Miss. 1990)). Rule 59(e) motions are "not the proper vehicle[s] for rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of judgment." Templet v. HydroChem Inc., 367 F.3d 473, 479 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing Simon v. United States, 891 F.2d 1154, 1159 (5th Cir. 1990)). Rather, such motions "are used to call[] into question the correctness of a judgment' and are properly invoked to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.'" In re Rodriguez, 695 F.3d 360, 371 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting In re Transtexas Gas Corp., 303 F.3d 571, 581 (5th Cir. 2002)).

II

Plaintiff does not argue that there is new evidence or that there has been an intervening change in case law. Instead, Plaintiff focuses on what she perceives as manifest injustice. In support of her motion for reconsideration, Plaintiff argues that: (1) she spoke as a private citizen on a matter of public concern in her letter to Woods; (2) the Court applied the wrong standard of review in ruling on the motion to dismiss; (3) she sufficiently pleaded the cat's paw exception such that she stated a valid claim for First Amendment retaliation; (4) the Court should have allowed discovery before ruling on the motion to dismiss; and (5) use of the term "monkey" is an intentional discriminatory term that supports her equal protection claim. The Court will address each of these arguments to determine whether reconsideration is appropriate.

A

Plaintiff first challenges the Court's findings on the capacity in which she spoke when she sent Woods a letter complaining about discrimination, retaliation, and threatening remarks to which she had allegedly been subjected during her employment with Mississippi Division of Medicaid ("MSDM"). Plaintiff argues that she spoke as a private citizen expressing a matter of public concern rather than as an employee expressing personal grievances when she sent the letter to Woods, the EEOC, and two attorneys. Pl.'s Mem. Brief [27] at 6-7. Plaintiff contends that her "act of reporting Defendant Wood's [sic] actions out to an independent agency and independent officials was not a part of her official task... and said speech constitutes speech as a citizen protected under the First Amendment." Id. at 7.

While Plaintiff argues that the Court found that she spoke as an employee rather than a citizen in her complaint letter, the Court made no such finding in its order. Instead, the Court considered "for purposes of its analysis that Plaintiff spoke to Woods as a citizen rather than an employee[.]" Order [20] at 12. The Court assumed that "because the letter put Woods on notice that Plaintiff intended to contact government controlled Civil Rights agencies' and giving such notice was not part of Plaintiff's job responsibilities, " she spoke as a citizen. Id. at 11. Since the Plaintiff seeks reconsideration on a finding the Court never made, her motion on this issue lacks merit and is denied.

B

Plaintiff next argues that the Court did not "accept all of Plaintiff's allegations as true and [] draw all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor" when ruling on the motion to dismiss. Pl.'s Mem. Brief [27] at 4. Plaintiff specifically argues that the Court drew an inference from her letter to Woods in isolation rather than drawing all inferences in her favor from the complaint and letter collectively. Id. at 11. The portion of the order upon which Plaintiff bases her argument provides:

Although, in her letter, Plaintiff states that Woods subjected her to discrimination and retaliation, she does not state in the letter that the alleged conduct was based on race. Therefore, it does not appear ...

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