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Payne v. University of Southern Mississippi

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

June 5, 2015

THOMAS PAYNE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration [228] of the Court's Order [227] on Defendants' Motions for Fees [198, 200].

I. BACKGROUND

The Court provided the factual background of this case in a Memorandum Opinion and Order [147] entered on February 21, 2014. See Payne v. Univ. of S. Miss., No. 1:12-CV-41-KS-MTP, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22052 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 21, 2014). On May 12-16, 2014, the Court presided over the jury trial in this matter. On May 16, 2014, after the close of Plaintiff's case-in-chief, Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50. The Court granted the motion in a bench ruling and entered a Final Judgment [195] in Defendants' favor. Defendants then filed Motions for Attorney Fees [198, 200], which the Court granted in part and denied in part [227]. See Payne v. Univ. of S. Miss., No. 1:12-CV-41-KS-MTP, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42118 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 31, 2015). Plaintiff filed a Motion for Reconsideration [228] of that order, which the Court now considers.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"A motion asking the court to reconsider a prior ruling is evaluated either as a motion... under Rule 59(e) or... under Rule 60(b). The rule under which the motion is considered is based on when the motion is filed. If the motion is filed within twenty-eight days after the entry of judgment, the motion is treated as though it was filed under Rule 59, and if it was filed outside of that time, it is analyzed under Rule 60." Demahy v. Schwarz Pharma, Inc., 702 F.3d 177, 182 n.2 (5th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration [228] was filed within twenty-eight days of the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order [227] of March 31, 2015, and Rule 59(e) applies.

"A Rule 59(e) motion calls into question the correctness of a judgment." Templet v. Hydrochem Inc., 367 F.3d 473, 478 (5th Cir. 2004). There are three grounds for altering or amending a judgment under Rule 59(e): "(1) an intervening change in controlling law, (2) the availability of new evidence not previously available, or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Williamson Pounders Architects, P.C., 681 F.Supp.2d 766, 767 (N.D. Miss. 2008). Rule 59(e) motions are "not the proper vehicle for rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of judgment, " Templet, 367 F.3d at 478, and they "should not be used to... re-urge matters that have already been advanced by a party." Nationalist Movement v. Town of Jena, 321 F.Appx. 359, 364 (5th Cir. 2009). It is "an extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly." Id. Before filing a Rule 59(e) motion, parties "should evaluate whether what may seem to be a clear error of law is in fact simply a point of disagreement" with the Court. Atkins v. Marathon LeTourneau Co., 130 F.R.D. 625, 626 (S.D.Miss. 1990).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

First, Plaintiff argues that the Court does not have jurisdiction to award any sanctions arising from the Complaint [1-2] because it was originally filed in state court, citing Edwards v. GMC, 153 F.3d 242 (5th Cir. 1998). In Edwards, the Fifth Circuit held that Rule 11 does not apply "to filings in any court other than a federal district court, " and that it "does not impart a continuing duty, but requires only that each filing comply with its terms as of the time the paper is signed." Id. at 245 (citing Thomas v. Capital Sec. Servs., Inc., 836 F.2d 866, 874 (5th Cir. 1988)). Therefore, the plaintiff's attorney could not be sanctioned under Rule 11 for failing "to withdraw pleadings filed in state court that would have violated rule 11 had they been filed in federal court." Id. [1] However, the Fifth Circuit affirmed sanctions under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 for the plaintiff's attorney's "continued maintenance of the action after... she admittedly determined that her case was unwinnable, and on which she decided not to pursue the claim any further." Id. at 246.

Edwards is inapplicable here. The Court did not impose sanctions under Rule 11. Rather, it imposed sanctions under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k), 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), MISS. CODE ANN. § 11-55-5, and 28 U.S.C. § 1927. See Payne, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42118 at *17. These statutes do not tie the Court's power to impose sanctions to the filing of a specific document, as the Fifth Circuit interpreted Rule 11. Edwards, 153 F.3d at 245. Rather, they empower the Court to award fees to the "prevailing party, "[2] where a party or attorney "unnecessarily expanded the proceedings by... improper conduct, "[3] or where an attorney or party "multiplies the proceedings... unreasonably and vexatiously...."[4] Therefore, the Fifth Circuit's reasoning in Edwards is inapplicable to the fee provisions at issue here.

The Court further notes that its fee award does not solely arise from the filing of Plaintiff's Complaint. Rather, it arises from Plaintiff's and his counsel's continued pursuit of frivolous claims; repeated misrepresentations of fact; advocacy of claims never asserted in the Complaint; incoherent, shotgun argumentation in response to Defendants' dispositive motions; and failure to clarify the precise nature of Plaintiff's claims in a timely manner.

B. Title VII

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k), the Court awarded the individual Defendants fees under Title VII for the defense of Plaintiff's Title VII claims. Payne, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42118 at *2, *15. "Title VII does not impose liability on individuals unless they are employers.'" Grant v. Lone Star Co., 21 F.3d 649, 653 (5th Cir. 1994). As it was undisputed that the individual Defendants were not Plaintiff's employer, the Court determined that his Title VII claims against them were frivolous. See Provensal v. Gaspard, 524 F.Appx. 974, 977 (5th Cir. 2013) (where plaintiff sued individual who was not his employer, Title VII claim was frivolous).

Plaintiff now argues that he agreed that the Title VII claim only applied to the University. This assertion is false. He alleged in the Complaint that all Defendants had violated Title VII, [5] and he continued to pursue the Title VII claims against the individual Defendants until the Court dismissed them. In his responses to Defendants' motions for summary judgment, he did not simply concede that the individual Defendants were not his employers. Rather, he argued that Title VII "provide[s] relief regarding individuals, "[6] and he repeatedly referred to Defendants collectively throughout his discussion of Title VII.[7] In short, rather than just concede that the individual Defendants could not be liable under Title VII because they were not his employers, Plaintiff forced the Court to address the issue. Accordingly, Plaintiff has provided no legitimate reason for the Court to reconsider the award of fees under Title VII.

C. Section 1988

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), the Court awarded Defendants fees for the defense of Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims arising from the rescinded notice of non-renewal and his equal protection claim. Payne, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42118 at **3-*5, *16. The Court held that Plaintiff repeatedly misrepresented to the Court that he was terminated, even though he did not experience a break in employment until his voluntary resignation. Id. at *4. The Court also held that Plaintiff failed to provide any evidence whatsoever that Defendants' actions were because of his religion, and that his equal protection claim was based on nothing but conjecture and speculation. Id. at *4-*5.

Plaintiff first argues he never claimed to have been terminated; he contends that he claimed to have been targeted for termination. The Court already addressed this issue in its Memorandum Opinion and Order [169] of April 8, 2014. See Payne v. Univ. of S. Miss., No. 1:12-CV-41-KS-MTP, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48258, at *5 (S.D.Miss. Apr. 8, 2014). As the Court noted, Plaintiff's attempt to ...


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