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GRAVATT v. CITY OF NEW YORK

November 5, 1999

STEVEN GRAVATT AND DELORES GRAVATT, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, SIMPSON & BROWN, INC., N. MASSAND, P.E., L.S., P.C., A/K/A NANIK MASSAND, P.E., BARGE "ABC" AND BARGE DEF, THEIR ENGINES, BOILERS, TACKLE, ETC., IN REM, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweet, District Judge.

OPINION

Defendant Simpson and Brown ("SB") has moved, pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for amendment of the judgment rendered by this Court in this action on July 6, 1999. SB seeks reduction of the judgment to reflect amounts recovered by plaintiffs in a post-verdict settlement with other defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

Facts and Prior Proceedings

Plaintiffs Steven and Dolores Gravatt (the "Gravatts") commenced this action on January 16, 1997 against the City of New York, Massand, and SB, for personal injuries sustained by Steven Gravatt ("Gravatt") at a construction site on January 31, 1996. The City owned the construction site, Massand was the engineering firm hired by the City to design the project, supervise construction, and ensure that work was carried out safely, and SB was the construction company hired to perform the work under the City's and Massand's supervision and control. Gravatt worked for SB at the time.

On April 6, 1998, summary judgment motions were determined in favor of the Gravatts on their state Labor Law claims against the City and Massand, against SB's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' federal maritime claim under § 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C.A. §§ 901-950 (West 1999) ("LHWCA"). The issue of contributory negligence was reserved for trial, and other rulings were made which are not material to this motion.

The case was tried to the bench from November 30 through December 4, 1998. Thereafter, the parties submitted their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. On March 3, 1999, the Court issued an opinion finding in favor of the Gravatts' state Labor Law claims against the City and Massand and their federal LHWCA § 905(b) claim against SB. The City prevailed on its indemnity claims against Massand and SB, but Massand's contribution claim against SB was denied. In addition, Gravatt was awarded $200,000 in punitive damages against Massand, but denied an award of punitive damages against SB. Gravatt was held to be one-third contributorily negligent.

On May 24, 1999, the Gravatts' Rule 52(e) motion was decided and the opinion of March 3, 1999 revised. The revised opinion awarded Gravatt $400,000 in punitive damages against SB and concluded that he was not contributorily negligent.

On July 6, judgment was entered in favor of Gravatt for $2,024,529.73, and in favor of Dolores Gravatt for $230,327.75, for a total award of $2,254,857.48, plus interest and costs. As against the City and Massand, the judgment was not reduced to a simple numerical figure, because it was entered pursuant to New York's structured judgment statute, which requires part of the judgment to be paid out over time. Defendants were held jointly and severally liable for all damages, except for punitive damages.

Discussion

SB has moved for reconsideration of the judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e). To prevail on a motion for reconsideration under Rule 59(e), the movant must present "[factual] matters or controlling decisions the court overlooked that might materially have influenced its earlier decision." Robins v. Max Mara, U.S.A., Inc., 923 F. Supp. 460, 472 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (quoting Morser v. AT&T. Info. Sys., 715 F. Supp. 516, 517 (S.D.N.Y. 1989)). Alternatively, the movant must demonstrate "the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice." Fruit of the Loom, Inc. v. American Mktg. Enters., Inc., 97 Civ. 3510(HB), 1999 WL 527989, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 22, 1999) (quoting Morales v. Quintiles Transnational Corp., 25 F. Supp.2d 369, 372 (S.D.N Y 1998)). These criteria are strictly construed against the moving party so as to avoid repetitive arguments on issues that have been considered fully by the court. See Monaghan v. SZS 33 Assocs., 153 F.R.D. 60, 65 (S.D.N.Y. 1994).

Since the settlement between the Gravatts, the City, and Massand took place after this Court entered judgment, SB clearly satisfies the threshold requirements for a 59(e) motion. Indeed, Singer v. Olympia Brewing Company, 878 F.2d 596 (2d Cir. 1989), the case upon which SB's motion is grounded, affirmed a district court's granting of a 59(e) motion to reduce a judgment based on a post-verdict settlement. See Singer, 878 F.2d at 601. However, as set forth herewith, the current law does not support a reduction of the judgment on the facts of this case.

Singer, decided by this Circuit in 1989, held that "under [the one satisfaction rule], when a plaintiff receives a settlement from one defendant, a nonsettling defendant is entitled to a credit of the settlement amount against any judgment obtained by the plaintiff against the nonsettling defendant as long as both the settlement and judgment represent common damages." Id. at 600. Singer did not distinguish between pre- and post-judgment settlements. SB maintains that Singer is still controlling in this circuit.

According to the Gravatts, Singer is no longer good law, in light of the Supreme Court's subsequent decision in McDermott Inc. v. AmClyde and River Don Castings Ltd., 511 U.S. 202, 114 S.Ct. 1461, 128 L.Ed.2d 148 (1994). McDermott squarely rejects the one-satisfaction rule in favor of a proportionate share approach, in which "the money paid [by the settling tortfeasors] extinguishes any claim that the injured party has against the [settling] tortfeasor[s] and also diminishes the claim that the injured party has against the other ...


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