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Clinton v. Brown & Williamson Holdings

September 8, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seibel, J.


Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion, filed on February 13, 2009, to Vacate or Modify the July 24, 2007 Order Granting Summary Judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff's Marlboro Lights Fraud Claim. (Doc. 84.)

I. Background

Only the facts and procedural history relevant to the instant Motion are set forth below; familiarity with the remainder of the facts and procedural history of this case is assumed. William A. Champagne, Jr. began smoking in his early teenage years. (Compl. ¶ 4.) He smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes, manufactured by the predecessor of Brown & Williamson Holdings, Inc. ("B&W"), from the early 1960s to 1976, then Marlboro cigarettes, manufactured by Philip Morris, from 1976 to 1986, and finally Marlboro Lights cigarettes, also manufactured by Philip Morris, from 1986 to 2003. (Id.; Decl. of Jerome H. Block in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Block Decl.") ¶¶ 20-22.) In November 2004, Champagne was diagnosed with lung cancer, which caused his death on June 25, 2004, at the age of fifty-three. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 7.) Based on these facts, Plaintiff Eileen Clinton, the widow of Champagne, asserts against Defendants Philip Morris and B&W a number of state law causes of action, including: failure to warn up to July 1, 1969, fraudulent concealment up to September 11, 1968, design defect, fraud in marketing Marlboro Lights, and a claim for punitive damages. (Block Decl. ¶¶ 6-7.)

Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on October 23, 2006. (Doc. 34.) On July 24, 2007, the Honorable Charles L. Brieant*fn1 issued a Memorandum Decision and Order (the "July 24, 2007 Order") granting Philip Morris's Motion in its entirety. (Doc. 64.) On December 23, 2008, Plaintiff served a Motion to Vacate or Modify the July 24, 2007 Order Granting Summary Judgment to Philip Morris on Plaintiff's Marlboro Lights Fraud Claim on the basis that the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Altria Group, Inc. v. Good, 129 S.Ct. 538 (2008), constitutes a change in controlling law that compels a different result. (Doc. 84.) Philip Morris served its Opposition to the Motion on January 26, 2009 (Doc. 87), and Plaintiff served her Reply on February 13, 2009 (Doc. 86).

II. Discussion

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b)

"The Court has authority under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b), as well as the inherent power of the court, to reconsider a prior decision at any time before the entry of final judgment." Richman v. W.L. Gore & Assocs., 988 F. Supp. 753, 755 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) provides, in relevant part, that "any order or other decision . . . that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and responsibilities." Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b). "The major grounds justifying reconsideration are an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice." Virgin Atl. Airways, Ltd. v. Nat'l Mediation Bd., 956 F.2d 1245, 1255 (2d Cir. 1992) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord In re Ski Train Fire, 224 F.R.D. 543, 548 (S.D.N.Y. 2004).

In this District, a motion to reargue, modify or vacate a prior decision must comply with Local Civil Rule 6.3, which "requires a party to submit a motion to reconsider a decision within ten days of the docketing of the Court's original determination, unless the movant presents a compelling reason to ignore the time limit." Richman, 988 F. Supp. at 755. The court retains "discretion to consider a motion for reargument notwithstanding the movant's failure to comply with Local Rule [6.3]'s requirements, but it will only exercise this discretion when justice so requires." Church of Scientology Int'l v. Time Warner, Inc., No. 92-CV-3024, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12839, at *13-14 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 27, 1997). Justice requires the exercise of this discretion when, for example, there is an intervening change in controlling law, such as the issuance of a relevant United States Supreme Court decision. See Filler v. Hanvit Bank, No. 01-CV-9510, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12836, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 23, 2003) (vacating prior orders where recent United States Supreme Court decision altered outcome); Richman, 988 F. Supp. at 755, 759 (modifying prior opinion where Supreme Court decision constituted intervening change in controlling law).

B. Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue of fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. On a motion for summary judgment, courts must "resolve all ambiguities, and credit all factual inferences that could rationally be drawn, in favor of the party opposing summary judgment." Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 251 (2d Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party "to present evidence sufficient to satisfy every element of the claim." Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 137 (2d Cir. 2008) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)).

When a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, an opposing party may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must -- by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule -- set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. If the opposing party does not so respond, summary judgment should, if appropriate, be entered against that party.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2); see Patterson v. County of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 219 (2d Cir. 2004). "Where a summary judgment motion is supported or opposed by affidavits, those 'affidavits shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein.'" Major League ...

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