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Todd David Barton v. Annual Conference

November 3, 2011

TODD DAVID BARTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ANNUAL CONFERENCE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Todd David Barton commenced this action pro se against Defendants pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (Title VII).*fn1 On March 15, 2010, the Court issued a Decision and Order that dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims against all Defendants except his gender discrimination and retaliatory firing claims against Defendant Troy Annual Conference ("TAC"), a conference of the United Methodist Church. See Barton v. MikelHayes, No. 09-CV-0063 (N.D.N.Y. March 15, 2010)[Dkt. # 65](reported at 2010 WL 980708 (N.D.N.Y. March 15, 2010)). On October 7, 2010, the Court issued a Decision and Order dismissing the remaining claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Dkt. # 85. In dismissing these claims, the Court relied on the "ministerial exception," a doctrine derived from the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution that prohibits a court from engaging in excessive entanglement with religion. See e.g. Friedlander v. Port Jewish Center, 347 Fed. Appx. 654, 655 (2d Cir. 2009); Rweyemamu v. Cote, 520 F.3d 198, 208 (2d Cir. 2008). Judgment was entered for Defendants on October 7, 2010. Dkt. # 86.

On October 25, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit . Dkt. # 87. That appeal is still pending, and the Second Circuit has denied Plaintiff/Appellant's motion to remand the case to allow this Court to address a Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) reconsideration motion. See 2nd Cir. case # 10-4399. Nevertheless, on October 11, 2010, some four months after the Second Circuit denied Plaintiff's request to remand, Plaintiff filed the instant motion that is now before this Court. In this motion, Plaintiff seeks reconsideration and vacature of the October 7, 2010 Decision and Order. Plaintiff cites Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1), (2), (3) and (6) as the procedural basis for his motion.*fn2 Defendants have opposed the motion.

II. DISCUSSION

a. Impact of Pending Appeal "The filing of a notice of appeal is an event of jurisdictional significance - it confers jurisdiction on the court of appeals and divests the district court of its control over those aspects of the case involved in the appeal." Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58-59, 103 S. Ct. 400, 74 L .Ed.2d 225 (1982) (per curiam); see United States v. Camacho, 302 F.3d 35, 36 (2d Cir. 2002)(per curiam)(same). One limited exception to this general rule is that a district court may entertain and deny a motion a motion brought pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) notwithstanding the pendency of an appeal from that order. Toliver v. County of Sullivan, 957 F.2d 47, 49 (2d Cir.1992) (per curiam). However, a court "may grant a rule 60( b) motion after an appeal is taken only if the moving party obtains permission from the circuit court." Id. at 49 (emphasis in original).

In light of the pending appeal and the Second Circuit's denial of Plaintiff's motion to remand, this Court possesses jurisdiction to deny, but not grant, the Rule 60(b) motion. See Fort Knox Music, Inc. v. Baptiste, 257 F.3d 108, 111 (2d Cir. 2001)("[A] district court would not have jurisdiction to grant [Rule 60(b)] relief if an appeal from the judgment were pending and the court of appeals were not to remand for consideration of such relief...."); Toliver, 957 F.2d at 49 (holding that district court can deny a Rule 60(b) motion after a notice of appeal has been docketed, but that remand by the court of appeals is required if the district court is inclined to grant such motion). The Court will address the motion under this constraint.

b. Rule 60(b) Motions - Standard

Rule 60(b) provides an opportunity for courts to balance fairness considerations present in a particular case against the policy favoring the finality of judgments. Kotlicky v. United States Fidelity Guar. Co., 817 F.2d 6, 9 (2d Cir. 1987). It provides "extraordinary judicial relief" and therefore should be granted "only upon a showing of exceptional circumstances." Nemaizer v. Baker, 793 F.2d 58, 61 (2d Cir. 1986); see Broadway v. City of New York, 2003 WL 21209635, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 21, 2003) (Patterson, J.) ("While Rule 60(b) was designed to strike a balance between the interests of fairness and the finality of judgments, 'final judgments should not be lightly reopened.' ")(citing Nemaizer, 793 F.2d at 61). Motions under Rule 60(b) are disfavored and the burden of proof is on the party seeking relief from the judgment. Pichardo v. Ashcroft, 374 F.3d 46, 55 (2d Cir. 2004). "A motion under Rule 60(b) is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court." Velez v. Vassallo, 203 F. Supp.2d 312, 333 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (citing Mendell In Behalf of Viacom, Inc. v. Gollust, 909 F.2d 724, 731 (2d Cir.1990));

"The Second Circuit has imposed a three-prong test in order for a Rule 60(b) motion to prevail: First, there must be 'highly convincing' evidence supporting the motion; second, the moving party must show good cause for failing to act sooner; and third, the moving party must show that granting the motion will not impose an undue hardship on the other party." Williams v. New York City Dept. of Corrections, 219 F.R.D. 78, 84 (S.D.N.Y. 2003)(internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "Pro se litigants are not excused from the requirement of producing highly convincing evidence to support a Rule 60(b) motion." Skinner v. Chapman, 680 F. Supp.2d 470, 479 (W.D.N.Y. 2010), aff'd, 412 Fed. Appx.387 (2d Cir. 2010). Moreover, "a Rule 60(b) motion is not a substitute for appeal. Accordingly, Rule 60(b) motions that simply attempt to relitigate issues and thereby circumvent the appellate process are routinely dismissed." Espinal v. U.S., 2006 WL 163179, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (internal citations omitted).

c. Time Limit - Rule 60(b)(1)-(3)

Rule 60(b) establishes a mandatory time limit of "no more than a year after the entry of the judgment or order or the date of the proceeding" for any motions advanced under Rule 60(b)(1), (2) or (3). See Fed R. Civ. Pro. 60(c)(1). "The one-year limitation period for Rule 60(b) motions is 'absolute.'" Martha Graham School and Dance Foundation, Inc. v. Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance, Inc., 466 F.3d 97, 100 (2d Cir. 2006)(quoting Warren v. Garvin, 219 F.3d 111, 114 (2d Cir. 2000)).

The Decision and Order dismissing the claims against TAC, and the final Judgment in this case, were both entered October 7, 2010. Plaintiff filed his papers in support of this motion on October 11, 2011, which was after the one year time limit expired. Plaintiff's argument that his late filing should be excused because he purportedly suffers from a learning disability, physical difficulties, and emotional distress is unavailing. His motion to the Second Circuit to remand the matter was denied approximately four months before his papers were file on the instant motion. There is no indication before this Court that Plaintiff's difficulties were of such a magnitude that he could not have filed his papers within this four month period (or within the ...


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