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Vann v. Fischer

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 7, 2015

KOURIOCKEIN VANN, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN FISCHER, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, District Judge.

In March 2011, Plaintiff Kouriockein Vann filed a civil rights action claiming, among other things, that (i) regulations of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") had impaired his constitutional right to the free exercise of his religious beliefs; and (ii) prison officials had impermissibly abused him and subjected him to retaliatory and harassing conduct. (Dkt. #1). By Opinion and Order dated August 25, 2014, the Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment in its entirety. See Vann v. Fischer, No. 11 Civ. 1958 (KPF), 2014 WL 4188077 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 25, 2014).[1] In particular, the Court found that (i) with respect to Plaintiff's free exercise claims, any burdens inhering in the challenged DOCCS directives were outweighed by legitimate penological interests that were served by the directives, which were as well the least restrictive alternatives available (Opinion 17-49); and (ii) Plaintiff's retaliation claims were procedurally barred, either because of Plaintiff's failure to exhaust available administrative remedies or because of claim preclusion ( id. at 50-60). Plaintiff has filed a motion for reconsideration under Rule 6.3 of the Local Rules of the United States District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and Rules 59(e) and 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth in the remainder of this Opinion, the motion is denied.

APPLICABLE LAW

Rule 60(b) provides for relief from judgment on any of several grounds specified in five numbered subparts, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1)-(5), and under a sixth, catch-all provision that permits relief for "any other reason, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6). Plaintiff cites the catch-all provision of subpart (6), as well as subparts (1) and (4), which address situations involving "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect" or a voided judgment, respectively. The Second Circuit has cautioned that Rule 60(b) motions are disfavored, see Pichardo v. Ashcroft, 374 F.3d 46, 55 (2d Cir. 2004), and that Rule 60(b)(6) in particular should be invoked only when "extraordinary circumstances" justify relief or "when the judgment may work an extreme and undue hardship, " Nemaizer v. Baker, 793 F.2d 58, 63 (2d Cir. 1986).

"The decision to grant or deny a motion for reconsideration is within the sound discretion of the district court.'" In re Optimal U.S. Litig., 813 F.Supp.2d 383, 387 n.6 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (quoting Patterson v. United States, No. 04 Civ. 3140 (WHP), 2006 WL 2067036, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 26, 2006)). Moreover, "[t]he standards for relief under Rule 6.3 and Rule 59... are identical." R.F.M.A.S., Inc. v. Mimi So, 640 F.Supp.2d 506, 509 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). Under Local Rule 6.3, the moving party must "point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked - matters, in other words, that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court." Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted) (noting that the standard for granting motions for reconsideration is "strict").

"A motion for reconsideration may not be used to advance new facts, issues or arguments not previously presented to the Court, nor may it be used as a vehicle for relitigating issues already decided by the Court." Davidson v. Scully, 172 F.Supp.2d 458, 461 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (citing Shrader, 70 F.3d at 257). Such a motion should not be made "reflexively to reargue those issues already considered when a party does not like the way the original motion was resolved." In re Optimal U.S. Litig., 813 F.Supp.2d at 387 (quoting Makas v. Orlando, No. 06 Civ. 14305 (DAB) (AJP), 2008 WL 2139131, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 19, 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Above all, "[r]econsideration of a court's previous order is an extraordinary remedy to be employed sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of scarce judicial resources.'" Parrish v. Sollecito, 253 F.Supp.2d 713, 715 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (quoting In re Health Mgmt. Sys. Inc. Secs. Litig., 113 F.Supp.2d 613, 614 (S.D.N.Y. 2000)).

The Court is mindful that, "when the plaintiff proceeds pro se, as in this case, a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally, particularly when they allege civil rights violations, " and to interpret them as raising the strongest arguments they suggest. McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101 (2d Cir. 2010) ("It is well established that a court is ordinarily obligated to afford a special solicitude to pro se litigants." (collecting cases)). Nonetheless, this liberal standard does not exempt a plaintiff from his or her duty to meet the requirements for reconsideration. See Patterson, 2006 WL 2067036, at *1 (collecting cases).[2]

DISCUSSION

The instant motion for reconsideration is not predicated on any controlling decisions the Court overlooked, nor has there been an intervening change in the law. Instead, focusing on the Court's resolution of his retaliation claims (Opinion 50-60), Plaintiff has submitted various documents in rearguing that these claims were not procedurally barred. Among other things, Plaintiff argues that:

▪ The documents submitted in connection with the instant motion make clear that Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to the grievances at issue, or that such grievances did not require exhaustion through the administrative process. (Pl. Recon. Br. 1-3; Pl. Recon. Reply 2-3).
▪ Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies because he completed the three-stage grievance process either before or shortly after the filing of the Complaint, and any delays in the resolution of the administrative appeals are to be laid at the feet of the Inmate Grievance Review Committee or the Grievance Supervisor. (Pl. Recon. Br. 1-4; Pl. Recon. Reply 2-3).
▪ To the extent Plaintiff failed to exhaust his claims prior to filing the Complaint or the Amended Complaint in this action, it is because he was "constantly" being "harassed, pressured, [and] assaulted physically and sexually" for his religious beliefs and practices, which prompted him to seek relief from the Court while some of his grievances were proceeding through the administrative appeal process. (Pl. Recon. Reply 2-3).
▪ Strict compliance with the exhaustion requirement has been excused, inasmuch as the Court has considered Plaintiff's free exercise claims without determining whether such claims were administratively exhausted. (Pl. Recon. Br. 3).
▪ Finally, to the extent that the Court finds that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies prior to the filing of the Complaint or the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff requests that the Court: (i) consider the exhausted claims while dismissing the unexhausted claims; (ii) "allow the matter to be re-filed'" to include the by-now-exhausted claims; and (iii) ...

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