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Campanella v. O'Flynn

United States District Court, W.D. New York

April 28, 2017

CHARLES E. CAMPANELLA, II, DEBORAH S. CAMPANELLA, Plaintiffs,
v.
MONROE COUNTY SHERIFF PATRICK M. O'FLYNN, MONROE COUNTY UNDERSHERIFF GARY CAIOLA, CHIEF DEPUTY STEVEN SCOTT, LIEUTENANT LOU TOMASSETTI, and other known or unknown members of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. FRANK P. GERACI, JR. CHIEF JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         On April 29, 2010, Charles (“Deputy Campanella”) and Deborah Campanella (“Ms. Campanella”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) initiated this action against Monroe County, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office (“MCSO”), and MCSO employees Patrick M. O'Flynn (“Sheriff O'Flynn”), Gary Caiola (“Undersheriff Caiola”), Steven Scott (“Deputy Scott”), and Lucio Tomassetti (“Lieutenant Tomassetti”) (collectively “Defendants”).[1] ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants took adverse employment actions against Deputy Campanella in violation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Id.

         On July 19, 2016, Defendants moved for summary judgment. ECF No. 60. Under Local Rule 7(b)(2)(A), Plaintiffs had 28 days to file and serve responding papers. See L.R. Civ. Pro. 7(b)(2)(A). That deadline passed without Plaintiffs filing responding papers or requesting an extension. On February 6, 2016, this Court issued a Decision and Order granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 61. Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion to set aside that judgment. ECF No. 65. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' Motion to Set Aside Judgment is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 29, 2010, Plaintiffs filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 1. Initially, Plaintiffs' Complaint alleged multiple First Amendment and Due Process violations as well as libel, slander, defamation, and negligent failure to train and supervise. Id. However, following Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, ECF No. 11, all but two of Plaintiffs' claims were dismissed. ECF No. 24. Plaintiffs' surviving claims alleged that, in violation of the First Amendment, Defendants took seven adverse employment actions against Deputy Campanella in retaliation for Deputy Campanella's statement about the investigation of a local construction firm and Ms. Campanella's affiliation with a man who ran as the Democratic candidate for Monroe County Sheriff in 2009. Id. On January 15, 2013, the case was reassigned to this Court. ECF No. 33.

         On July 19, 2016, Defendants filed and served their Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 60. Plaintiffs received service through the Court's electronic filing system. See ECF Nos. 60; 65-1 at ¶ 6. Following the filing of that motion, the Court did not issue a scheduling order. But pursuant to the Local Rules of Civil Procedure for the Western District of New York, “[i]f the Court does not set deadlines by order, ” the party opposing a motion “shall have twenty-eight (28) days after service of the motion to file and serve responding papers.” See L.R. Civ. Pro. 7(b)(2)(A). Accordingly, Plaintiffs' responding papers were due by August 16, 2016. Id. That deadline passed without responding papers from the Plaintiffs, and on February 6, 2017, the Court issued its Decision and Order granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 61.

         Immediately after the Court's decision was docketed, Plaintiffs' attorney wrote a letter to the Court requesting that the decision be withdrawn. ECF No. 63. Plaintiffs' attorney noted that the Court had not issued a scheduling order and claimed that he was unaware that the deadline for filing responding papers had passed. Id. Citing Local Rule 7(b)(2)(A), the Court denied Plaintiffs' request to withdraw its decision. ECF No. 64.

         On March 3, 2017, Plaintiffs moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) to set aside the Court's Decision and Order. ECF No. 65. In his supporting affidavit, Plaintiffs' attorney suggested that in both “the practice of this Court and the history of this case, ” filing deadlines have been set by scheduling orders. ECF No. 65-1 at ¶ 6. He noted that he was “puzzled by the absence of a scheduling order” in this instance. ECF No. 65-1 at ¶ 6. Indeed, he was so puzzled that, after about two months had passed, he contacted Defendants' attorney and asked “whether or not the possibility existed that such a scheduling order had escaped [his] attention.” Id. Plaintiffs' attorney explained that he “made the deliberate decision to wait until the issuance of a scheduling order . . . before filing any responsive papers, ” id. at ¶ 8, because “over the course of [his] thirty-three (33) years of practicing law, ” scheduling orders always followed motions and, in this case, scheduling orders followed each of the four contested motions that preceded the Motion for Summary Judgment. Id. at ¶ 7. On that basis, Plaintiffs ask the Court to set aside its decision under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). ECF No. 65-1 at ¶ 1.

         DISCUSSION

         Rule 60(b) identifies grounds on which a court, in its discretion, may relieve a party from a final judgment, order, or proceeding. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). Properly applied, “Rule 60(b) strikes a balance between serving the ends of justice and preserving the finality of judgments.” Nemaizer v. Baker, 793 F.2d 58, 61 (2d Cir. 1986). Thus, while final judgments should not be reopened lightly, Rule 60(b) “should be broadly construed to do substantial justice.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         One ground on which a court may relieve a party of a final judgment, order, or proceeding is “excusable neglect.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1). “Excusable neglect” is a “somewhat elastic concept.” Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 393 (1993).[2] It is not strictly limited to “omissions caused by circumstances beyond the control of the movant.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). That is because “neglect” encompasses “inadvertence, carelessness, and mistake.” Id. at 388. That being said, to be entitled to relief under Rule 60(b)(1), the movant's neglect must also be “excusable.” See Id. at 395; see also Canfield v. Van Atta Buick/GMC Truck, Inc., 127 F.3d 248, 250 (2d Cir. 1997) (“In light of its interpretation of ‘neglect' as ‘negligence, ' . . . the ‘excusable' portion of ‘excusable neglect' must provide the limitations necessary to prevent abuse by the parties.”) (citing Pioneer, 507 U.S. at 395).

         Determining whether a negligent omission is “excusable” is an equitable, context-specific inquiry. 507 U.S. at 395 (“We conclude that the determination [of whether a negligent omission is excusable] is at bottom an equitable one, taking account of all relevant circumstances surrounding the party's omission.”). Factors to be considered include (1) “the danger of prejudice” to the non-movant, (2) “the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings, ” (3) “whether the movant acted in good faith, ” and (4) the reason for the omission, “including whether it was within the reasonable control of the movant.” Id.

         Because the first three of those factors usually favor the movant, [3] the Second Circuit has focused on the last-the reason for the omission. See Silivanch v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 333 F.3d 355, 366 (2d Cir. 2003) (“[D]espite . . . the existence of the four-factor test in which three of the factors usually weigh in favor of the party seeking the extension, we and other circuits have focused on . . . the reason for the delay, including whether it was within the reasonable control of the movant.”) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Williams v. KFC Nat. Management Co., 391 F.3d 411, 418 (2d Cir. 2004) (noting that the “reason for the delay” is “the most important” factor of the Pioneer test). Where the reason for an omission is the failure to follow “the clear dictates of a court rule, ” the fourth ...


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