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Jones v. Neuman

May 15, 2007

WAYNE D. JONES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RONEN NEUMAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson, U.S.D.J.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

I. Introduction

This matter having come before the Court upon Plaintiff's "Motion for Relief from Order of Summary Judgment" and request for the "Clerk's Office to search their records to find Plaintiff's original response" to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court has decided this motion based upon the submissions of both parties and without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. For reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion is denied.

II. Background

Plaintiff Wayne D. Jones, a pro se, brought the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 while incarcerated at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution in Freehold, New Jersey, complaining (1) that he was unlawfully assaulted by Defendants Resetar and Neuman while in police custody, (2) that Defendant Borough of Deal had committed a "gross dereliction of duty," and (3) that Defendant Deal Boro Municipal Court had "obstructed justice" through its rulings. On March 20, 2006, Defendants Deal Boro Municipal Court, Borough of Deal, and Brian Resetar filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [28], and on March 24, 2006, Defendant Ronen Neuman filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [29]. Both motions were returnable on April 17, 2006. Plaintiff failed to file his opposition brief and papers with the Clerk by April 3, 2006, as required by L. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(2). The Court, in its letter of April 12, 2006 [30], ordered Plaintiff to file his opposition papers by April 21, 2006. Plaintiff did not do so, and after reviewing the motions for summary judgment the Court entered summary judgment [32] in favor of Defendants Deal Boro Municipal Court, Borough of Deal, Brian Resetar and Ronen Neuman on July 12, 2006, and dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims.

On August 21, 2006, Plaintiff wrote to the Court [33] requesting information as to the status of his case. On August 28, 2006, the Court responded in a letter [34] stating that "the Court entered an Order granting Defendants' summary judgment motions on July 13, 2006, thereby closing your case." The Court also informed Plaintiff that if he desired to reopen the case, he was required to file a motion to vacate the July 13, 2006 Order, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b).

This was the last correspondence with the Court until Plaintiff made various attempts to contact Magistrate Judge Bongiovanni, sending correspondence to her chambers in March, 2007. The Clerk's Office returned these papers for failure to comply with the local rules. Then on March 28, 2007, in his Motion "for Relief from Order of Summary Judgment" [38], Plaintiff informed the Court that he did file an opposition to Defendants' motions for summary judgment on June 27, 2006, but "incorrectly titled [it] to Judge Tonianne J. Bongiovanni; and the case number was shown as (1349 AEB) instead of (05-1349 (AET)." Further, Plaintiff informed the Court that "on or about March 2006, Plaintiff's Brother, Gregory K. Jones, who lived at Plaintiff's Mother's house . . . did file with the post office a request to hold delivery of [Gregory's] mail while he was out of state." Plaintiff claims the Post Office incorrectly withheld Plaintiff's mail, instead of, or in addition to, his brother's, preventing Plaintiff from receiving the Court's April 12, 2006 letter. Plaintiff states that he was informed of this error upon contacting the Clerk's Office on February 10, 2007, to inquire as to the status of his case.

Plaintiff requests that the final judgment be vacated and that the Court grant him leave to re-submit his opposition and/or amend his original response to Defendants' motions for summary judgment.

Defendants Borough of Deal and Brian Resetar acknowledge they received Plaintiff's June 27, 2006 opposition to Defendants' motions for summary judgment and inform the Court that "[a]ll defense counsel believed this to be plaintiff's opposition to the motion for summary judgment and, as such, various responsive letter briefs were filed on July 11 and 12, 2006." (Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. to Vacate at p. 4.) These briefs were not filed electronically on CMECF, but were apparently directed to Magistrate Judge Bongiovanni.

III. Analysis

The Court interprets Plaintiff's Motion for "Relief from Order of Summary Judgment" as a motion to vacate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), which states in pertinent part that "the court may relieve a party . . . from a final judgment . . . [for reasons of] mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect." See Pioneer Inv. Svcs., Inc. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship., 507 U.S. 380, 393 (1993) (stating that failure to respond to a pleading is generally evaluated for Rule 60(b)(1) as a question of "excusable neglect").

Whether error is "excusable" is a question of equity. Pioneer, 507 U.S. at 395. The Court must consider the circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's omission that led to the judgment from which relief is sought. Id. In the context of Rule 60(b)(1), these circumstances include (1) the danger of prejudice to the non-movant, (2) the length of delay and its potential impact on further proceedings, (3) the reason for the delay, including whether it was reasonably within the control of the movant, and (4) whether the movant acted in good faith.

A. Reason for Delay

Here, Plaintiff claims that at some point in March 2006, the United States Post Office incorrectly stopped sending him his mail. The Court notes that Plaintiff does not claim he did not receive Defendants' motions for summary judgment filed on March 20, 2006, and March 24, 2006. Indeed, Plaintiff must have received these motions because he claims to have filed an opposition to them on June 27, 2006, albeit addressing it to the wrong Judge, with the wrong case number. Plaintiff only claims not to have received the Court's April 12, 2006 letter that ordered Plaintiff to file his opposition papers by April 21, 2006. Therefore, Plaintiff asks this Court to forgive his tardy and incorrectly ...


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