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Luis Beltran Flores v. Predco Services Corp.

July 29, 2011

LUIS BELTRAN FLORES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PREDCO SERVICES CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bumb, United States District Judge:

OPINION

I. Introduction

Defendants, DVCC Services Corporation ("DVCC"), formerly known as--and Defendants contend improperly pled as--Predco Services Corporation,*fn1 and McElroy Machine & Manufacturing Company, Inc. ("MMMC"), improperly pled as McElroy Machine Manufacturing Company, ask the Court to reconsider its Opinion and Order denying Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.*fn2 For the following reasons, the Court denies the motion.

II. Background

The Court laid out the relevant factual history in its previous opinion, and need not do so at length here. The relevant facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff was employed as a seaman on a ship engaged in commercial shrimping on the Gulf of Mexico. On or about January 26, 2006, Plaintiff's dominant, right arm was torn off above the elbow while the ship was in Texas waters. On January 3, 2007, Plaintiff filed suit in Texas state court*fn3 against several defendants who are no longer part of this litigation, including McElroy Catchot Winch Company ("McElroy Catchot").*fn4 Plaintiff later amended the complaint to add DVCC and MMMC, the parties now seeking relief from this Court. Plaintiff stated claims against DVCC and MMMC for products liability, negligence, misrepresentation and gross negligence.

McElroy Catchot, DVCC and MMMC all filed special appearances and motions to dismiss before the Texas state court, arguing that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over these entities. On May 14, 2008, the state court held a hearing on the motions to dismiss. This Court has not been provided with a transcript of this hearing. On August 7, 2008, without a written opinion, the state court denied the motions to dismiss filed by MMMC and DVCC. On August 24, 2008, again without a written opinion, the state court granted McElroy Catchot's motion to dismiss.*fn5

Defendants MMMC and DVCC filed an interlocutory appeal from the state court's order on August 29, 2008. Approximately one and one-half years after the state court denied Defendants' motions to dismiss, and after the parties had already engaged in discovery, the Texas Appeals Court reversed the trial court, finding that the Texas courts lacked jurisdiction over MMMC and DVCC. See McElroy Mach. & Mfg. Co. v. Flores, 2010 Tex. App. LEXIS 970 (Tex. App. Feb. 11, 2010). Plaintiff filed a motion for rehearing on February 25, 2010, which the Court of Appeals denied on March 18, 2010.

On March 12, 2010, after the appeals court had issued its opinion, but before deciding the motion for rehearing, Plaintiff filed his Complaint before this Court. See Dkt. Ent. 1.*fn6

Defendants responded with a motion to dismiss, arguing that the limitations period barred Plaintiff's claims. Defendants now ask the Court to reconsider its ruling denying this motion.*fn7

III. Standard

Motions for reconsideration are not expressly recognized in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. United States v. Compaction Sys. Corp., 88 F.Supp.2d 339, 345 (D.N.J. 1999). Generally, a motion for reconsideration is treated as a motion to alter or amend judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), or as a motion for relief from judgment or order under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). Id. In the District of New Jersey, Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) governs motions for reconsideration. Agostino v. Quest Diagnostics, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135310, at *14-15 (D.N.J. Dec. 22, 2010)(citing Bryan v. Shah, 351 F.Supp.2d 295, 297 (D.N.J.2005)). Local Rule 7.1(i) creates a procedure by which a court may reconsider its decision upon a showing that dispositive factual matters or controlling decisions of law were overlooked by the court in reaching its prior decision." Id. (citing Bryan, 351 F.Supp.2d at 297).

The "purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985) (internal citation omitted). Reconsideration is to be granted only sparingly. United States v. Jones, 158 F.R.D. 309, 314 (D.N.J. 1994). Such motions "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." NL Indus., Inc. v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 935 F. Supp. 513, 515-16 (D.N.J. 1996) (internal citation omitted). Third Circuit jurisprudence dictates that a Rule 7.1(i) motion may be granted only if: (1) there has been an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) evidence not available when the Court issued the subject order has become available; or (3) it is necessary to correct a clear error of law or fact to prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)); Agostino, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135310, at *15-16.

IV. Analysis

Defendants argue that the Court should reconsider applying the doctrine of equitable tolling to Plaintiff's claims for three reasons: (1) the Court overlooked case law holding that equitable tolling should not apply where a plaintiff originally filed suit in a court that lacked competent jurisdiction; (2) the Court erred in concluding that the Texas trial court's decision that it had personal jurisdiction over Defendants provided a reasonable basis for Plaintiff's belief that he had filed suit in a court of competent jurisdiction; and (3) the Court overlooked Plaintiff's failure to take adequate steps to protect his rights once the operative facts relevant to the personal jurisdiction issue were known to Plaintiff. The Court considers each argument.

A. "A State Court of Competent Jurisdiction"

The heart of this dispute arises from the language used in Burnett v. New York Central Railroad Company, where the Supreme Court concluded that a plaintiff's initial filing "in a state court of competent jurisdiction," that was later dismissed because of improper venue, operated to toll the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA") limitations period. 380 U.S. 424, 428 (1965). Defendants argue vigorously that Plaintiff failed to file in a court of "competent jurisdiction" because the Texas Appeals Court held that Texas courts lacked personal jurisdiction over Defendants.*fn8 Thus, Plaintiff's timely filing in Texas state court cannot serve to toll the three-year limitations period applicable here. Defendants further argue that the Court overlooked case law supporting this position, although conceding that "there is an inconsistency in application of the principle of equitable tolling in the United States District Courts...." Def. Br. at 3. The Court disagrees that it overlooked controlling authority; the cases identified by Defendants are distinguishable from, and even contrary to, Defendants' position.

Defendants rely on the Fifth Circuit's decision in United States for Use and Benefit of Harvey Gulf International Marine, Inc. v. Maryland Casualty Co., where the Fifth Circuit held that an otherwise timely filed complaint in state court did not toll a limitations period where federal courts enjoyed exclusive jurisdiction over the claim asserted. 573 F.2d 245, 247 (5th Cir. 1978). In Harvey Gulf, the plaintiff asserted a Miller Act claim, pursuant to 40 U.S.C. § 3133, formerly 40 U.S.C. § 270b, which has a one-year statute of limitations. 573 F.2d at 247; see 40 U.S.C. § 3133(b)(4). The Fifth Circuit noted, however, that "[t]hose circuits that have considered the question have uniformly regarded the one-year filing requirement as a jurisdictional limitation on the substantive rights conferred by the Miller Act." Id. (citing United States for the Use of Celanese Coatings Co. v. Gullard, 504 F.2d 466 (9th Cir. 1974); United States for the Use and Benefit of General Dynamics Corp. v. Home Indemnity Co., 489 F.2d 1004 (7th Cir. 1973); United States for the Use and Benefit of Statham Instruments, Inc. v. Western Casualty & Surety Co., 359 F.2d 521 (6th Cir. 1966); United States for the Use of Soda v. Montgomery, 253 F.2d 509 (3d Cir. 1958)). Limitations periods that are considered jurisdictional are not subject to tolling principles. ...


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