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Bock v. Pressler and Pressler, LLP

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 19, 2017

DANIEL BOCK, JR., Plaintiff,


          HON. KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.

         Before the court is the motion (ECF no. 100) of the defendant, Pressler and Pressler, LLP ("Pressler"), pursuant to Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(i), Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), and Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(2), to reconsider, alter, or otherwise amend the Court's award of summary judgment to the plaintiff, Daniel Bock, Jr. (For convenience, I will refer to it as a "motion for reconsideration.") For the reasons stated herein, the motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Familiarity with my prior written opinions in this action is assumed. In particular, I do not repeat the facts or analysis in my original opinion granting summary judgment to the plaintiff, Bock (ECF no. 59 [as amended ECF nos. 61, 62], cited as "Op.") or my opinion on remand, finding that the plaintiff possessed Article III standing and reinstating summary judgment (ECF no. 97, cited as "Remand Op.").

         In this action, Bock alleged that Pressler made false or misleading representations in violation of the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act (the "FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692e. On June 30, 2014, I filed an exhaustive opinion on the merits ("Op."), denied Pressler's summary judgment motion, and granted Bock's summary judgment motion. I entered judgment for Bock in the amount of $1000. (ECF No. 67)

         Pressler appealed. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit sua sponte raised the issue of Bock's Article III standing in light of the intervening case of Spokeo, Inc. v. Robbins, 136 S.Ct. 1540 (2016), decided by the Supreme Court after my decision but while the Third Circuit appeal was pending. Bock v. Pressler & Pressler, LLP, 658 Fed.Appx. 63 (3d Cir. 2016). The Third Circuit remanded the case so that this Court could determine in the first instance whether Bock's alleged harm was sufficiently concrete and particularized to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement for Article III standing that was enunciated in Spokeo. Id. at 65.

         On remand, I authorized supplemental briefing on the subject of Spokeo and standing (ECF no. 82). The parties briefed the matter. ((ECF nos. 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 93, 96)

         On May 25, 2017, I filed an Opinion (ECF no. 97) holding that Bock had established Article III standing. I simultaneously entered an order (ECF no. 98) that the summary judgment motion of Bock again be granted, and that of Pressler denied, "for the reasons stated in the Court's prior Opinion (ECF no. 59)." I further ordered that "Judgment in the amount of $1000 shall again be entered in favor of Plaintiff, in substantially the same form as the prior Judgment (ECF no. 67), updated to include subsequent procedural history." (ECF no. 98) Accordingly, also on May 25, 2017, I re-entered final judgment on substantially the same terms as before. (See ECF no. 99)


         A. Implementation of the Court of Appeals' Mandate

         Before reaching the merits of Pressler's motion, it is necessary to clarify this Court's view of its task on remand. The Court of Appeals never reached the merits of Pressler's appeal from my original grant of summary judgment, but remanded for a jurisdictional determination. I therefore consider whether, consistent with the Court's mandate, I must, or even may, accept Pressler's invitation to revisit the merits of the summary judgment motion.

         In light of the intervening Spokeo decision, the Court of Appeals sua sponte raised the issue of Article III standing. Its opinion, after reviewing the applicable law on standing, concluded as follows:

Given the Supreme Court's directive in Spokeo regarding the need for a court to specifically address concreteness and particularization, we will remand this case to the District court to determine in the first instance whether Bock has Article III standing.

(3d Cir. Op. 5 (copy filed at ECF no. 74-2, reported as Bock v. Pressler's Pressler, LLP, 658 Fed.Appx. 63 (3d Cir. 2016)).

         The formal judgment, which also constitutes the appellate court's mandate, stated as follows:

IT IS ORDERED AND ADJUDGED BY THIS COURT that the judgment of the District Court entered December 4, 2014, be and the same is hereby vacated and remanded to the District court for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

(3d Cir. Judgment and Mandate (copy filed at ECF no. 74))

[A] district court must adhere to the mandate and the law of the case as it is established on appeal. Bankers Trust Co. v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 761 F.2d 943, 949 (3d Cir. 1985). At the same time, a district court is free to decide any issue that was not explicitly or implicitly decided on a prior appeal. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 347 n. 18, 99 S.Ct. 1139, 1148 n. 18, 59 L.Ed.2d 358 (1979); Sprague v. Ticonic Bank, 307 U.S. 161, 168, 59 S.Ct. 777, 780, 83 L.Ed. 1184 (1939); Bankers Trust Co., supra, 761 F.2d at 950 ....

Taylor v. United States, 815 F.2d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 1987).

         Here, the Court of Appeals did not reach the merits of the prior summary judgment order, and did not explicitly or implicitly rule on the substantive issues presented by Pressler's appeal. Rather, in light of intervening Supreme Court authority, it raised an issue as to whether the plaintiff had possessed Article III standing to pursue his claim in the first place. It remanded for a determination on that standing issue. All the mandate required, then, was that this Court make a determination as to the plaintiffs standing. If I did not find standing, that would of course end the matter; such a ruling would imply that the court does not have, and never had, subject matter jurisdiction.

         The question here arises from the alternative outcome, in which I did find standing (as in fact I did). The Court of Appeals vacated the original judgment; obviously it could not stand or remain enforceable for so long as there was a cloud on this court's subject matter jurisdiction. So at a minimum, having found that the court had jurisdiction, I was required to (and did) re-enter judgment to restore the status quo. That is the narrowest view of the man Dated: that this Court should do no more than remove the jurisdictional cloud on its prior judgment, and reinstate that judgment. That was a permissible course of action.

         It was not, however, the only permissible course of action. Nothing about the mandate of the Court of Appeals constrains this Court as to the substantive merits. I may, then, entertain Pressler's motion for reconsideration to the same extent I could have done if the jurisdictional issue had not intervened. Insofar as this motion is concerned, the mandate is transparent.

         B. Scope of Reconsideration Motion

         A motion under Local Rule 7.1(i), Rule 59(e), or Rule 60(b)(2) would ordinarily require a substantial threshold showing before a court will consider reopening matters already decided. See infra. Because the procedural context is somewhat convoluted, however, I must clarify what is being "reconsidered." In particular, I state that Pressler will not be procedurally disadvantaged for having asserted these substantive grounds in a motion filed after, rather than before, May 25, 2017, the date I re-entered judgment on remand.

         While my decision on remand was pending, Pressler's counsel filed a letter ("Supplemental Letter", ECF no. 90) proffering new substantive (i.e., non-standing) arguments. The Supplemental Letter argued that the court had "reversed the burden of proof in its original summary judgment ruling, and that the FDCPA, at least as applied by the Court, would violate the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. The letter also attached "new evidence" in the form of an expert report by Prof. Michael Ambrosio. Reasonably, the Supplemental Letter proposed that nothing further be filed on those issues unless and until the Court found that it possessed subject matter jurisdiction.

         In response, I entered a text order stating that I would decide first whether the Court possessed subject matter jurisdiction under Spokeo. (ECF no. 92) That text order also provided that "any reopening of discovery or supplementation of the earlier summary judgment record will not be granted as a matter of course, but must be sought by motion." (Id.)

         It was presumably in response to my text order that Pressler filed the current motion for reconsideration. (ECF no. 100) In it, Pressler seeks to reopen the judgment and assert the additional substantive arguments that were raised in its Supplemental Letter. I accept that it was not practical for such a motion to be filed in advance of my ruling on standing, and I accept the Supplemental Letter as a sufficient reservation of Pressler's position. I will therefore consider this motion on its own terms-i.e., nunc pro tunc, as if it had been filed at the time of the Supplemental Letter-without imposing any additional threshold barrier to consideration.

         That said, the motion (even considered nunc pro tunc) does seek reconsideration of matters decided in 2014, in connection with the original summary judgment ruling. It therefore does implicate law of the case doctrine ...

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