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Tundo v. Passaic County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 6, 2018

CLAUDIO TUNDO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PASSAIC COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ESTHER SALAS, U.S.D.J.

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiffs Claudio Tundo and Ruben Gilgorri's (together, “Plaintiffs”) motion for reconsideration (D.E. No. 139)[1] and Defendants Passaic County Sheriff's Department (“PCSD”), PCSD Warden Charles Meyers, and PCSD Sheriff Jerry Speziale's (together, “Defendants”) motion for summary judgment (D.E. Nos. 174 & 175).[2] The Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Having considered the parties' submissions in support of and in opposition to the instant motions, the Court decides the motions without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration and GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND[3]

         Facts.

Tundo was employed by the PCSD as a corrections officer in January 2005. (Defs. SMF ¶ 1). Gilgorri was employed by the PCSD as a corrections officer in December 2005. (Pls. SMF ¶ 9). In March 2008, the PCSD announced a reduction in force pursuant to a mass lay-off plan. (Id. ¶ 12). As a result, Plaintiffs were laid off effective March 8, 2008. (Id.).

         In August 2008, PCSD sought to re-hire corrections officers and requested that the Civil Service Commission (“CSC”) revive the eligible list for Plaintiffs' position to permit the reappointment of individuals who had been laid off. (Id. ¶¶ 15-17; Defs. SMF ¶ 9). On September 25, 2008, the CSC issued a decision ordering (i) eligible list S9999D to be revived and for Tundo's name to be restored to that list; and (ii) eligible list S9999F to be revived and for Gilgorri's name to be restored to that list. (Defs. SMF ¶ 10; D.E. No. 180-7, Lockman Decl. Ex. U (“CSC September 25, 2008 Decision”) at 6).[4]

         After the eligible lists were revived, PCSD sought to remove Plaintiffs from the lists based on Plaintiffs' work history, disciplinary history, and other related issues. (Defs. SMF ¶ 14). On January 15, 2009, the CSC issued a notice of Disposition Deficiency to the PCSD for failure to rehire Plaintiffs, which the PCSD appealed. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16). As a result of the PCSD's appeal, the CSC issued a Final Administrative Action notice, dated May 27, 2009. (Id. ¶ 17; D.E. No. 174-3, Buglione Decl. Ex 2 (“CSC May 27, 2009 Decision”) at 1, 14).

         The CSC May 27, 2009 Decision states in relevant part that:

Tundo . . . and Gilgorri, should be restored to the list and absent any disqualifications ascertained through an updated background check, should be appointed as County Correction Officers subject to completion of a new 12-month working test period. Should they be unsuccessful [in] completing their working test periods, the Sheriff's Department may release them in accordance with N.J.A.C. 4A:2-4.1.

(CSC May 27, 2009 Decision at 13).

         The PCSD's policy was that officers who had been laid off for a year had to complete new reemployment applications, but those who had been laid off for less than a year did not have to submit reemployment applications. (Pls. Counter SMF ¶ 19; Defs. SMF ¶ 21). The initial employment applications and the reemployment applications at issue are identical and both contain an identical “hold harmless” clause. (Defs. SMF ¶ 22; Pls. Counter SMF ¶ 22). Plaintiffs were required to complete the employment application and sign a “hold harmless” clause when they originally applied for positions with the PCSD. (Defs. SMF ¶ 23; Pls. Counter SMF ¶ 23). Because Plaintiffs had been laid off for over a year, Defendants offered to rehire Plaintiffs once they completed their reemployment applications and passed updated background checks. (Defs. SMF ¶ 24; Pls. Counter SMF ¶ 24). Plaintiffs refused to complete the reemployment application and were subsequently removed from the eligible list. (Defs. SMF ¶ 25; Pls. Counter SMF ¶ 25).

         Procedural History.

         On October 2, 2009, Plaintiffs filed the instant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against PCSD, PCSD Sheriff Speziale, and PCSD Warden Charles Meyers challenging their removal from the eligible list and alleging violation of their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause (Count I) and Due Process Clause (Count II). (D.E. No. 1, Compl. at 10-11). In fall 2013, the parties submitted summary-judgment briefing to this Court. (See D.E. Nos. 108, 109, 114, 119 & 120). The parties thereafter agreed to mediation, and the Court terminated the pending summary-judgment motions without prejudice. (D.E. No. 126). On January 23, 2015, the mediator informed the Court that the matter had not been resolved. (D.E. No. 127). Defendants refiled their motions for summary judgment (see D.E. Nos. 130, 132-34), and Plaintiffs opposed Defendants' motion (see D.E. No. 131). The Court heard oral arguments on Defendants' motion on December 22, 2015, and issued oral rulings following the parties' arguments. (See D.E. No. 138; D.E. No. 180-6, Exhibit F (December 22, 2015 Oral Argument Transcript) (“Tr.”)). The Court then memorialized its rulings in an Order entered on the docket the same day. (D.E. No. 137).

         At the December 22, 2015 hearing, the Court addressed several issues. (See generally Tr.). First, the Court addressed whether the District Court or the CSC is the proper forum for Plaintiffs to assert their § 1983 claims. (Id. at 2-4). The Court held that Plaintiffs' claims are properly before the Court and declined to dismiss the Complaint. (Id.). Second, the Court addressed whether Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' equal-protection claim, which Plaintiffs' voluntarily dismissed at the hearing. (Id. at 5). Third, the Court addressed whether Plaintiffs pleaded a claim under the Substantive Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at 6-17). Following the parties' oral arguments, the Court held that Plaintiffs “did not assert a substantive due process claim in the Complaint and they are barred from now asserting such a claim.” (Id. at 75-76). The Court barred Plaintiffs from asserting such a claim because even assuming that Plaintiffs did assert a substantive-due-process claim, they had nevertheless failed to establish the requisite elements, namely (i) “a fundamental property interest that is protected by the United States Constitution”; and (ii) “the government deprivation of that protected interest that is so arbitrary or irrational that it shocks the conscience.” (Id.). The Court explained:

Public employment, such as the type at issue in this case, does not create a substantive due process claim. . . . Public employment is a State-created property interest. Plaintiffs' alleged right to employment with Passaic County is a State law contract right. Accordingly, [P]laintiffs have failed to prove the existence of a fundamental interest, and summary judgment is warranted in [Defendants'] favor.

(Id. at 76). Finally, the Court addressed whether Plaintiffs possessed a property interest under the Procedural Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at 17-77). The Court held that (i) Plaintiffs “did not have property interest since they were not correction officers at the time and were not permanent since they had not completed the requirements of the WTP; and (ii) “there is not a property interest in reemployment.” (Id. at 74). Plaintiffs, however, represented that “the property interest that [they] are asserting and stating is the fact that they do have a protected property interest to be on that list, ” and the Court reserved its decision on this issue. (Id. at 17-77). So, the only remaining issue is whether Plaintiffs have “a property interest to be on the eligibility list.” (Id. at 76).

         On January 8, 2016, Plaintiffs moved for reconsideration of the Court's decision on the third and fourth issue-“on the granting of summary judgment as to the substantive due process claim and a part of the procedural due process claim.” (D.E. No. 139-1 (“Pls. Recon. Mov. Br.”) at 4). Defendants opposed Plaintiffs' motion (D.E. No. 142 (“Defs. Recon. Opp. Br.”)), and Plaintiffs submitted a reply in further support of their motion (D.E. No. 143 (“Pls. Recon. Reply Br.”)).

         Defendants filed another motion for summary judgment on December 8, 2017. (D.E. No. 174-2 (“Defs. Mov. Br.”); D.E. No. 175). Plaintiffs opposed Defendants' motion. (D.E. No. 180-3 (“Pls. Opp. Br.”)). And Defendants submitted a reply in further support of their motion. (D.E. No. 184 (“Defs. Reply Br.”); D.E. No. 185).

         Accordingly, there are two pending motions before the Court: (i) Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration; and (ii) Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court will address each motion in turn.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration

         On January 8, 2016, Plaintiffs moved for reconsideration “on the granting of summary judgment as to the substantive due process claim and a part of the procedural due process claim.” (Pls. Recon. Mov. Br. at 4). According to Plaintiffs, the Court should reconsider its December 22, 2015 ruling for two reasons: (i) because Defendants failed to argue that substantive due process was not properly alleged in the Complaint; and (ii) because Defendants failed to argue that no property right exists. (Id. at 6-8).

         i. Legal Standard

         In the District of New Jersey, motions for reconsideration are governed by Local Civil Rule 7.1(i), which states: “Unless otherwise provided by statute or rule (such as Fed.R.Civ.P. 50, 52 and 59), a motion for reconsideration shall be served and filed within 14 days after the entry of the order or judgment on the original motion by the Judge or Magistrate Judge. . . .”

         ii. Analysis

         This Court entered judgment regarding the underlying matter on December 22, 2015. (See D.E. No. 137). Plaintiffs filed this motion on January 8, 2016-seventeen days later. Plaintiffs did not offer any explanation for why they failed to file their motion in a timely fashion and did not request an extension of time to file the motion beyond the fourteen-day limitation period set by the local rules. Plaintiff's motion is therefore denied as untimely. See Adams USA, Inc. v. Reda Sports, Inc., 220 F. App'x 139, 141 (3d Cir. 2007) (“An untimely motion for reconsideration is ‘void and of no effect.'”) (quoting Amatangelo v. Borough of Donora, 212 F.3d 776, 780 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Twp. of Willingboro Municipality Gov't, 913 F.Supp.2d 62, 78 (D.N.J. 2012) (denying defendant's motion for reconsideration as untimely because “it was filed outside the fourteen-day period prescribed by L. Civ. R. 7.1(i)”); Venner v. Delran Twp., No. 05-2480, 2007 WL 1231785, at *1 (D.N.J. Apr. 24, 2007) (denying as untimely motion for reconsideration filed one week late); XL Specialty Ins. Co. v. Westmoreland Coal Co., No. 06-1234, 2006 WL 2241517, at *2 (D.N.J. Aug. 4, 2006) (noting that defendant's one-day delay “alone is sufficient to deny Defendant's motion”).[5]

         While the Court notes that any local rule “may be relaxed or dispensed with by the Court if adherence would result in surprise or injustice, ” see L. Civ. R. 83.2(b), Plaintiffs' submission fails to articulate any surprise or injustice that would result in the Court's adherence to Local Civil Rule 7.1(1) (see Pls. Recon. Reply Br. at 2). Rather, in replying to Defendants' opposition to their motion, Plaintiffs state that “as for the issue of timeliness of the instant motion, it is notable that Defendants themselves missed the summary judgment deadline by months, and were only granted leave to file summary judgment motions after Plaintiffs' counsel wrote to the Court back in June of 2013 requesting a trial date after the dispositive motion deadline had passed.” (See Pls. Recon. Reply Br. at 2). Like Defendants, Plaintiffs-who have been represented by counsel throughout the course of this protracted litigation-also could have sought leave at the appropriate time to file an untimely motion for reconsideration. Given Plaintiffs' failure to articulate any surprise or injustice that would result from the Court's adherence to Local Civil Rule 7.1(i), the Court will deny Plaintiffs' motion. See Pharmacia Corp. v. Motor Carrier Servs. Corp., No. 04-3724, 2008 WL 852255, at *6 (D.N.J. Mar. 28, 2008) (noting that where the time for filing a reconsideration motion has run, the issue as to which reconsideration is sought “is best left to the Third Circuit”).

         B. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         i. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party shows that there is “no genuine issue of any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is “genuine” if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. The burden is on the moving party to show no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may discharge its burden by showing “that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 325. If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must then set forth specific facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Azur v. Chase Bank, USA, Nat'l Ass'n, 601 F.3d 212, 216 (3d Cir. 2010).

         Conversely, where the moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, it “must show that it has produced enough evidence to support the findings of fact necessary to win.” El v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth. (SEPTA), 479 F.3d 232, 237 (3d Cir. 2007). “Put another way, it is inappropriate to grant summary judgment in favor of a moving party who bears the burden of proof at trial unless a reasonable ...


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