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Lemons v. Lanigan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 9, 2018

IAN LEMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
GARY LANIGAN, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          HON. BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before this Court is Plaintiff Ian Lemons's (“Plaintiff”) motion for reconsideration (ECF No. 5) addressing this Court's Order and Opinion dismissing Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 1) as time barred (ECF Nos. 3-4). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 5) is DENIED.

         I. Background

         As the explained in the Court's previous opinion, Plaintiff's Complaint brought claims against Gary Lanigan, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and various current and former officials at New Jersey State Prison. (ECF No. 1 at 1-5.) Plaintiff specifically sought to challenge the automatic withdrawal of court fees, judicially imposed fines, and restitutionary payments from his prison trust account without a pre-deprivation hearing. (Id. at 5-10.) According to the Complaint, Plaintiff arrived at the prison in August 2005 and noticed the court-ordered fines and fees began to be removed from his account within a month, without notice or an opportunity to be heard. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff further alleged these withdrawals have continued since that time, and the remaining court ordered fines and fees continue to be removed from his account, and that all filed grievances regarding these withdrawals have been denied. (Id. at 5-10.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Plaintiff asserts in his motion that he is seeking reconsideration of the dismissal of his complaint, purportedly pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Motions for reconsideration, however, are controlled by either Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) or Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). Whether brought pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) or pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), the scope of a motion for reconsideration is extremely limited, and such motions should only be granted sparingly. Delanoy v. Twp. Of Ocean, No. 13-1555, 2015 WL 2235103, at *2 (D.N.J. May 12, 2015) (as to Local Civil Rule 7.1(i)); see also Blystone v. Horn, 664 F.3d 397, 415 (3d Cir. 2011) (as to Rule 59(e)). An order of the Court may be altered or amended pursuant to such a motion only where the moving party establishes one of the following grounds for relief: “(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court [issued its order]; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact to prevent manifest injustice.” Delanoy, 2015 WL 2235106 at *2 (quoting Max's Seafood Café v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999)); see also Blystone, 664 F.3d at 415 (applying same standard to 59(e) motions). In the reconsideration context, a manifest injustice will generally arise only where “the Court overlooked some dispositive factual or legal matter that was presented to it, ” or committed a “direct, obvious, and observable” error. See Brown v. Zickefoose, Civil Action No. 11-3330, 2011 WL 5007829, at *2 n.3 (D.N.J. 2011). Reconsideration motions may not be used to relitigate old matters or to raise arguments or present evidence or allegations that could have been raised prior to entry of the original order, and courts should only grant such a motion where its prior decision “overlooked a factual or legal issue that may alter the disposition of the matter.” Delanoy, 2015 WL 2235106 at *2.

         To the extent that Petitioner is seeking relief from this Court's dismissal of his complaint pursuant to Rule 60(b) rather than merely seeking reconsideration, that rule “allows a party to seek relief from a final judgment, and request reopening of his case, under a limited set of circumstances including fraud, mistake, and newly discovered evidence.” Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 529 (2005). “The remedy provided by Rule 60(b) is extraordinary, and special circumstances must justify granting relief under it.” Jones v. Citigroup, Inc., Civil Action No. 14-6547, 2015 WL 3385938, at *3 (D.N.J. May 26, 2015) (quoting Moolenaar v. Gov't of the Virgin Islands, 822 F.3d 1342, 1346 (3d Cir. 1987). A Rule 60(b) motion “may not be used as a substitute for appeal, and that legal error, without more cannot justify granting a Rule 60(b) motion.” Holland v. Holt, 409 F. App'x 494, 497 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Smith v. Evans, 853 F.2d 155, 158 (3d Cir. 1988)). A motion under Rule 60(b) may not be granted where the moving party could have raised the same legal argument by means of a direct appeal. Id.

         III. Decision

         In his motion for reconsideration, Plaintiff argues the Court erred in dismissing his complaint as time barred. As this Court previously explained, Plaintiff's complaint contained a single claim - that the withdrawal of money to pay court ordered fines and fees from his prison inmate account without pre-withdrawal procedures violated his right to Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Montanez v. Sec'y Penn. Dep't of Corr., 773 F.3d 472, 486 (3d Cir. 2016) (holding that Due Process, at minimum, requires “inmates to be informed of the terms of [prison policies requiring the automatic deduction of fines] and the amount of their total monetary liability to the [State] . . . before the first deduction”). Claims bought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in New Jersey are subject to a two year statute of limitations. See, e.g., Patyrak v. Apgar, 511 F. App'x 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2013). The Third Circuit explained in Montanez:

The date of accrual in a § 1983 action is determined by federal law. Kach [v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634 (3d Cir. 2009)]. Under federal law, a cause of action accrues “‘when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the injury upon which the action is based.'” Id. (quoting Sameric Corp. v. City of Philadelphia, 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998)). . . .
. . . This Court has previously noted with regard to deductions from inmate accounts that an “alleged violation of [an inmate's] Fourteenth Amendment right to due process occur[s] at the moment he was deprived of his property interest without notice and a predeprivation hearing (i.e., when [prison] employees seized the money in his inmate account.)” Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 694 n. 3 (3d Cir. 2002). Following this rule, [the plaintiff's] alleged injury occurred . . . when the DOC first deducted funds from his account.[] It was at this point that the DOC deprived [the plaintiff] of his property interests allegedly without due process. [The plaintiff] “knew or should have known of” his injury within a month of the first deduction [when] he received an inmate account statement that reflected the debit from his account. See Kach, 589 F.3d at 634.

Montanez, 773 F.3d at 480.

         As Plaintiff acknowledged in his complaint and in his certification attached to his complaint, the prison first began taking money out of his account within a month of his arrival, and continued to take the money out of his account to pay court ordered fees and fines “each month” thereafter. (ECF No. 1 at 5-6 and ECF No. 1-2 at 8). Plaintiff does not dispute this fact in his current motion, but instead argues he should not be time barred for two reasons: (1) because he alleges he did not know it was the prison, but rather thought it was the court that was deducting the money from his account; and (2) because “it was not clearly established law in this court that” a claim such as his was cognizable at the time of his initial injury.

         Turning first to Plaintiff's argument that his claim was “clearly established” in 2005, the Court notes that the Third Circuit explicitly rejected such an ...


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