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Stewart v. City of Hammond

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 5, 2019

JAMES STEWART
v.
CITY OF HAMMOND, LOUISIANA

         SECTION A (1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JAY C. ZAINEY JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion for Reconsideration (Rec. Doc. 19) filed by Plaintiff James Stewart. Defendant City of Hammond, Louisiana opposes the motion (Rec. Doc. 20). The motion, set for submission on July 24, 2019, is before the Court on the briefs. Having considered the motion and memoranda of counsel, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that Plaintiff's motion should be GRANTED in so far as the Court reconsiders the grounds for dismissal. The Court finds that Plaintiff's federal constitutional claims remain DISMISSED upon other grounds as set forth below. The above captioned matter is REMANDED to the state Court from which the matter was removed to determine any remaining state law claims.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was employed as Hammond's chief of police. (Rec. Doc. 1-1 Petition, ¶ II). On January 3, 2019, the Mayor of Hammond, Pete Panepinto, terminated Plaintiff's employment. (Id. at IX). Plaintiff filed suit in the Twenty-first Judicial District Court in Tangipahoa Parish alleging wrongful termination in violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights citing the Hammond City Charter (“the Charter”), applicable Hammond Code of Ordinances, the Louisiana statutory Police Officer's Bill of Rights, and the Hammond Police Department's General Orders. (Id. at XVIII). On March 18, 2019, Defendant removed the matter to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, subject matter jurisdiction based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 allegations contained in the state court petition. (Rec. Doc. 1, p. 3).

         Defendant filed a motion to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Rec. Doc. 10). On June 25, 2019, this Court granted the motion to dismiss for failure to comply with Louisiana Rev. Stat. 33:2501(A) and the appeals process therein. (Rec. Doc. 16). By bringing this motion, Plaintiff requests this Court to reconsider its order as an error of law or fact.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not recognize a motion for reconsideration. Bass v. United States Dep't of Agric., 211 F.3d 959, 962 (5th Cir. 2000). Nevertheless, the Fifth Circuit has treated a motion for reconsideration as a motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when filed twenty-eight days after entry of the judgment from which relief is being sought. Hamilton Plaintiffs v. Williams Plaintiffs, 147 F.3d 367, 371 n.10 (5th Cir. 1998); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). A Rule 59(e) motion may be granted on four grounds: “(1) to correct manifest errors of law or fact upon which judgment is based, (2) the availability of new evidence, (3) the need to prevent manifest injustice, or (4) an intervening change in controlling law.” Lines v. Fairfield Ins. Co., No. 08-1045, 2010 WL 4338636, at *1 (E.D. La. Oct. 21, 2010) (citing Peterson v. Cigna Group Ins., No. 99-2112, 2002 WL 1268404, at *2 (E.D. La. June 5, 2002)). “The Court enjoys considerable discretion in granting or denying such a motion.” Gabarick v. Laurin Mar. (America) Inc., No. 08-4007, 2010 WL 5437391, at *5 (E.D. La. Dec. 23, 2010) (citing Boyd's Bit Serv., Inc. v. Specialty Rental Tool & Supply, Inc., 332 F.Supp.2d 938, 939 (W.D. La 2004)). The Fifth Circuit has held that a Rule 59(e) motion is not the proper vehicle for “rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of judgment.” Templet v. HydroChem Inc., 367 F.3d 473, 479 (5th Cir. April 2004).

         III. Discussion

         In its Order and Reasons, the Court found that Louisiana statutory law specifically identifies the chief of the police department as a classified service. (Rec. Doc. 16, p. 4). Based upon the plain statutory language, the Court concluded that Plaintiff may demand a hearing and investigation by the board to determine the reasonableness of the action. (Id. at 5). Considering that Plaintiff failed to engage in said appeals process, the Court found that the state court Petition failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and dismissed the case. (Id.).

         Plaintiff asserts, and the Court agrees, that the Court failed to recognize an express statutory exception to the general rule relied upon by the Court. (Rec. Doc. 19-1, p. 1). Louisiana Rev. Stat. 33:2481 articulates that the chief of police specifically for the City of Hammond is an unclassified employee. La.R.S. 33:2481(B)(6). The appeal review process to the board is reserved only for “[a]ny regular employee in the classified service.” La.R.S. 33:2501. In light of the fact that Plaintiff was the chief of police of the City of Hammond, as opposed to any other chief of police in Louisiana, the Court will reconsider its analysis of Defendant's motion to dismiss. The Court notes that although the Court is reviewing the motion to dismiss, the motion for reconsideration is only granted in so far as the Court's reasons for dismissal. The Court finds that it still lacks jurisdiction, and dismissal of Plaintiff's federal claims is appropriate.

         The central issue in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint states a valid claim for relief. Gentilello v. Rege, 627 F.3d 540, 544 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d 413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008)). To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The Court does not accept as true “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions.” Id. (quoting Plotkin v. IP Axess, Inc., 407 F.3d 690, 696 (5th Cir. 2005)). Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950).

         In the context of a motion to dismiss the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308 (2007); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Lovick v. Ritemoney, Ltd., 378 F.3d 433, 437 (5th Cir. 2004)). However, the foregoing tenet is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Thread-bare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id. (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550, U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         As previously cited in the Court's Order and Reasons (Rec. Doc. 16), ...


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