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Lareau v. Northwestern Medical Center

United States District Court, D. Vermont

October 8, 2019

ASHLEY M. LAREAU, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHWESTERN MEDICAL CENTER, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM K. SESSIONS III DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Ashley Lareau claims employment discrimination on the basis of a disability. Her former employer, Northwestern Medical Center (“NMC”), denies the allegations and contends that Lareau was terminated from her job due to performance issues. NMC previously moved for summary judgment on all claims, and the Court denied the motion. NMC now seeks reconsideration of that ruling. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for reconsideration is granted in part and denied in part, and the Court's prior summary judgment ruling is affirmed.

         I. Reconsideration Standard

         The standard for granting a motion for reconsideration “is strict, and reconsideration will generally be denied unless the moving party can point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked.” Analytical Surveys, Inc. v. Tonga Partners, L.P., 684 F.3d 36, 52 (2d Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Reconsideration may also be granted if the movant demonstrates an “intervening change in controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Kolel Beth Yechiel Mechil of Tartikov, Inc. v. YLL Irrevocable Trust, 729 F.3d 99, 104 (2d Cir. 2013) (citing Virgin Atl. Airways, Ltd. v. Nat'l Mediation Bd., 956 F.2d 1245 (2d Cir. 1992)). A motion for reconsideration “is neither an occasion for repeating old arguments previously rejected nor an opportunity for making new arguments that could have been previously advanced.” Assoc. Press v. U.S. Dep't of Def., 395 F.Supp.2d 17, 19 (S.D.N.Y. 2005).

         II. Timeliness of NMC's Motion

         Before reaching the merits of NMC's motion for reconsideration, the Court must address Lareau's argument that the motion is untimely. Local Rule 7(c) provides that “a motion to reconsider a court order, other than one governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 or 60, must be filed within 14 days from the date of the order.” The Court's ruling on NMC's summary judgment motion was docketed on July 8, 2019. NMC filed its motion to reconsider on August 5, 2019. NMC submits that its motion is governed by Rule 60(a), that the 14-day deadline does not apply, and that strict adherence to a deadline would elevate form over important substance.

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not recognize a motion for “reconsideration.” See Lopez v. Goodman, 2013 WL 5309747, at *1 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2013) (citing Hamilton v. Williams, 147 F.3d 367, 371 n.10 (5th Cir. 1998)). “Since the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not expressly provide for motions for reconsideration, such a motion may be construed as a motion to alter or amend judgment under Rule 59(e) or Rule 60(b).” Hill v. Washburn, 2013 WL 5962978, at *1 (W.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2013) (citing Osterneck v. Ernst & Whinney, 489 U.S. 169, 174 (1989)). The issue becomes more complicated when, as in this case, the reconsideration motion is filed after an interlocutory ruling rather than the sort of final judgment contemplated by Rules 59(e) and 60(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) (“A motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 60 (allowing relief from a “final judgment, order, or proceeding”). Rule 54(a) defines a judgment as “a decree and any order from which an appeal lies, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(a), and an appeal generally does not lie after denial of a summary judgment motion. See Davidson v. Chestnut, 193 F.3d 144, 147 (2d Cir. 1999) (noting that a district court's denial of a motion for summary judgment is generally a non-appealable interlocutory order).

         That said, Rule 54(b) allows that “any order or other decision . . . may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). Accordingly, a district court has “discretion to revisit earlier rulings in the same case, subject to the caveat that ‘where litigants have once battled for the court's decision, they should neither be required, nor without good reason permitted, to battle for it again.'” Official Comm. of Unsecured Creditors of the Color Tile, Inc. v. Coopers & Lybrand, LLP, 322 F.3d 147, 167 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Zdanok v. Glidden Co., 327 F.2d 944, 953 (2d Cir. 1964)). As reflected in the standard for reconsideration, decisions considered under Rule 54(b) “may not usually be changed unless there is ‘an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent a manifest injustice.'” Id. (quoting Virgin Atl. Airways, Ltd., 956 F.2d at 1255). It is therefore within the Court's discretion to reconsider its Order, applying the reconsideration standard, notwithstanding the deadline set forth in the Local Rule. Here, the Court will exercise that discretion and turn to the merits of NMC's motion.

         III. NMC Claims a Change in the Law

         A. Natofsky v. City of New York

         The Second Circuit recently clarified that the legal standard in employment discrimination cases brought under the ADA is “but-for” causation. Natofsky v. City of New York, 921 F.3d 337, 349 (2d Cir. 2019) (“We conclude that ‘on the basis of' in the ADA requires a but-for causation standard.”). Prior to Natofsky, the Circuit “applied a ‘mixed-motive' test to ADA claims, ‘under which disability [need only be] one motivating factor in [the employer's] adverse employment action but [need not be] its sole but-for cause.'” Id. at 346 (quoting Parker v. Columbia Pictures Indus., 204 F.3d 326, 336 (2d Cir. 2000)). Because this Court's summary judgment order found genuine issues of material fact on the question of whether “NMC was in fact motivated by unlawful discrimination, ” ECF No. 156 at 24, NMC submits that reconsideration under the “but-for” standard is required.

         B. Facts Supporting “But-For” Causation

         Having reviewed the record, the Court finds that even under the more exacting “but-for” standard NMC is not entitled to summary judgment. Again viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Lareau, her evidence shows that prior to her seizures she received positive performance reviews and pay raises based on merit. Once her seizures began and she alerted her supervisors about possible periods of medical leave, she was faced with attendance-related questions and placed on a punitive performance plan (“PIP”). And although a supervisor later stated in an email that most minimum requirements of the plan had been satisfied, Lareau was terminated shortly after the plan's conclusion.

         Lareau contends that the cost of her medical care under NMC's self-insured program contributed to her placement on a PIP. NMC argues that evidence of that allegation is unsupported by the record. Lareau was placed on a PIP on March 18, 2016, yet the medical records produced to Lareau showing her high (and increasing) medical costs were not received by NMC's Human Resources staff until after that date. ECF No. 132-31 at 91, 96, 122. The records do pre-date her termination. ...


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