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American Family Prepaid Legal Corp. v. Columbus Bar Association

August 2, 2006

AMERICAN FAMILY PREPAID LEGAL CORP., PLAINTIFF,
v.
COLUMBUS BAR ASSOCIATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory L. Frost United States District Judge

Judge Gregory L. Frost

Magistrate Judge Kemp

OPINION & ORDER

Defendant Columbus Bar Association ("CBA") moves the Court to reconsider its June 28, 2006 Opinion & Order (Doc. # # 57, 58) that granted Plaintiff American Family Prepaid Legal Corporation's ("American Family") motion for a stay and injunction pending appeal. (Doc. # 59). American Family opposes the motion, and the CBA has filed a reply. (Doc. # 62; Doc. # 64).

Initially, the Court holds that oral argument is not essential to the fair resolution of the matter presently before the Court.Thus, the CBA's request for an oral argument on the motion for reconsideration is DENIED. (Doc. # 59 at 3). See also S.D. Ohio Civ. R. 7.1(b)(2).

The basis for the CBA's motion to reconsider is Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e), which pertains to alteration or amendment of judgments. Motions for reconsideration under that rule may be granted if there is a clear error of law, newly discovered evidence, a change in controlling precedent, or to prevent manifest injustice. GenCorp, Inc. v. Am. Int'l Underwriters, 178 F.3d 804, 834 (6th Cir. 1999). The CBA's argument may be summarized in the following manner: the Court committed a clear error of law by focusing on American Family's likelihood of success on its due process claim when ruling on American Family' s motion to stay instead of concentrating on the true issue that the Sixth Circuit will consider on appeal--whether the Court was correct in holding that the Younger abstention doctrine applied. (Doc. # 59 at 1, 3-5). In other words, the CBA contends that when a court considers a Fed. R. Civ. P. 62(c) motion, it must analyze "the issue on appeal" when addressing the likelihood of success prong of the stay/injunction analysis. (Doc. # 59 at 4).

To support its contention, the CBA directs the Court's attention to Accident Fund v. Baerwaldt, 579 F. Supp. 724, 725 (W.D. Mich. 1984). In that case, the plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief to remedy "the alleged deprivation, under color of state law, of their rights, privileges, and immunities under the United States Constitution and federal statutes." Id. at 724. The Court, however, dismissed the matter on abstention grounds pursuant to both the Pullman and Burford doctrines. Id. Plaintiffs subsequently appealed and moved the Court for a stay pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 62. Id. The Court denied the motion for a stay, holding that the plaintiff's likelihood of success on the abstention issue was low. Id. at 724-725.

The CBA also relies on the Sixth Circuit's discussion of the familiar four factors a court must weigh when ruling on a motion for a stay in Grutter v. Bollinger, 247 F.3d 631, 632 (6th Cir. 2001). Of import to the present discussion is the Grutter court'sframing of the likelihood of success factor as "'the likelihood that the party seeking the stay will prevail on the merits of the appeal.'" Id. (quoting Michigan Coalition of Radioactive Material Users, Inc. v. Griepentrog, 945 F.2d 150, 153-54 (6th Cir. 1991) (emphasis added)). The CBA asserts that Grutter's description of the likelihood of success prong establishes that the Court "should have limited its focus to American Family's appeal of the abstention issue, and not American Family's due process claim." (Doc. # 59 at 4).

The CBA has satisfied its burden of demonstrating that the Court committed a clear error of law by focusing on the due process claim instead of the Younger issue when ruling on American Family's motion for a stay and an injunction. Like the Accident Fund plaintiffs, American Family alleges constitutional deprivations and seeks injunctive and declaratory relief. (Doc. # 1). In addition, this Court, like the Accident Fund court, held that abstention was proper. Moreover, Accident Fund and American Family both filed motions to stay pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 62(c). While the Accident Fund court properly focused on the abstention issue when considering the motion to stay, this Court did not, contrary to the clear directive of Grutter that the court focus on the "issue on appeal" when addressing the likelihood of success factor.

American Family offers little in the way of a counter-argument, and instead responds by contending that the CBA's motion is an improper attempt to re-litigate issues that "were raised and properly resolved by the Court in connection with American Family's Motion for a Stay." (Doc. # 62 at 1). This argument is without merit, as the CBA could not have previously argued that the Court committed a clear error of law in its June 29, 2006 Opinion & Order until after the Court issued that ruling.

The Court's holding that it committed a clear error of law requires a brief re-examination of the June 28, 2006 Opinion & Order regarding American Family's motion for a stay and injunction pending appeal.

I. LIKELIHOOD OF SUCCESS

With the focus shifted to abstention, the Court is left with the definite and firm impression that American Family has little chance of success on that issue. See Doc. # 57 at 9 n.1. In the words of the Accident Fund court:

For the reasons stated at length in my Bench Opinion of January 9, 1984, I believe the decision to abstain was proper under both the Pullman and Burford doctrines. That this was a discretionary decision on my part, which will be reviewed by the Court of Appeals only for an abuse thereof, serves to strengthen my conviction that the decision will be affirmed. Plaintiffs have presented me with no new issues or arguments which I had not considered when making my ruling, nor have they brought to the Court's attention any factual inadequacy upon which the Court relied. The law regarding the discretionary power of abstention is settled and unambiguous. This precedent supports its exercise in this case. Defendants, in their brief in opposition to Plaintiffs' ...


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