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Buzulencia v. Ohio Bell Tel. Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

August 9, 2013

MICHAEL BUZULENCIA, Trustee of the Bankruptcy Estate of James R. Grope III, Plaintiff,

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For Michael D. Buzulencia, Trustee of the Bankruptcy Estate of James R. Grope, III, Plaintiff: Martin S. Hume, Youngstown, OH.

For The Ohio Bell Telephone Company, Defendant: Laura A. Lindner, LEAD ATTORNEY, Littler Mendelson - Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI; Amy Ryder Wentz, Littler Mendelson - Cleveland, Cleveland, OH.


Page 856


Benita Y. Pearson, United States District Judge.

On May 1, 2013, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion to Reopen and Substitute Michael Buzulencia, Trustee as Plaintiff. See Order (ECF No. 35). On May

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29, 2013, Defendant filed a Rule 59(e) Motion for Reconsideration or, in the Alternative, for Certification and Stay to File Interlocutory Appeal (ECF No. 38).

After notice to the parties, the Court held a hearing on the record. See Transcript of Proceedings (ECF No. 45). The Court has been advised, having reviewed the parties' briefs and evidentiary submissions, and the applicable law. The Court has also considered the oral arguments of counsel, the testimony of Plaintiff Michael D. Buzulencia, Trustee of the Bankruptcy Estate, and James R. Grope, III, as well as the entire record in this matter, and being otherwise advised in the premises, herein grants the motion for reconsideration, but adheres to its prior ruling, and denies the alternative request for certification and stay.


Rule 59(e) allows district courts to alter, amend, or vacate a prior judgment. See Huff v. Metropolitan Life Insur . Co., 675 F.2d 119, 122 (6th Cir. 1982). The purpose of Rule 59(e) is " to allow the district court to correct its own errors, sparing the parties and appellate courts the burden of unnecessary appellate proceedings." Howard v. United States, 533 F.3d 472, 475 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting York v. Tate, 858 F.2d 322, 326 (6th Cir. 1988)). It permits district courts to amend judgments where there is: " (1) a clear error of law; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) an intervening change in controlling law; or (4) a need to prevent manifest injustice." Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 620 (6th Cir. 2005).

The Sixth Circuit has explained that " Rule 59(e) motions cannot be used to present new arguments that could have been raised prior to judgment." Howard, 533 F.3d at 475. See also Roger Miller Music, Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publ'g, LLC, 477 F.3d 383, 395 (6th Cir. 2007); Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians v. Engler, 146 F.3d 367, 374 (6th Cir. 1988). Indeed, " Rule 59(e) allows for reconsideration; it does not permit parties to effectively 're-argue a case.'" Howard, 533 F.3d at 475 (quoting Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, 146 F.3d at 374). The grant or denial of a Rule 59(e) motion is within the informed discretion of the district court. Huff, 675 F.2d at 122; 11 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1 (3d ed.).

In the recently decided case of Stephenson v. Malloy, 700 F. 3d 265');"> 700 F. 3d 265 (6th Cir. 2012), the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit expressly held that the doctrine of judicial estoppel does not apply to the bankruptcy trustee. Id . at 271-72. Defendant argues that this case is outside of the Stephenson ruling because Grope executed an exemption in his bankruptcy case[1] that limits the amount of damages[2] flowing to creditors.

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In making this argument, Defendant contends that the value of the exemption exceeds the value of the case at bar. See ECF No. 41 at PageID #: 412-13; ECF No. 47 at PageID #: 508. The Court disagrees.

The bankruptcy trustee becomes the real party in interest when the bankruptcy is filed. Stephenson, 700 F. 3d at 272. The trustee has authority, as the representative of the estate, to commence and prosecute any action or proceeding on behalf of the estate with or without court approval under 11 U.S.C. § 323(a) and Fed. R. Bankr. P. 6009. SeeIn re McKenzie, No. 08-16378, 2011 WL 3439081, at *10 (Bkrtcy. E.D. Tenn. August 5, 2011) (citing Hays and Co. v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 885 F.2d 1149, 1154 n. 6 (3d Cir. 1989)). In Stephenson, the Sixth Circuit clearly ruled that, absent some wrong doing by the trustee, judicial estoppel[3] does not apply to a bankruptcy trustee. 700 F. 3d at 272. The Stephenson Court explained that, " [e]ven if the trustee were deemed to stand in [the debtor's] shoes for judicial-estoppel purposes, White v. Wyndham Vacation Ownership, Inc., 617 F.3d 472 (6th Cir. 2010)] would not ...

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