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George v. Youngstown State University

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

May 31, 2019

JOHN GEORGE, Plaintiff,
v.
YOUNGSTOWN STATE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER [RESOLVING ECF NOS. 61 & 62]

          Benita Y. Pearson United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration of Grant of Summary Judgment and Denial of Motion for Leave to File Supplemental Complaint (ECF No. 62) and Defendants' Motion for Taxation of Costs (ECF No. 61). For the below reasons, the Court grants in part Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration and grants Defendants' motion for taxation of costs.

         I.

         Rule 59(e) allows district courts to alter, amend, or vacate a prior judgment. See Huff v. Metro. 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.” Am. Civil Liberties Union v. McCreary Cty., 607 F.3d 439, 450 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting 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.).

         Plaintiff moves the Court for reconsideration of three issues. Plaintiff argues the Court, on summary judgment, erred in finding no causal connection between his termination and any protected activity due to lack of temporal proximity. Plaintiff also contends the Court erred in finding Plaintiff abandoned his claim for failure to hire into the position of Lecturer, School of Technology - First Year Engineering Technology. Finally, Plaintiff avers the Court erred in denying Plaintiff's Motion to Supplement Complaint (ECF No. 52). Defendants opposed Plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 63), and Plaintiff replied (ECF No. 64).

         A. Temporal Proximity

         Plaintiff challenges the Court's granting of summary judgment as to his Title VII retaliation claim for non-renewal of his employment contract due to the lack of temporal proximity between YSU's first opportunity to retaliate against Plaintiff in 2012 and YSU's decision not to renew Plaintiff's employment contract in 2015. He first contests, as he did on summary judgment, that YSU's first opportunity to retaliate against Plaintiff was in 2015, not 2012. ECF No. 62 at PageID #: 4848. Plaintiff insists that, under the circumstances, the relevant date is the first date on which YSU Provost Martin Abraham could retaliate against him. Id. Because YSU did not appoint Abraham to the position of Provost until October 2014, Plaintiff claims that Abraham could not have retaliated against him until Plaintiff's contract was up for renewal in 2015. Id.

         Though Plaintiff argued in opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment that YSU's first opportunity to retaliate against him was in 2015, he did not base his argument on YSU's change in leadership. Rather, Plaintiff argued that YSU did not have an opportunity to retaliate against Plaintiff until YSU's obligation to provide Plaintiff health care benefits expired. ECF No. 50 at PageID #: 4581. The Court rejected the argument. ECF No. 59 at PageID #: 4819-20. Plaintiff's attempt to bring forth an alternative argument he failed to develop in opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is improper on a Rule 59(e) motion.[1]

         Plaintiff also argues that the three-year gap between YSU's first opportunity to retaliate against Plaintiff and YSU's decision not to renew Plaintiff's employment contract should not have been dispositive. “[M]ultiyear gaps between the protected conduct and the first retaliatory act have been insufficient to establish the requisite causal connection.” Fuhr v. Hazel Park Sch. Dist., 710 F.3d 668, 676 (6th Cir. 2013). “A lack of temporal proximity alone can be fatal to an attempt to establish a causal connection[.]” Id.

         Some courts within the circuit have found, in extraordinary instances, that a multi-year gap does not preclude a finding of causal connection. See, e.g., Mink v. Passport Health Commc'ns, Inc., No. 3:12-CV-00446, 2013 WL 4008705, at *13 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 5, 2013) (five-year gap not dispositive because of evidence that the decisionmaker, upon resuming her supervision of the plaintiff, called the plaintiff's co-worker “searching for reasons to justify firing” her); Brabson v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., No. 3:14-CV-336, 2016 WL 5947469, at *10 (E.D. Tenn. Oct. 13, 2016) (causation despite nearly two years between protected activity and termination when the plaintiff produced evidence that her supervisor attempted to drive her to voluntarily resign during that timeframe).

         None of the evidence Plaintiff produced in opposition to summary judgment suggests that this is an exceptional case in which the three-year gap is not dispositive of Plaintiff's retaliation claim. Plaintiff claims Abraham was the “sole decision-maker” in non-renewing his employment contract in 2015. ECF No. 62 at PageID #: 4841. Abraham's awareness of “displeasure amongst some of the faculty” upon Plaintiff's return to work and his statement to then-Interim Dean Gregg Sturrus that Plaintiff's “years of reinstatement . . . were finished” (Id. at PageID #: 4849) are not evidence of Abraham's retaliatory animus. Without providing evidence of retaliatory animus, Plaintiff cannot establish a causal link bridging a three-year gap. Accordingly, the Court finds that summary judgment on this ground was proper.

         B. Plaintiff's Retaliation Claim for Lecturer, School of Technology - First Year Engineering Technology

         Plaintiff correctly alleges that he opposed summary judgment with respect to his Title VII retaliation claim for failure to hire into the position of Lecturer, School of Technology - First Year ...


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