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Thompson v. Rovella

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 1, 2017

HUBERT THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES C. ROVELLA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION [DKT. 35]

          Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's February 21, 2017 Motion for Reconsideration of this Court's February 14, 2017 Ruling and Order granting the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.[1] Although the initial complaint alleged claims for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligence, Plaintiff only moves to reconsider the malicious prosecution claim asserted under § 1983. The Court presumes familiarity with the facts and procedural history. For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES the Motion for Reconsideration.

         I. Legal Standard

         Reconsideration will generally only be granted when a party can point to “an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Virgin Atl. Airways, Ltd. v. Nat'l Mediation Bd., 956 F.2d 1245, 1255 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting 18 C. Wright, A.Miller & E. Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure § 4478 at 790). Reconsideration should be granted only when a “party can point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked-matters, in other words, that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court.” Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995). This Court will not grant a motion for reconsideration “where the moving party seeks solely to relitigate an issue already decided, ” id., or where the moving party seeks “to plug gap[s] in an original argument or to argue in the alternative once a decision has been made, ” Horsehead Res. Dev. Co., Inc. v. B.U.S. Envtl. Serv., Inc., 928 F.Supp. 287, 289 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (citations omitted). See Virgin Atl. Airways, 956 F.2d at 1255 (noting 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”) (quoting Zdanok v. Glidden Co., Durkee Famous Foods Division, 327 F.2d 944, 953 (2d Cir. 1964)). Ultimately, however, the question is a discretionary one and the Court is not limited in its ability to reconsider its own decisions prior to final judgment. See Virgin Atl. Airways, 956 F.2d at 1255.

         II. Analysis

         Plaintiff seeks reconsideration of the malicious prosecution claim on two grounds. First, Plaintiff requests that the Court reconsider its ruling on the grounds of correcting clear error or preventing manifest injustice. See [Dkt. 35-1 (Mot. Reconsideration) at 2-3]. Second, Plaintiff argues the Court should revisit its equitable tolling decision. Id. at 6. The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         A. Plaintiff Fails to Establish Clear Error or Manifest Injustice

         Plaintiff claims that the Court overlooked the issue of probable cause as it impacts the accrual date for a malicious prosecution claim. See Id. at 2. As a preliminary matter, it must be noted that Plaintiff's opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss does not advance this theory. Courts are neutral arbiters of the law and facts presented by the parties, not litigators. It is not the responsibility of the Court to conceive legal theories and advance legal arguments on behalf of a party. Instead ours is an adversarial system in which the role of the Court is to rule on the issues raised by the parties based on the competing arguments advanced by the parties.

         Nevertheless, had Plaintiff done so, that argument would not have altered the Court's ruling. Probable cause, as Plaintiff rightly points out, is the third element in a malicious prosecution claim under Connecticut state law.[2] However, a plaintiff must file an action in which to prove the elements of his claim within the time dictated by applicable law. “Federal law governs the question of when a federal claim accrues, ” M.D. v. Southington Bd. of Educ., 334 F.3d 217, 221 (2d Cir. 2003), and for § 1983 malicious prosecution cases the absence of probable cause is not a factor in determining the cause of action's accrual date, which is when the statute of limitations begins to run and the consequent deadline by which a suit must be brought. The analysis is instead centered on whether “the criminal proceedings have terminated in the plaintiff's favor. . . .” Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 489 (1994). The Court relied upon this rule in its initial decision on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and sees no reason to reconsider.

         A recent Second Circuit decision clarifies when a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim accrues. Subsequent to this Court's decision on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Second Circuit in Spak v. Phillips, 857 F.3d 458, 462 (2d Cir. 2017), addressed the “accrual date” in a malicious prosecution case and reiterated that “‘favorable termination' does not occur until the prosecution against the plaintiff has ‘conclusively' ended.” Id. (citing Murphy v. Lynn, 53 F.3d 547, 548 (2d Cir. 1995)). Spak is particularly relevant to this case for two key reasons.

         The first reason is the Second Circuit in Spak provided additional guidance as to the meaning of “favorable termination” in the context of a nolle prosequi entry under Connecticut law, which it ruled as a general matter constitutes a “favorable termination.” See Spak, 857 F.3d at 463-64. An entry of nolle prosequi terminates a “particular prosecution against the defendant” but allows the prosecutor to initiate a second prosecution at any point before the time expiration period. Id. at 463. Even though “a nolle prosequi is not the equivalent of a dismissal of a criminal prosecution with prejudice, because jeopardy does not attach, ” it is nonetheless a “favorable termination” because that particular prosecution ends. Id. The Second Circuit went on to say that

[s]o long as a particular prosecution has been “conclusively” terminated in favor of the accused, such that the underlying indictment or criminal information has been vacated and cannot be revived, then the plaintiff has a justiciable claim for malicious prosecution. At that point, all of the issues relevant to the claim-such as malice and lack of probable cause-are ripe for adjudication.

Id. (internal citations omitted). In other words, the merits of the case, which include the question of probable cause, are not ripe for adjudication and shall not be considered unless it can be determined that the action “terminated in favor of the accused.” Probable cause is therefore not relevant to determining the cause of action accrual date under federal law following a nolle prosequi.

         Here, it is undisputed in this case that all charges against Thompson were dismissed on July 19, 2012. See [Dkt. 1 (Compl.) ΒΆ 67]. The dismissal of criminal proceedings constitutes ...


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