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Murillo v. A Better Way Wholesale Autos, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 10, 2019

REBECCA M. MURILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
A BETTER WAY WHOLESALE AUTOS, INC and WESTLAKE SERVICES, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STAY [DKT. 60] AND MOTION TO ALTER JUDGMENT [DKT. 61] AND GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES [DKT. 59] AND MOTION FOR ENTRY OF JUDGMENT [DKT. 64]

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge.

         On July 15, 2019, the Court granted [Dkt. 58] Plaintiff's Rebecca Murillo's motion to affirm an arbitration award [Dkt. 40] against A Better Way Wholesale Autos, Inc.'s (“ABW”) and Westlake Services, LLC's motion to vacate [Dkt. 45]. ABW now moves for reconsideration of the Court's July 15, 2019 pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). [Dkt. 61]. ABW seeks a stay of judgment pending the Court's resolution of ABW's motion for reconsideration. [Dkt. 60]. Also pending are Ms. Murillo's Motion to Enter Judgement against ABW [Dkt. 64] and Motion for Attorney Fees for having to confirm the arbitration award and having to oppose ABW's motion to vacate [Dkt. 59]. For reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES ABW's Motion for Reconsideration [Dkt. 61] and DENIES its Motion for a Stay [Dkt. 62]. The Court GRANTS Ms. Murillo's Motion to Award Attorney Fees [Dkt. 59] in the amount of $14, 600.00 and enters judgment consistent with the July 15, 2019 Order. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(3), the Court orders Attorney Votre to show cause within seven days as to why he has not violated Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b) by filing the redundant motion for reconsideration now before the Court.

         Procedural History

         In sum, Ms. Murillo filed suit against ABW alleging, inter alia, unfair trade practices in connection with the purchase and financing of a used automobile. [Dkt. 1 (Compl.)]. ABW and co-defendant Westlake Services, LLC's moved to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration based on terms in the purchase order and retail installment contract, respectively, and Plaintiff agreed. [Dkt. 33 (ABW Stay & Compel Arbitration Mot.); Dkt. 34 (Plf. Resp. ABW Arbitration Mot.); Dkt. 37 (Westlake Stay Mot.); Dkt. 38 (Plf. Resp. Westlake Stay Mot.)]. The Court granted ABW's motion to stay the proceedings and arbitrate on May 15, 2018 and Westlake's similar motions on August 30, 2018. [Dkt. 35]; [Dkt. 39].

         In October 2018, an arbitrator awarded Ms. Murillo compensatory damages, statutory damages, interest, attorney fees, and punitive damages equal to twenty-five times the compensatory damages. [Dkt. 40 (Mot. to Re-open and Affirm)]. The Court affirmed the arbitration award over ABW's motion to vacate. [Dkt. 58 (Ord. granting Mot. to Affirm Arbitration; denying Mot. to Exclude; denying Mot. to Strike)].

         As a technical matter, prior to this Order, the Court had not yet entered judgment for the Plaintiff. Consequently, ABW's motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) is premature. Therefore, ABW's seeks reconsideration of the Court's July 15, 2019 Order. Pursuant to Local Rule 7(c), motions for reconsideration must be filed within seven days of the entry of the initial decision or order. ABW filed its motion on August 12, 2019, so it is also untimely. In the interest of judicial efficiency, we will consider ABW's motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) on the merits, as if the judgment was entered contemporaneous with the Court's July 15, 2019 Order.

         Legal Standard

         A motion to alter or amend a judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) must be filed no later than 28 days of entry of the judgment.[1] “The standard for granting such a motion is strict, and reconsideration will generally be denied unless the moving 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). District courts may alter or amend judgment “to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” Munafo v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 381 F.3d 99, 105 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal quotations omitted).

         “‘It is well-settled that Rule 59 is not a vehicle for relitigating old issues, presenting the case under new theories, securing a rehearing on the merits, or otherwise taking a second bite at the apple...'” Analytical Surveys, Inc. v. Tonga Partners, L.P., 684 F.3d 36, 52 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Sequa Corp. v. GBJ Corp., 156 F.3d 136, 144 (2d Cir.1998)); see also Shrader, 70 F.3d at 257 (“[A] motion to reconsider should not be granted where the moving party seeks solely to relitigate an issue already decided.”). Such a motion “‘is not a means to reargue those issues already considered when a party does not like the way the original motion was resolved.'” Doe v. Winchester Bd. Of Educ., No. 3:10CV1179 VAB, 2017 WL 662898, at *2 (D. Conn. Feb. 17, 2017) (quoting Pierce v. Lee, No. 3:08CV1721 VLB, 2010 WL 4683911, at *1 (D. Conn. Nov. 4, 2010)). “A motion for reconsideration is an extraordinary remedy, and this Court will not reconsider issues already examined simply because [a party] is dissatisfied with the outcome of his case. To do otherwise would be a waste of judicial resources.” Stoner v. Young Concert Artists, Inc., No. 11 CIV. 7279 LAP, 2013 WL 2425137, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 20, 2013) (citations omitted).

         A district court's decision to deny a party's motion to alter or amend judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Munafo v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 381 F.3d at 105 (2d Cir. 2004).

         Analysis

         Rather than showing controlling decisions or data overlooked by the Court in its July 15, 2019 decision, ABW reiterates the same arguments previously raised in its Motion to Vacate [Dkt. 44 (Mem. of Law in Sup. Of Mot. to Vacate)]. In some instances, the argument is verbatim, without citation to the fact that the Court has already considered and rejected the argument.

         First, ABW's factual summary in its Memorandum in Support of its Rule 59(e) motion [Dkt. 61 at 2-4] is taken verbatim from the factual summary in ABW's Memorandum in Support of its Motion to Vacate [Dkt. 44 at 1-5], except for the fact that the earlier brief contains the complete text of the arbitrator's award and reasoning. By contrast, the latter brief only contains the arbitrator's categorical award amounts. [Dkt. 61 at 2-4]. ABW presents no factual data overlooked by the Court in its July 15, 2019 Order for purposes of its Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) motion.

         A. The Arbitrator's award constituted manifest disregard for the law as to punitive damages because it exceeded the amount of the claim submitted to arbitration.

         ABW first argues that the District Court failed to recognize that “[Murillo's] demand in the arbitration was for punitive damages of 5 times compensatory damages which was well within constitutional limitations. The parties entered into an agreement to arbitrate with the Plaintiff claiming and paying only for a claim not exceeding $50, 000.00.” [Dkt. 61. (Def. Mot. for Reconsideration) at 8-11]. ABW argues that the District Court misapprehended the facts of the case because it failed to consider whether the arbitrator ignored the submission agreement, which ABW asserts limited jurisdiction over the claim to damages not exceeding $50, 000. Id. at 10. ABW additionally argues that it only had notice of a claim less than $50, 000 and prepared its defense accordingly. Id. at 8.

         ABW already raised the argument that the award “exceeded the claim range paid for by the parties…[and] significantly exceeded the submission documents.” [Dkt. 44 (Def. Mot. to Vacate) at 15]. The Court previously rejected this argument. [Dkt. 58 (Order Affirming Arb. Award) at 18] (“Defendants cite no law to support their argument that the arbitrator's award of punitive damages is somehow in disregard of the law simply because it is greater than the amount requested by Plaintiff when the parties' submissions to the arbitrator plainly allow for a punitive damages award.”) Still on reconsideration, ABW cites no case law to support its position that the arbitration submission limited jurisdiction. That fact alone is enough to foreclose relief under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). Even so, the arguments fail on the merits.

         As addressed in the Court's prior decision, the Second Circuit has laid out the separate standards for assessing vacatur of an arbitration award under 9 § 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act and under the judicial doctrine of vacatur for manifest disregard of the law. [Dkt. 58 (Order Granting Mot. to Affirm) at 6-7]. ABW's argument merges these distinct concepts. Under 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act, vacatur of an arbitrator's award is available “where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.” Manifest disregard for the law, by contrast, requires the court to find “something beyond and different from a mere error in the law or failure on the part of the arbitrators to understand or apply the law.” Westerbeke Corp. v. Daihatsu Motor Co., 304 F.3d 200, 208 (2d Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). ABW's argument that arbitration submission deprived the arbitrator of jurisdiction to award damages beyond the prayer for relief falls under § 10(a)(4).

         The Court's prior order analyzed the powers conveyed by the parties to the arbitrator pursuant to the arbitration agreements contained in the Retail Purchase Order and the Retail Installment Contract. [Dkt. 58 (Order Granting Mot. to Affirm) at 9-11]. The Court already determined that “the contracts do not include any limitation on the arbitrator's powers to impose an award of punitive damages, or otherwise.” Id. at 9. Neither arbitration agreement contains any cap on the amount of available damages. [Dkt. 51-2, Ex. D ¶ 9 (Def. Mot. to Exclude)(Purchase Order); [Dkt. 49-2, Ex. 3 at 4 (Def. Mot. to Vacate)(Retail Installment Contract)]. The entire language of the arbitration clauses is included in the appendix to this opinion.

         ABW presents no controlling legal authority to establish that the Court misconstrued whether the arbitration clauses in the respective contracts empowered the arbitrator to award punitive damages; rather, ABW argues that arbitration submission itself capped the claim at $50, 000. [Dkt. 61 (Def. Mot. to Alter Judgment) at 8-10]. ABW confuses pleadings in arbitration for an arbitration ...


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