Drysdale v. Woerth

Decision Date08 June 2001
Docket NumberNo. Civ.A. 99-3775.,Civ.A. 99-3775.
Citation153 F.Supp.2d 678
PartiesMary Douglas DRYSDALE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Dorothy WOERTH, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

David E. Wagenseller, Shirk, Reist, Wagenseller & Shirk, Lancaster, PA, Daniel S. Bernheim, 3rd, Silverman, Bernheim & Vogel, Phila, PA, for Mary Douglas Drysdale, plaintiff.

Anita J. Hanna, Gibbel, Kraybill & Hess, Lancaster, PA, Dorothy Woerth, pro se, Kirkwood, PA, for Dorothy Woerth, defendant.


SMITH, United States Magistrate Judge.

This dispute arises out of a twenty-year lease agreement between plaintiffs, Mary Douglas Drysdale and Simon Hershon, and defendant, Dorothy Woerth. On April 12, 2001, following a one-week non-jury trial, the Court entered Findings of Fact and Conclusions of law holding, inter alia, that defendant had breached the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment and had constructively evicted plaintiffs from their property. On those grounds, we ordered that judgment was to be entered against the defendant and in favor of plaintiffs in the amount of $76,500, representing the increased value in the property due to plaintiffs' improvements. Both plaintiff Mary Douglas Drysdale1 and defendant have filed motions in response to this Order. Plaintiffs seek to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), or, alternatively, for a new trial limited to damages issues. Defendant, in turn, has filed a motion for reconsideration of the Findings of Fact. For the reasons which follow, both motions will be denied.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) provides that a party may bring a motion for reconsideration within ten days of the entry of the judgment. "Because federal courts have a strong interest in the finality of judgments, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly." Continental Casualty Co. v. Diversified Indus., Inc., 884 F.Supp. 937, 943 (E.D.Pa. 1995). The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence. Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3rd Cir.), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1171, 106 S.Ct. 2895, 90 L.Ed.2d 982 (1986). Thus, such a motion must rely on one of three grounds: (1) there has been an intervening change in controlling law; (2) new evidence, which was not previously available, has become available; or (3) necessary to correct a clear error of law or to prevent manifest injustice. United Lawn Mower Sales & Service, Inc. v. Hagel, Civ. A. No. 95-6157, 1997 WL 327564 (E.D.Pa. June 12, 1997); see also Smith v. City of Chester, 155 F.R.D. 95, 96-97 (E.D.Pa. 1994). "With regard to the third ground ... any litigant considering bringing a motion to reconsider based upon that ground should evaluate whether what may seem to be a clear error of law is in fact simply a disagreement between the Court and the litigant." Reich v. Compton, 834 F.Supp. 753, 755 (E.D.Pa.1993) (citation omitted), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 57 F.3d 270 (3d Cir.), reh'g denied, (3d Cir. September 8, 1995). "A motion for reconsideration is not to be used as a means to reargue matters already argued and disposed of." Moyer v. Italwork, Civ. A. No. 95-2264, 1997 WL 312178 (E.D.Pa. June 3, 1997) (internal quotations omitted). In other words, such a motion is "not properly grounded on a request that a court rethink a decision it has already made." Tobin v. General Elec. Co., Civ. A. No. 95-4003, 1998 WL 31875, *2 (E.D.Pa. Jan.27, 1998).

Defendant now asks this Court to reconsider our Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. Her sole argument is that the Court improperly credited much of plaintiffs' testimony and documents, discredited defendant's statements, underestimated property damage done to defendant's land and misread some of the documents. To support her cursory allegation, she asks that the Court re-review all of the evidence of this case. In addition, defendant has submitted for our consideration a large binder of evidence, some of which was admitted at trial, some of which is before us for the first time.

Defendant's motion far from satisfies the standard for a motion for reconsideration. She does not suggest that there has been an intervening change in the law. Nor does she allege that any of her additional evidence is newly-discovered. Thus, she must hang her hat on the argument that there is a manifest injustice in this Court's Findings of Fact. Having spent approximately two months carefully reviewing the evidence and then issuing a 124-page document containing all of our Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the Court is not inclined to repeat this process and rethink through facts we have already thoroughly considered. Nor can we sift through new evidence that, although in existence at the time of trial, was never admitted and may be inadmissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Although Ms. Woerth may justifiably disagree with the Court's factual findings, that disagreement is insufficient to prompt us to change our mind. Thus, the Court denies defendant's motion for reconsideration.

A. Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment Pursuant to Rule 59(e).

Plaintiff's request for a new trial is founded on an alleged error of law in the Court's awarding of damages under the theory of unjust enrichment rather than on contract principles. She argues that a binding and express contract existed in the form of the lease between the parties, thereby making an unjust enrichment theory improper. See Plaintiff's Brief, at p. 7 (citing Mitchell v. Moore, 729 A.2d 1200, 1203 (Pa.Super.Ct.1999); First Wisconsin Trust Company v. Strausser, 439 Pa.Super. 192, 653 A.2d 688, 693 (1995); Gee v. Eberle, 279 Pa.Super. 101, 420 A.2d 1050, 1060 (1980)). Rather, she asserts that the proper measure of damages was the contractual measure of her reliance interest to put her in as good a position as if the contract had never been made. On this basis, she demands $253,489.60, constituting her full expenditure in renovation of the stone house.

While basic common sense speaks to the reasonableness of plaintiff's argument, black letter contract law applied to the facts of this case dictates a different result. It is well-established that the measure and elements of damages upon the breach of a lease is governed by the general principles which determine the measure of damages on claims arising from breaches of other kinds of contracts. 49 AM. JUR.2D Landlord and Tenant, § 96 (1995). In the law of contracts, remedies for breach of contract are designed to protect either a party's (1) expectation interest, by attempting to put him in as good a position as he would have been had there been no breach; (2) reliance interest, by attempting to put him back in the position in which he would have been had the contract not been made; or (3) restitution interest, by requiring the other party to disgorge the benefit he received by returning it to the party who conferred it. Trosky v. Civil Service Commission, 539 Pa. 356, 652 A.2d 813, 817 (1995) (citing RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 344, comment a (1979)).

Reliance damages include expenditures made in preparation for performance or in performance, less any loss that the party in breach can prove with reasonable certainty the injured party would have suffered had the contract been performed. RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 349 (1979); see also 22 AM. JUR.2D Damages, § 50 (1988) ("The reliance interest has been defined as the interest of the nondefaulting party in the expenditures which he made or in the property which he made, transferred, or consumed in reliance on the contract."). Plaintiff has correctly noted that, "[c]ourts will allow the recovery of such expenditures if the breach of contract renders them valueless to the plaintiff, lost profits cannot be awarded because they appear speculative, and those expenses were foreseeable by the defaulting party at the time the contract was made." 22 AM.JUR.2D Damages, § 595 (1988).

Notably, however, "[e]xpenses which are incurred prior to the time the contract was made are not recoverable either separately or in addition to profits lost because of the breach, unless it is affirmatively shown that the defendant has assumed responsibility for them." 22 AM. JUR.2D Damages, § 594 (1988). This rule stems from the principle that, "[t]hese expenses were not made in reliance on any promise of the defendant nor were they made in performance of the contract promise. By their nature, they were incurred before any contract was executed, and are in no way attributable to the contract or its breach." Id.; see also 3 E. Allan Farnsworth, FARNSWORTH ON CONTRACTS § 12.16, pp. 276-277 (2d ed. 1998) ("[Reliance damages] will not help the injured party who has done nothing in reliance on the contract. Nor will it allow a party to recover costs incurred before the contract was made") (emphasis in original). This principle comports with the purpose of the reliance interest set forth in the Restatement, which is to put the non-breaching party in the same position as if the contract had never been formed since the pre-contractual expenditures would have been spent regardless of the contract. RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF CONTRACTS § 344. Indeed, the rule applies even if the expenditures were incurred directly for the purpose for which the plaintiff made the contract. 17 A.L.R.2d 1300, § 7 (Supp.2000); see, e.g., Energy Capital Corp. v. United States, 47 Fed.Cl. 382, 426 (Fed.Cl.2000) (recognizing the general rule that reliance damages are limited to those expenses incurred after an agreement has been reached); Hollywood Fantasy Corp. v. Gabor, 151 F.3d 203, 214 n....

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