Wright v. Reed, 5:20-cv-02664

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
PartiesYOLANDA WRIGHT, Individually and on behalf of her minor son, MEKHI BURKETT, and ROSE RITA BAILEY, Individually and on behalf of her minor son, JAWUANE JOHNSON, Plaintiffs, v. AARON REED, MICHAEL SLIVKA, KENNETH STEPHENS, TIMOTHY DUGAN, BRIAN CUTH, JEFFREY APGAR, and MATTHEW RESZEK, Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 5:20-cv-02664,5:20-cv-02664
Decision Date10 March 2021

YOLANDA WRIGHT, Individually and on behalf of her minor son, MEKHI BURKETT, and
ROSE RITA BAILEY, Individually and on behalf of her minor son, JAWUANE JOHNSON, Plaintiffs,

No. 5:20-cv-02664


March 10, 2021


Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's Opinion and Order on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, ECF No. 27—DENIED

Joseph F. Leeson, Jr. United States District Judge


In this civil rights action, several Whitehall Township police officers are alleged to have assaulted and violated the constitutional rights of two African American teenagers while they were attending a high school basketball game. In an Opinion and Order issued on January 12, 2021,1 the Court addressed Defendants' three motions to dismiss claims in Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. The Court dismissed many of Plaintiffs' claims, however granted Plaintiffs leave to

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file a Second Amended Complaint for purposes of re-pleading their civil rights conspiracy claims, in addition to the several claims that Defendants did not seek to dismiss.

Plaintiffs have now filed a motion for reconsideration of the Court's determination that the Amended Complaint failed to state viable claims for violation of rights guaranteed under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendants oppose Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration. After consideration of the parties' arguments, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court declines to alter or amend its previous determination with respect to the viability of Plaintiffs' § 1981 claims. Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration is therefore denied.


Plaintiffs argue that in its January 12, 2021 Opinion and Order, the Court made a "clear error of law" regarding the viability of Plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Specifically, they claim that in finding that the Amended Complaint failed to state facts that could plausibly support viable claims for violation of § 1981, the Court did not consider § 1981's "equal benefit" and "like punishment" clauses. Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Support of their Motion for Reconsideration ("Pls.' Mem."), ECF No. 27, at 5. Under these clauses, which protect individuals from race-based discrimination without connection to contract formation, Plaintiffs contend that the Amended Complaint adequately states claims for relief. This is so, according to Plaintiffs, because the Amended Complaint alleges that (1) the teenagers who were arrested are black, while all Defendant police officers are white, and (2) despite there being several non-African Americans among the group of teenagers who were present during the circumstances that led to the relevant arrests, only African American teenagers were arrested and charged with

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crimes.2 See id. at 7-11. Plaintiffs further contend that even if the allegations in the Amended Complaint are insufficient to state viable claims for relief under § 1981's equal benefit and like punishment clauses, there is enough in the Amended Complaint to warrant a grant of leave allowing Plaintiffs the opportunity to re-plead their § 1981 claims. See id. at 13-15.

Defendants oppose Plaintiffs' motion to alter or amend the Court's previous ruling. Defendants' opposition relies primarily on what they see as Plaintiffs' inability to satisfy the relevant standard (which is discussed in the succeeding section). See generally Defendants' Memorandum in Opposition ("Defs.' Opp'n."), ECF No. 28-2. They claim that Plaintiffs are in effect asking the Court to reconsider its prior analysis without an intervening change in law, the existence of new evidence, clear legal error, or manifest injustice—one of which is required to grant relief from a judgment. See id. Defendants similarly contend that implicit in the Court's previous Opinion is a determination that Plaintiffs failed to allege the type of explicit racial animus that is necessary to state a claim for relief under the equal benefit and like punishment clauses of § 1981. See id. at 3-4.


Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to file a "motion to alter or amend a judgment." FED. R. CIV. P. 59(e). Such a motion is, in effect, a motion for reconsideration. "Motions for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) serve primarily to correct manifest errors of law or fact in a prior decision of the court." York Int'l

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Corp. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 140 F. Supp. 3d 357, 360 (M.D. Pa. 2015) (citing United States v. Fiorelli, 337 F.3d 282, 288 (3d Cir. 2003)). As such, "a proper Rule 59(e) motion . . . must rely on one of three grounds: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Wiest v. Lynch, 710 F.3d 121, 128 (3d Cir. 2013).

"Reconsideration of a judgment is an extraordinary remedy, and courts should grant such motions sparingly." York Int'l Corp., 140 F. Supp. 3d at 361 (citing D'Angio v. Borough of Nescopeck, 56 F. Supp. 2d 502, 504 (M.D. Pa. 1999)); see Lesende v. Borrero, 752 F.3d 324, 339 (3d Cir. 2014) ("[C]ourts should be loathe to [revisit prior decisions] in the absence of extraordinary circumstances such as where the initial decision was clearly erroneous and would make a manifest injustice." (quoting In re Pharm. Benefit Managers Antitrust Litig., 582 F.3d 432, 439 (3d Cir. 2009))). "Said differently, a motion for reconsideration may not be used to give a litigant a 'second bite at the apple,' and therefore should not be 'grounded on a request that a court rethink a decision already made.'" Jarzyna v. Home Properties, L.P., 185 F. Supp. 3d 612, 622 (E.D. Pa. 2016) (quoting Bhatnagar v. Surrendra Overseas Ltd., 52 F.3d 1220, 1231 (3d Cir. 1995) and In re Blood Reagents Antitrust Litig., 756 F. Supp. 2d 637, 639 (E.D. Pa. 2010)), aff'd, 783 F. App'x 223 (3d Cir. 2019).


As an initial matter, Plaintiffs are correct that 42 U.S.C. § 1981 protects rights beyond simply the right to contract, engage in litigation, and give evidence. Section 1981(a) provides as follows:

All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject

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to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.

Pursuant to the plain language of the statute, the Third Circuit has recognized that the right of all persons "to the full and equal benefit" of all laws as is enjoyed by white citizens, and to "like punishment, pains, [and] penalties," protects against racially motivated deprivations of equal protection of the laws generally.3 See Mahone v. Waddle, 564 F.2d 1018, 1028 (3d Cir. 1977). While "[t]he Third Circuit has suggested that improper behavior of police officers, such as false arrests and false testimony, can deprive persons of 'equal benefit' of the law and of 'like punishment,'" Crane v. Cumberland Cty., Pa., No. CIV.A. 1:CV-99-1798, 2000 WL 34567277, at *11 (M.D. Pa. June 16, 2000) (citing Mahone, 564 F.2d at 1027-28), aff'd sub nom. Crane v. Cumberland Cty., Pa, 64 F. App'x 838 (3d Cir. 2003), racial animus has to be a motivating factor behind the alleged discrimination, see Grier by Grier v. Galinac, 740 F. Supp. 338, 342 (M.D. Pa. 1990). Indeed, as the Supreme Court recently clarified, "a plaintiff must initially plead . . . that, but for race, [he] would not have suffered the loss of a legally protected right"—in Plaintiffs' case, the full and equal benefit of the law as is enjoyed by white citizens. Comcast Corp. v. Nat'l Ass'n of Afr. Am.-Owned Media, 140 S. Ct. 1009, 1019 (2020) (emphasis added). Crucially, in pleading such a claim, "conclusory allegations of generalized racial bias . . . are insufficient" to meet a plaintiff's burden. Rose v. Baehr, No. 19-CV-0346, 2019 WL 498522, at

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*3 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 8, 2019); see Conway v. City of Philadelphia, No. CIV. A. 96-8112, 1997 WL 129024, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 20, 1997).

Additionally, only state actors can be held liable for claims brought under § 1981's full and equal benefit and like punishment clauses. Brown v. Philip Morris Inc., 250 F.3d 789, 799 (3d Cir. 2001) ("[O]nly state actors can be sued under the 'full and equal benefit' clause of § 1981."); Crane, 2000 WL 34567277, at *11 (explaining that because "Defendants are not government actors with the ability to deprive him of the equal benefit of the law or to inflict disparate punishment, Plaintiff cannot maintain a 1981 action against them"). It is not disputed that the Defendants, as police officers, are government actors against whom liability may lie for a § 1981 "full and equal benefit" and "like punishment" claim. See Mahone, 564 F.2d at 1028.

The operative question then for purposes of the instant motion is whether the Court made a clear error of law in not finding that Plaintiffs stated viable § 1981 claims under the "full and equal benefit" and "like punishment" clauses. As explained below, the Court concludes that it did not.

"To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) . . . . [t]he complaint must set forth enough factual allegations to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Doe v. Univ. of Scis., 961 F.3d 203, 208 (3d Cir. 2020) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A facially plausible claim is one that permits a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Doe, 961 F.3d at 208 (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Plaintiffs are unable...

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