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Huang v. University of Pikeville

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

June 4, 2019

JEFF HUANG, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF PIKEVILLE, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          ROBERT E. WIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On October 11, 2018, the Court dismissed all of Plaintiff Jeff Huang's claims against the Presbyterian Church. DE 28 (Opinion & Order). The Court also dismissed eleven of Huang's thirteen claims against his former school, the University of Pikeville, and various past and present University personnel. Id. Plaintiff believes the Court got it wrong. See DE 37 (Motion to Alter, Amend, or Vacate). Huang asks the Court to reconsider the dismissals because they are supported “with little or no binding precedential authority[.]” Id. at 4. Defendants responded. DE 38 & 39. Huang replied. DE 40. The motion stands ripe for review. For the following reasons, the Court sees no basis to disturb its prior ruling and denies Huang's motion.

         Ironically, in a motion deriding the Court's choices for supporting authority, Huang relies on a procedural rule, Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), that does not sanction the relief sought. See DE 37 at 1. Rule 59(e) provides only that a “motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e).[1] Of course, the Court did not enter a judgment, which is an order from which an appeal lies. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(a). When, as here, “an action presents more than one claim for relief . . . or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to . . . fewer than all[ ] claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b); see also Brown Shoe Co. v. United States, 82 S.Ct. 1502, 1513 (1962) (“The requirement that a final judgment shall have been entered in a case by a lower court before a right of appeal attaches has an ancient history in federal practice, first appearing in the Judiciary Act of 1789.”). The Court has made no such determination. Moreover, even if the Court's October 11, 2018, decision was (or included) a judgment, Plaintiff's December 6, 2018, motion would be time barred. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) (allowing a motion within “28 days”).[2] Huang concedes in reply that Rule 59 is the wrong vehicle. See DE 40 at 3. Because Huang cited no authority justifying the relief sought, the Court denies the motion.[3]

         The merits, too, warrant denial. “Under Rule 59, a court may alter the judgment based on: ‘(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.'” Leisure Caviar, LLC v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv., 616 F.3d 612, 615 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 620 (6th Cir. 2005)). Though Huang does not explicitly peg his argument to any of these particular avenues, he appears to argue clear legal error. See DE 37 at 2 (“[T]he Court has misapprehended certain principles of law applicable to this case.”).

         The overarching theme of the reconsideration request is Huang's apparent belief that district courts must granularly support each aspect of their decisions with citations to directly controlling caselaw. Specifically, Plaintiff claims the Court: (1) did not cite to binding precedent for “[e]ach of the points in contention” in dismissing the Presbyterian Church claims, DE 37 at 5; (2) cited non-binding precedent or dicta to support limitations-based dismissals, id. at 6; (3) improperly relied on federal district court and Kentucky Supreme Court decisions in determining the applicable statutes of limitations, id. at 6-7;[4] (4) misread the Supreme Court's decision in Ziglar v. Abbasi and mischaracterized the Bivens holding as limited to Fourth Amendment claims and federal officials, id. at 7-9; (5) cited only “seven unreported cases” in its “extensive discussion” of continuing violations, id. at 9; (6) relied on non-binding precedent for its conclusions regarding equitable tolling and “color of state law” under § 1983, id; and (7) cited a Sixth Circuit affirmance based, in part, on a non-binding Aristotelian logical principle in rejecting Plaintiffs RICO claims, id. at 10. From these sub-claims, Huang arrives at the conclusion that he has “clearly and irrefutably shown” that “the Court [ ] failed to adequately support its decision with the citation of authority.” Id. at 10.

         Plaintiff's tack here is unique and, frankly, absurd. Most of Huang's argument is directed to proving that the Court cited cases that it was not institutionally bound to follow. At the same time, Plaintiff acknowledges the obvious counterpoint that non-controlling precedent's “reasoning may be ‘instructive' or helpful.” DE 37 at 3 (quoting Crump v. Lafler, 657 F.3d 393, 405 (6th Cir. 2011)). Huang, with minimal exceptions, does not cite to contrary precedent of any kind-much less binding authority. Thus, Huang mostly fails to dispute the legal rationale undergirding the Court's rulings. Most importantly, Huang wholly fails to explain why citation to non-binding precedent amounts to “a clear error of law[.]” Leisure Caviar, LLC, 616 F.3d at 615. Accordingly (and given the failure, in the first instance, to cite supporting authority for the motion), the Court rejects most of Huang's contentions summarily. See, e.g., Simmons v. Kapture, 516 F.3d 450, 456 (6th Cir. 2008) (relying, in part, on prior ruling, though “non-binding for present purposes” as “reinforc[ing] the logic of” holding); United States v. Green, 554 Fed.Appx. 491, 496 n.1 (6th Cir. 2014) (“Green also takes issue with the lower court's reliance on United States v. Micou, 48 F.3d 1220 (6th Cir. 1995) . . . because it is an unpublished case and thus is non-binding. This does not take away from its factual similarity or its persuasive authority on the vitality of probable cause despite changes in circumstance.”).[5]

         Only Plaintiffs Bivens contentions warrant additional discussion. Plaintiff, responding to the University Defendants' motion to dismiss, stated:

Defendants also suggest that there is no private cause of action for violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, except through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Civil Rights Act. Plaintiffs [sic] are mistaken. Such a private cause of action was recognized by the Supreme Court in Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 390-95 (1971) (the Constitution provides “an independent claim both necessary and sufficient to make out the plaintiffs cause of action”).

         DE 12 at 17. Addressing Huang's only contention, that the Bivens Court recognized a private Fourteenth Amendment cause of action, the Court directly quoted the Ziglar Court's description of the Bivens holding. See DE 28 at 11 n.12.

         Huang, now, suggests that the Court “misread the holding of Ziglar” and, for the first time, cites to later cases applying Bivens in other contexts. See DE 37 at 7. There are several problems with Plaintiffs theory. First, the Court never purported to apply Ziglar's holding. Rather, the Court quoted Ziglar's description of a prior holding because it directly refuted Huang's sole Bivens-based contention. Second, Huang's attempt to raise a new Bivens-based argument at this stage does not suggest that the Court's rejection of his original Bivens argument was error. See Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians v. Engler, 146 F.3d 367, 374 (6th Cir. 1998) (“[Arguments which could, and should, have been made” on initial consideration are barred for reconsideration purposes.). While subsequent decisions have indeed expanded the Bivens remedy to certain Fifth and Eighth Amendment claims, Bivens, itself, recognized no such cause of action. Huang originally argued the latter and now pursues the former. Third, the Court already anticipated the possibility that Huang, though failing to truly make the claim, may have intended to argue the type of theory he now presents. The Court, anticipatorily rejected the claim.[6]

         Huang does not confront the crux of the Court's rejection of the Bivens expansion he now proposes-i.e., that neither Bivens or its progeny authorizes a private Fourteenth-Amendment cause of action and that further expansion is disfavored.[7] He cites to no Fourteenth Amendment applications of the Bivens remedy. Also notable, given Plaintiff's tirade against non-binding precedent, is Huang's citation to an obviously distinguishable, non-binding District of Rhode Island decision for his contention that Bivens supports a cause of action against private entities. DE 37 at 8. Finally, Defendant's reliance on the Supreme Court's interpretation of Title IX in Grove City Coll. v. Bell, 104 S.Ct. 1211 (1984) hardly shows that the Court clearly erred by failing to authorize disfavored Bivens-expansion for an entirely novel Constitutional basis and defendant class.

         For all of these reasons, the Court DENIES DE 37.

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