Court Declines to Amend Judgment under Rule 59(e)

After a federal court enters a judgment, a litigant has 28 days to file a motion to amend the judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). This rule allows a district court to correct its own errors and spare the parties and appellate courts the burden of unnecessary appeal. A Rule 59(e) motion is an extraordinary remedy to be used sparingly, and a court can grant such a motion only in narrow circumstances: (1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. A party’s mere disagreement with a ruling does not warrant a Rule 59(e) motion, and parties may not use it to raise arguments or legal theories that could have been pursued before judgment. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria division) recently addressed this rule in Western Industries-North, LLC v. Blaine Lessard.

Lessard was an employee of Western, a pest control company. When Western terminated Lessard’s employment, Lessard had possession of a bedbug scent dog named Dixie, and a dispute arose over which party owned the dog. The court granted Western’s Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and directed Lessard to return Dixie to Western. After an evidentiary hearing on Western’s Emergency Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, the court found that Western failed to satisfy the heightened showing required for a mandatory preliminary injunction and ordered Western to return Dixie to Lessard. Western then filed a Motion for Reconsideration pursuant to Rule 59(e) and attached the Declaration of William Whitstine, the owner of the canine academy that trained Dixie and Lessard.

Western argued that the court should have treated its request for injunctive relief as a request for a prohibitive injunction rather than a mandatory injunction. A prohibitive injunction maintains the status quo, whereas a mandatory injunction alters the status quo and therefore requires a heightened standard of review. The court noted that the status quo is the last uncontestedtwo_bites.jpg status between the parties which preceded the controversy. Lessard had possession of Dixie when Western terminated him and the controversy arose; therefore, the status quo is Lessard’s possession of Dixie, and an order requiring Lessard to return Dixie to Western would have altered the status quo. Accordingly, the court’s characterization of the injunctive relief as mandatory and subject to heightened scrutiny was proper.

The court also rejected Western’s contention that it made a clear and convincing showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits. This argument amounted to mere disagreement with the court’s ruling which does not support a Rule 59(e) motion. Although Western did object to several pieces of evidence the court mentioned in its opinion, it failed to raise its objections at the hearing, and a Rule 59(e) motion cannot be used to raise new arguments that could have been raised previously.

Finally, the court dismissed Western’s argument that the Whitstine Declaration establishes that Western is Dixie’s owner making Lessard’s possession of the dog unjust. For new evidence to be presented in a Rule 59(e) motion, the movant must show not only that the evidence was unknown to it until after the hearing but also that it could not have been discovered with reasonable diligence prior to the hearing. Since Western made no showing that the evidence was newly discovered or that Whitstine was unable to provide a declaration prior to the evidentiary hearing, the court found that it did not provide a basis for the motion. Accordingly, the court denied Western’s Rule 59(e) motion.

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