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Stults v. Bush Boake Allen, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

February 25, 2014



MARK W. BENNETT, District Judge.


On December 23, 2013, I granted defendant Bush Boake Allen, Inc. and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.'s (collectively, "defendants") Joint Motion For Partial Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs' Strict Liability Claim and Joint Motion For Partial Summary Judgment as to Couints II-IV Based on Michigan's Three-Year Statute Of Limitations. On that same day, judgment was entered dismissing all of plaintiffs David Stults and Barbara Stults's claims against the defendants. In my summary judgment order, I initially determined that the substantive legal issues were governed by Michigan law. I then held that the Stults' strict liability claim was not viable because Michigan does not recognize a strict liability theory of recovery. I then went on to hold that both the Stults' negligence and breach of implied warranty claims were time barred. Finally, I also granted summary judgment as to Barbara's loss of consortium claim because it was a derivative claim that could not survive without a viable cause of action against defendants.

This case is before me on plaintiffs' Motion For Reconsideration Of Memorandum Opinion and Order Regarding Defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment (docket no. 276). The Stults assert that, under Michigan law, a statutory discovery rule found in Michigan Compiled Laws § 600.5833 applies to their implied warranty claims, and that their implied warranty claims were timely filed under that statute. Because the Stults did not raise this argument in their resistance to defendants' motion for summary judgment, I directed the Stults to file a supplemental brief addressing whether plaintiffs had waived the issue. The Stults filed their supplemental brief on January 14, 2014. Defendants filed their response to the Stults' motion to reconsider and supplemental brief on January 28, 2014. The Stults filed their reply brief on February 4, 2014. I heard telephonic oral arguments on the Stults' motion on February 19, 2014.


A. Standards For Reconsideration

I turn, first, to the questions of the authority and standards for reconsideration of my conclusions in my Summary Judgment Ruling. Rule 59(e) provides 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). There is no dispute here that the Stults' motion is timely under this rule. The rule does not state any standards for granting or denying such a motion, however.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly explained the applicable standards, as follows:

"A district court has broad discretion in determining whether to grant or deny a motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e)...." United States v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist., 440 F.3d 930, 933 (8th Cir. 2006). "Rule 59(e) motions serve the limited function of correcting manifest errors of law or fact...." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

United States ex rel. Raynor v. National Rural Utilities Co-op. Fin. Corp., 690 F.3d 951, 958 (8th Cir. 2012); Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. WMR e-PIN, L.L.C., 653 F.3d 702, 714 (8th Cir. 2011) (motions pursuant to Rule 59(e) and Rule 60(b) "serve the limited function of correcting manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence'" (quoting Lowry v. Watson Chapel Sch. Dist., 540 F.3d 752, 761 (8th Cir. 2008)); Sipp v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 975, 980-81 (8th Cir. 2011) ("As the district court explained, Rule 59(e)'s limited purpose is to allow the trial court to correct manifest errors of law or fact. Johnson v. Chater, 108 F.3d 942, 945 n.3 (8th Cir. 1997). The district court's denial of such a motion is reviewed for a clear abuse of discretion. Hagerman v. Yukon Energy Corp., 839 F.2d 407, 413-14 (8th Cir. 1988)."). Somewhat more specifically, an abuse of discretion, within the scope of Rule 59(e), occurs "where the district court fails to consider an important factor, gives significant weight to an irrelevant or improper factor, or commits a clear error of judgment in weighing those factors.'" Matthew v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., 639 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Kurka v. Iowa Cnty., IA, 628 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 2010)).

Various district courts have recognized that a Rule 59(e) motion to "reconsider" may also be granted where the court overlooked a factual or legal argument presented by a party, but not where a party failed to present a relevant factual or legal argument to the court in the first instance. See, e.g., Tiffany (NJ), L.L.C. v. Forbse, No. 11 Civ. 4976 (NEB), 2012 WL 3686289, *5 & n.6 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 23, 2012) (noting that Rule 59(e) was inapplicable, because the motion was decided under Local Rule 6.3, but that the standards for "reconsideration" were the same under the two rules, citing In re Fossamax Prods. Liab. Litig., 815 F.Supp.2d 649, 651 (S.D.N.Y. 2011)); United States v. Jasin, 292 F.Supp.2d 670, 676 (E.D. Pa. 2003). I find that recognizing such an error as cognizable on a Rule 59(e) motion is consistent with the sorts of abuse of discretion and error that the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has found sufficient to warrant relief pursuant to Rule 59(e). Specifically, doing so allows a district court the first opportunity to remedy a "manifest" oversight, cf. Sipp, 641 F.3d at 980-81, and failure to consider an argument of a party is at least as fundamental an error as failure to consider an important factor in the determination of an issue. Cf. Matthew, 639 F.3d at 863.

B. Waiver Issue

I next take up the question of whether the Stults waived the argument they raise in their motion to reconsider. The Stults argue that waiver does not apply to their argument because they had no obligation to raise application of § 600.5833 in the first place since defendants had not argued in their motion for summary judgment that the Stults' warranty claims were barred by § 600.5833. Defendants respond that the Stults waived any argument they might have regarding the relevance of § 600.5833 to defendants' motion for summary judgment by never so much as citing § 600.5833 in their resistance to defendants' motion for summary judgment.

A motion for reconsideration is not "the occasion to tender new legal theories for the first time." Hagerman, 839 F.2d at 414 (citation omitted). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly held that "a party cannot assert arguments that were not presented to the district court in opposing summary judgment in an appeal contesting an adverse grant of summary judgment." Cole v. Int'l Union, United Auto., Aerospace & Agric. Implement Workers, 533 F.3d 932, 936 (8th Cir. 2008); see, e.g., Action Tapes, Inc. v. Mattson, 462 F.3d 1010, 1014 (8th Cir. 2006); O.R.S. Distilling Co. v. Brown-Forman Corp., 972 F.2d 924, 926 (8th Cir. 1992). This principle applies equally here. Thus, in a motion to reconsider, a party may not rely on an ...

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