Mpala v. New Haven et al
ORDER denying the Plaintiff's 51 Motion for Reconsideration. See the attached memorandum of decision. Signed by Judge Vanessa L. Bryant on 3/24/2014. (Burkart, B.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
ZEEWE DAKAR MPALA,
CITY OF NEW HAVEN, ET AL.,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
March 24, 2014
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION [DKT. NO. 51]
Before the Court is the Plaintiff’s motion seeking reconsideration of the
dismissal of his case for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
[Dkt. No. 42]. The pro se Plaintiff initially brought this action on January 30, 2012
against the City of New Haven and librarian Maria Tonelli pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 for violations of the First Amendment and for procedural due process and
equal protection violations under the Fourteenth Amendment, challenging the
legality of his temporary removal from the public library.1 The Defendants moved
to dismiss Mpala’s complaint. [Dkt. No. 11]. On April 5, 2012, Mpala filed an
amended complaint which the Court construed to be in response to the
Defendants’ motion to dismiss. [Dkt. No. 14]. The Court therefore denied the
Defendants’ motion to dismiss. [Dkt. No. 16]. On May 8, 2012, the Defendants
filed a motion to dismiss Mpala’s amended complaint. [Dkt. No. 20]. Mpala then
The original complaint included as Defendants New Haven Police Officers
Illingsworth and Robinson, but the Plaintiff later withdrew his claims against
filed a Second Amended Complaint without seeking leave from the Court to do so
on June 21, 2012. [Dkt. No. 26]. On July 9, 2012, the Defendant Tonelli moved to
dismiss the first claim of the Second Amended Complaint. [Dkt. No. 29]. On
August 9, 2012, the Plaintiff filed a Third Amended Complaint without seeking
leave from the Court or the consent of the Defendants. [Dkt. No. 32]. On August
22, 2012, the Court struck Mpala’s purported Third Amended Complaint as a
nullity. [Dkt. No. 33]. In deference to his pro se status, Mpala was been given and
took advantage of multiple opportunities to amend his complaint. In response,
the Defendants have filed multiple motions to dismiss, culminating in the Court’s
February 22, 2013 dismissal of Plaintiff’s First and Second Amended Complaints.
[Dkt. No. 43].
Notably, the Court’s opinion dismissing Mpala’s complaints informed him
that a complaint must do more than state a conclusion; instead, it must state
facts supporting the claims asserted. It further informed him that conclusions
without facts are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Only where the wellpleaded facts plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief will the complaint be
sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.
In his present motion, the Plaintiff reiterates the allegations contained in
his prior complaints, asserting in a conclusory manner that his First Amendment
rights were violated and that his rights to equal protection and procedural due
process were violated by his temporary removal from the library. The Plaintiff
makes no allegation of any change in law or the availability of new evidence. The
Plaintiff does add, however, the following allegations to his original complaints:
Tonelli, between 2003-2008, had called 911 to the
various Public Libraries (NewHaven [sic]) to expel
patrons who were all Black Males. During the times
cited supra none of the patrons were White or Latino
males or Womem [sic]! . . . The Black Males were
similarly situated to the others, but treated differently.
Further more [sic] after she was confronted and
accused of [sic] fabricated this incident on 11/18/2008
until now mysteriously the 911 callsstop [sic]!
[Dkt. No. 51, p. 2]. Aside from repeating his prior constitutional claims, the
Plaintiff asserts that the Court overlooked his “actual innocence exception
claim,” which he argues should supersede deficiencies in his complaints when
combined with his corroborating evidence, namely the alleged video of the
surveillance footage. In short, the Plaintiff “disagrees with the Court’s reasons
for dismissing his Complaints” and has filed this motion to reconsider. [Dkt. No.
51, p. 2].
The standard for granting a motion for reconsideration “is strict, and
reconsideration will generally be denied unless the moving party can point to
controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked—matters, in other words,
that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court.”
Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995). “A motion for
reconsideration is justified only where the defendant identifies an intervening
change in controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct
a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Ayazi v. United Fed’n of Teachers
Local 2, 487 F. App'x 680, 681 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal citation and quotation marks
omitted); Virgin Atl. Airways, Ltd. v. Nat’l Mediation Bd., 956 F. 2d 1245, 1255 (2d
Cir. 1992) (same); Ensign Yachts, Inc. v. Arrigoni, No. 3:09cv209(VLB), 2010 WL
2976927, at *1 (D. Conn. July 23, 2010) (same). A “motion to reconsider should
not be granted where the moving party seeks solely to relitigate an issue already
decided.” Shrader, 70 F.3d at 257. Similarly, a “motion for reconsideration may
not be used to plug gaps in an original argument or to argue in the alternative
once a decision is made.” Lopez v. Smiley, 375 F. Supp. 2d 19, 21-22 (D. Conn.
2005) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
It is clear from the Plaintiff’s motion that he is not arguing any change in
the law that would require the Court to reconsider its prior ruling because he has
neither argued nor cited any such change. Similarly, he has not offered any new
evidence that would reasonably be expected to alter the previous decision of the
Court. He claims that the Court overlooked his surveillance video, but that
evidence was available at the time the Motion to Dismiss was granted; it is not
considered, therefore, new evidence or data for purposes of a motion to
reconsider. See G-I Holdings, Inc. v. Baron & Budd, No. 01-civ-0216(RWS), 2004
WL 1277870, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. June 10, 2004) (“It is particularly inappropriate in this
case because the information Holdings seeks to submit was available before the
motion for leave to amend was filed, and does not constitute new evidence which
would merit reconsideration of the earlier opinion.”). However, in his motion to
reconsider, the Plaintiff does add allegations related to his equal protection claim,
alleging that Tonelli “called 911 to [sic] various Public Libraries . . . to expel
patrons who were all Black Males” between 2003 and 2008 and never against any
“White or Latino” individuals. It appears that these added allegations are in
direct response to the Court’s Order dismissing the Plaintiff’s equal protection
claim. In that Order, the Court stated that “Mpala has failed to plausibl[y] state,
by alleging particularized facts, that similarly situated others were treated
differently by the New Haven Police Department or the New Haven Public Library
as required to establish a selective enforcement claim.” However, even assuming
these new factual allegations formed a basis for reconsideration, the Plaintiff’s
conclusory and general allegations are insufficient as a matter of law to sustain a
motion to dismiss. The Plaintiff does not cite one concrete event that would
support his claim of selective enforcement; instead, he alleges in the most
general of terms that all patrons expelled by Tonelli between 2003 and 2008 were
black males, without even explaining the basis for his knowledge. Furthermore,
he makes no attempt to provide any specific details supporting his allegations
nor does he explain how he was similarly situated to those treated differently. He
does not identify the white males whom he claims were not expelled, nor does he
describe their conduct. Finally, he does not describe his own conduct and
compare his conduct to that of the white library patrons who were not expelled.
Thus, he has not pleaded the particularized facts required to satisfy the
plausibility standard. Accordingly, these claims would still be dismissed.
Finally, the Plaintiff’s assertion that the Court committed an error by
ignoring his “Actual Innocence Exception Claim,” which he argues requires the
Court to review his copy of the surveillance footage to be able to consider the full
record of the case, is misplaced. While claims of actual innocence may have
cognizable relevance for habeas corpus petitions related to criminal convictions
and for other constitutional claims, the exception is inapplicable to the Plaintiff’s
claims in this matter. See, e.g. Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 313-17 (1995);
Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 400-02 (1993); Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 496
(1986). Furthermore, the contents of the film would not have any bearing on
whether the Plaintiff’s pleadings in this matter were sufficient to sustain a motion
to dismiss because the Court’s review on a motion to dismiss is “limited to the
facts as asserted within the four corners of the complaint, the documents
attached to the complaint as exhibits, and any documents incorporated by
reference.” McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007).
Even if the Court were to review the video, the footage would have no effect on
the Court’s Order. The Plaintiff does not deny that he called Defendant Tonelli a
derogatory term, and the film will not clarify any procedural due process claims
since the film will not show the process that was allegedly denied or assist in the
equal protection analysis because it will not definitively show other instances of
similarly situated people being treated differently. Therefore, even if the Court
were to view the film, which would undoubtedly show that the Plaintiff was
removed from the library, it would not affect the Court’s Order dismissing his first
amendment claims and procedural due process and equal protection claims as
being insufficiently pled. Therefore, the Plaintiff has not sufficiently raised one of
the three categories that merit reconsideration under the law.
Accordingly, since the Plaintiff has not met the strict standard for a motion
to reconsider by showing an intervening change in controlling law, providing new
evidence or showing the general availability of new evidence pertinent to his
claims, or alleging the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice,
the Plaintiff’s  Motion for Reconsideration is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant
United States District Judge
Dated at Hartford, Connecticut: March 24, 2014
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