Prince v. Jelly et al
ORDER denying 14 MOTION for Relief from Judgment. Signed by Judge Stefan R. Underhill on 02/09/2018. (Jamieson, K)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
No. 3:17-cv-01284 (SRU)
JEFFERSON JELLY, et al.,
RULING AND ORDER
Bridgitte Prince sued her former attorney, Jefferson D. Jelly, and his paralegal, Ruth
Martin, for violation of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On
November 20, 2017, I issued an order granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss on the basis
that Jelly and Martin were not “state actors” amenable to suit under section 1983. See Order,
Doc. No. 13. Prince has filed a motion seeking relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b),
arguing that the defendants may be sued under section 1983 because they “commit[ed]
MEDICARE FRAUD” and “act[ed] under the color of state law by acting as [ ] agent[s] for the
Connecticut Department of Administrative Services.” See Mot. Relief J., Doc. No. 14, at 1. For
the following reasons, I deny Prince’s motion.
Bridgitte Prince retained the Law Office of Jefferson D. Jelly, a personal injury firm
located in West Hartford, Connecticut, in February or March of 20161 to represent her in
connection with injuries sustained in a car accident. See Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 3. Prince was
represented by Attorney Jefferson D. Jelly and Paralegal Ruth Martin. Prince alleges that Jelly
The parties disagree about whether the retainer agreement was signed in February or March of
2016, but the difference is immaterial.
and Martin took no action for months and ignored her requests that the firm withdraw from its
representation. Id. After Prince contacted the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee, Jelly
and Martin “reluctantly withdrew,” but then “committed a series of violations” in a “blatant act
of retaliation” against Prince. Id. Specifically, Prince claims that Jelly and Martin “continued to
contact USAA Insurance . . . as if they represent[ed] a client, . . . submitted several liens on [her]
settlement,” and “filed for a $2,000.00 medical payment . . . without justification.” Id. at 3–4.
On August 1, 2017, Prince filed a complaint in this court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See id.
at 2. Prince asserts that Jelly’s and Martin’s actions violated rights protected by the First and
Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Id. at 3–4. She claims $250,000.00 in
“compensatory and punitive damages.” Id. at 5.
On August 18, 2017, Jelly and Martin moved to dismiss. Mot. Dismiss, Doc. No. 8. They
principally contended that they were not “state actors” and did not “act under color of state law
in providing private legal services” to Prince. Id. Asserting that their “private conduct [was] not
subject to First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment challenges under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,” the
defendants argued that Prince’s complaint must be dismissed. Id.
On November 20, 2017, I granted the defendants’ motion. I relied on a slew of cases
holding that “attorneys performing a lawyer’s traditional functions as counsel . . . do not act
‘under color of state law’ and therefore are not subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Order,
Doc. No. 13, at 4 (quoting Rodriguez v. Weprin, 116 F.3d 62, 65–66 (2d Cir. 1997)). Prince did
not allege any actions by Jelly and Martin that fell outside “a lawyer’s traditional functions as
counsel.” Id. at 6 (quoting Rodriguez, 116 F.3d at 66). “Because [Jelly and Martin were] not [ ]
state actor[s], and [Prince] ha[d] not alleged sufficient facts to support the conclusion that [they]
acted under color of state law,” I held that Prince’s “[section] 1983 claims . . . must be
dismissed.” Id. at 7 (quoting Ciambriello v. Cnty. of Nassau, 292 F.3d 307, 324 (2d Cir. 2002)).
On December 19, 2017, Prince moved for relief from the judgment. Doc. No. 14. The
same day, she filed a notice of appeal to the Second Circuit. Doc. No. 15. Jelly and Martin
objected to Prince’s motion for relief from judgment on January 3, 2018. See Doc. No. 18.
Rule 60(b) permits a party to seek relief from a final judgment or order under a “limited
set” of “exceptional circumstances.” Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 528 (2005); United
States v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, 247 F.3d 370, 391 (2d Cir. 2001) (“Teamsters”). “Properly
applied,” the rule “strikes a balance between serving the ends of justice and preserving the
finality of judgments.” Nemaizer v. Baker, 793 F.2d 58, 61 (2d Cir. 1986). “A motion for relief
from judgment is generally not favored,” Teamsters, 247 F.3d at 391, and “courts require that the
evidence in support of the motion . . . be highly convincing, that a party show good cause for the
failure to act sooner, and that no undue hardship be imposed on other parties.” Kotlicky v. U.S.
Fid. & Guar. Co., 817 F.2d 6, 9 (2d Cir. 1987) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
“The burden of proof is on the party seeking relief from judgment.” Teamsters, 247 F.3d at 391.
Prince argues that my decision was not “in accordance [with] the . . . evidence and case
law.” Mot. for Relief, Doc. No. 14, at 4. I interpret that as an effort to seek relief from judgment
on the basis of a “mistake” of law, Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1), or “new evidence,” Fed. R. Civ. P.
60(b)(2). I will address each ground in turn.
A. Mistake of law
Rule 60(b)(1)—which authorizes relief from a judgment or order based on “mistake,
inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect”—“ is ‘available for a district court to correct legal
errors by the court.’” United Airlines v. Brien, 588 F.3d 158, 175 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting In re
310 Assocs., 346 F.3d 31, 35 (2d Cir. 2003)); see Parks v. U.S. Life & Credit Corp., 677 F.2d
838, 839 (11th Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (‘The “mistakes” of judges may be remedied under this
provision.’). “Rule 60(b)(1) motions premised upon ‘mistake’ are intended to provide relief to a
party when ‘the judge has made a substantive mistake of law or fact in the final judgment or
order.’” Howard v. MTA Metro-North Commuter R.R., 866 F. Supp. 2d 196, 210 (S.D.N.Y.
2011) (quoting Cashner v. Freedom Stores, 98 F.3d 572, 576 (10th Cir. 1996)). “Ordinarily, a
movant alleging a ‘mistake’ under Rule 60(b)(1) ‘must show that the district court committed a
specific error.’” Id. (quoting Straw v. Bowen, 866 F.2d 1167, 1172 (9th Cir. 1989)). In addition,
“Rule 60(b)(1) is not to be invoked to provide a movant an additional opportunity to make
arguments or attempt to win a point already carefully analyzed and justifiably disposed.” Id.
(quoting Lee v. Cully, 2011 WL 5040693, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 2011)).
In her motion, Prince reasserts that the defendants misused their positions as her legal
representatives to contact state agencies and fraudulently withhold a large portion of her personal
injury settlement. See Mot. for Relief, Doc. No. 14, at 2–3. I previously “[l]iberally construed”
Prince’s allegations “to raise section 1983 conspiracy claims.” Order, Doc. No. 13, at 7. Under a
section 1983 conspiracy theory, private actors may be considered to have “act[ed] under color of
state law” when they “willful[ly] participa[te] in joint activity with the State or its agents.” Betts
v. Shearman, 751 F.3d 78, 84 (2d Cir. 2014). I held that Prince failed to “state a plausible
section 1983 conspiracy claim” because she did not allege that the defendants “‘conspired with’
state actors by exhibiting ‘some common goal to violate [Prince]’s rights.’” Order, Doc. No. 13,
at 7 (quoting Betts, 751 F.3d at 84; Ciambriello, 292 F.3d at 324).
Prince does not offer any grounds to conclude that my earlier decision was clearly
erroneous. To the contrary, she now suggests that the defendants “defraud[ed] the state,” Mot.
for Relief, Doc. No. 14, at 2, which would seem to negate any claim that they “willful[ly]
participa[te] in joint activity with the State or its agents.” Betts, 751 F.3d at 84. As I previously
held, “[a]bsent from [Prince]’s complaint” is “any agreement between private and public actors
to violate [Prince]’s constitutional rights.” Order, Doc. No. 13, at 7 (quoting Betts, 751 at 85;
Ciambriello, 292 F.3d at 324). Simply defrauding the state or abusing their status as Prince’s
legal representatives does not mean that the defendants “act[ed] under color of state law.” Cf.
Betts, 751 at 84. Because Prince merely seeks “an additional opportunity to make arguments or
attempt to win a point already carefully analyzed and justifiably disposed,” Howard, 866 F.
Supp. 2d at 210, I adhere to my earlier order and deny Prince’s motion for relief from judgment.
B. New evidence
Rule 60(b)(2) permits relief from a judgment or order when a party comes forward with
“newly discovered evidence” that, “by due diligence[,] could not have been discovered” earlier.
To meet Rule 60(b)(2)’s “onerous standard,” the moving party must demonstrate that (1) “the
newly discovered evidence was of facts that existed at the time of . . . [the] dispositive
proceeding”; (2) the movant was “justifiably ignorant” of those facts “despite due diligence”; (3)
the evidence is “admissible and of such importance that it probably would have changed the
outcome”; and (4) the evidence is “not . . . merely cumulative or impeaching.” Teamsters, 247
F.3d at 392. In other words, to ensure that a Rule 60(b) motion is not simply “employed as a
vehicle . . . for introducing new evidence that could have been adduced during the pendency of
the underlying motion,” Palmer v. Sena, 474 F. Supp. 2d 353, 355 (D. Conn. 2007) (internal
quotation marks omitted), the movant must submit “evidence that was truly newly discovered or
could not have been found by due diligence.” Lima LS PLC v. Nassau Reins. Grp. Holdings, 160
F. Supp. 3d 574, 578 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (quoting Space Hunters v. United States, 500 F. App’x 76,
81 (2d Cir. 2012) (summary order)).
In her motion, Prince contends that I “clearly, and unjustly discarded” two “pieces of
crucial prima facie evidence.” See Mot. for Relief, Doc. No. 14, at 1. The first consists of
“evidence presented by [Prince] from MEDICARE” in support of her contention that the
defendants “presented [a bill] as a fraud to Medicare for payment.” See id. at 2. Prince already
submitted that evidence in her initial complaint. See Compl., Doc. No. 1. Hence, it does not
constitute “new evidence” that may be considered in support of a Rule 60(b) motion.
Second, Prince attaches two exhibits that she argues shows that “the defendants were
acting under the color of state law.” Mot. for Relief, Doc. No. 14, at 2. Prince does not state that
either of those exhibits was “unavailable . . . when the [c]ourt made its previous ruling” or “could
not have been found by due diligence.” Oak Forest Prods. v. Hiscock & Barclay, LLP, 114 F.
Supp. 3d 76, 78 (W.D.N.Y. 2015). Although Prince seems to have actually requested some of the
documents after my November 20, 2017 ruling, she does not suggest that she could not have
obtained them earlier. Thus, I decline to grant the motion to reopen my ruling on the basis of
Prince’s “new evidence.”
For the reasons stated, I deny the motion for relief from judgment. Doc. No. 14. I note,
however, that the dismissal of Prince’s federal cause of action under section 1983 does not bar
Prince from raising state law causes of action in state court.
Dated at Bridgeport, Connecticut, this 9th day of February 2018.
/s/ STEFAN R. UNDERHILL
Stefan R. Underhill
United States District Judge
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