Lawrence v. RockTenn C P L L C et al
MEMORANDUM RULING re 49 MOTION for New Trial, or in the Alternative, for Reconsideration filed by Joseph Lawrence and 51 MOTION for Trial, or in the Alternative, for Reconsideration filed by Q B E Insurance Co. Signed by Judge Robert G James on 7/25/2017. (crt,Crawford, A)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-0821
JUDGE ROBERT G. JAMES
ROCKTENN CP, LLC, ET AL.
MAG. JUDGE KAREN L. HAYES
Before the Court is Plaintiff Joseph Lawrence’s (“Lawrence”) “Motion For New Trial, or in
the Alternative, for Reconsideration pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 and 60” [Doc.
No. 49] and Intervener Plaintiff QBE Insurance Co.’s (“QBE”) “Motion for Trial, or in the
Alternative, for Reconsideration.” [Doc. No. 51]. Both parties request that the Court reconsider its
May 22, 2017 Ruling and Judgment dismissing Lawrence’s claims with prejudice. [Doc. Nos. 43 &
44]. For the following reasons, the motions for reconsideration are DENIED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Defendants WestRock CP, LLC and WestRock Services, Inc. (collectively “WestRock”) are
the owners and operators of a paper mill in Hodge, Louisiana. [Doc. No. 34, p. 5]. WestRock
contracted with Plum Creek Timber for the purchase of timber products. Plum Creek, in turn,
contracted with various trucking companies, such as Lawrence’s employer, Triple T Logging, LLC,
to transport the timber products from Plum Creek’s land to the Hodge mill. Id; [Doc. Nos. 1-2; 1-3].
On May 14, 2015, Lawrence was delivering a load of timber to WestRock’s Hodge mill
when his truck struck a pothole in the road, causing him to bounce up and hit his head on the ceiling
of the cab. [Doc. No. 26-3, p. 10]. Lawrence had previously made deliveries to the WestRock mill
and was on his second delivery of the day when he struck the pothole. [Doc. No. 30, p. 23].
WestRock nurse Shontae Mims responded to the scene with Emergency Medical Technician Shane
Sullivan. [Doc. No. 26-9]. Emergency services were called and he was taken to the hospital. Id. At
the time of the incident, Lawrence was wearing his hard hat, but not wearing his seat belt, and was
in the process of putting his scale ticket in his visor. [Doc. No. 26-3, pp. 11; 20-21].
Lawrence was injured on the wood yard road, which provides the only means for drivers
to deliver timber to the mill. [Doc. No. 30, p. 8]. WestRock’s records show that thirty-five other
drivers delivered timber to the Hodge mill on May 14, 2015, traveling the same road as
Lawrence, before the incident. Id.; [Doc. No. 26-8, p. 3].
Lawrence filed this lawsuit against WestRock in Louisiana state court seeking damages.
[Doc. No. 1]. Lawrence’s employer’s worker’s compensation carrier, QBE, intervened asserting
rights to recover the amount paid to Lawrence pursuant to the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation
Act. [Doc. No. 1-3]. WestRock then removed the matter to this Court. [Doc. No. 1].
On April 7, 2017, WestRock filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 26], arguing
that Lawrence is unable to prove that an unreasonably dangerous condition existed and that
WestRock had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition under Louisiana
premises liability law. On May 22, 2017, the Court issued a Ruling and Judgment granted the Motion
for Summary Judgment and dismissed Lawrence’s claims. [Doc. Nos. 43 & 44].
On June 14, 2017, Lawrence filed the instant Motion for New Trial, or in the Alternative, for
Reconsideration. [Doc. No. 49]. On June 15, 2017, QBE filed a Motion for New Trial, or in the
Alternative, for Reconsideration incorporating by reference Lawrence’s motion. [Doc. No. 51]. On
July 5, 2017, WestRock filed an opposition [Doc. No. 53], and on July 18, 2017, Lawrence filed a
reply. [Doc. No. 54].
LAW AND ANALYSIS
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not specifically provide for motions for
reconsideration. Shepherd v. Int’l Paper Co., 372 F.3d 326, 328 n.1 (5th Cir. 2004). Depending on
when it is filed, a motion seeking relief from a final judgment may be construed under either Rule
59(e) as a motion to alter or amend a judgment, or under Rule 60(b) as a motion for relief from a
final judgment. Id.; Williams v. Thaler, 602 F.3d 291, 303 (5th Cir. 2010) (“When a litigant files a
motion seeking a change in judgment, courts typically determine the appropriate motion based on
whether the litigant filed the motion within Rule 59(e)’s time limit.”). If a motion for reconsideration
is filed within 28 days of the judgment or order of which the party complains, it is considered a Rule
59(e) motion; otherwise, it is treated as a Rule 60(b) motion. See Hamilton Rothschilds v. Williams
Rothschilds, 147 F.3d 367, 371 n. 19 (5th Cir. 1998). Because Lawrence’s motion was filed within
28 days of the final judgment, the Court construes it as a motion to amend the judgment under Rule
59(e). See Demahy v. Schwarz Pharma, Inc., 702 F.3d 177 (5th Cir. 2012) (where the court
considered plaintiff’s Rule 60(b) motion as a motion to amend judgment under Rule 59(e) because
it was filed within the applicable 28-day time frame).
Altering or amending a judgment under Rule 59(e) is an “extraordinary remedy” used
infrequently by the courts and only in specific circumstances. Templet v. Hydrochem, Inc., 367 F.3d
473, 479 (5th Cir. 2004). “A motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e) ‘must clearly
establish either a manifest error of law or fact or must present newly discovered evidence’ and
‘cannot be used to raise arguments which could, and should, have been made before the judgment
issued.’” Schiller v. Physicians Res. Grp. Inc., 342 F.3d 563, 567 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Rosenzweig v. Azurix Corp., 332 F.3d 854, 863-64 (5th Cir. 2003) (other citations and quotation
marks omitted). “Relief under Rule 59(e) is also appropriate when there has been an intervening
change in the controlling law.” Schiller, 342 F.3d at 567-68 (citation omitted).
A Rule 59(e) motion should not provide an opportunity for movants to rehash evidence, legal
theories, or arguments that could have been raised before judgment. Templet, 367 F.3d at 478-79;
see LeClerc v. Webb, 419 F.3d 405, 412 n. 13 (5th Cir. 2005). In determining whether to grant a Rule
59(e) request, the Fifth Circuit has indicated that district courts should balance the need for finality
against the need to render equitable decisions based on all the facts. Edward H. Bohlin Co. v.
Banning Co., 6 F.3d 350, 355 (5th Cir. 1993).
In this case, Lawrence contends the Court committed manifest errors and that reconsideration
is needed to prevent manifest injustice. [Doc. No. 49-1, p. 5].
“A ‘manifest error’ is not demonstrated by the disappointment of the losing party. It is the
‘wholesale disregard, misapplication, or failure to recognize controlling precedent.’” Oto v. Metro.
Life Ins. Co., 224 F.3d 601, 606 (7th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted); see also Guy v. Crown Equip.
Corp., 394 F.3d 320, 325 (5th Cir. 2004) (defining “manifest error” in an appellate review context
as “one that is plain and indisputable, and that amounts to a complete disregard of the controlling
Here, Lawrence has failed to meet his burden under Rule 59(e). First, Lawrence contends that
summary judgment was inappropriate at this stage because the relevant issues are fact intensive.
[Doc. No. 49-1, p. 5]. As the Court explained in its Ruling on Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment [Doc. No. 43, p. 6], summary judgment is appropriate when the Court determines that a
condition does not present an unreasonable risk of harm as a matter of law. See Allen v. Lockwood,
2014-1724 (La. 2/13/15), 156 So.3d 650, 652 (“Any reading of Broussard interpreting it as a limit
on summary judgment practice involving issues of unreasonable risk of harm is a misinterpretation
of the Broussard case.”). Because “[a] motion for reconsideration may not be used to rehash rejected
arguments or introduce new arguments,” this alone is a sufficient basis for refusing Lawrence’s
requested relief. LeClerc, 419 F.3d at 412 n.13.
Next, Lawrence argues that the Court improperly required him to prove certain elements at
the summary judgment stage, even though he bears the burden of proof at trial. It is well established
that, to withstand a properly supported motion, the nonmoving party who bears the burden of proof
at trial must cite to particular evidence in the record to support the essential elements of its claim.
Nat’l Ass’n of Gov't Employees v. City Pub. Serv. Bd., 40 F.3d 698, 712 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 321-23 (1986)); accord U.S. ex rel. Patton v. Shaw Servs.,
L.L.C., 418 F. App’x 366, 371 (5th Cir. 2011). “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the nonmoving party’s case renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323;
accord U.S. ex rel. Patton, 418 F. App’x at 371. “Factual controversies are construed in the light
most favorable to the nonmovant, but only if both parties have introduced evidence showing that an
actual controversy exists.” Edwards v. Your Credit, Inc., 148 F.3d 427, 432 (5th Cir. 1998); accord
Murray v. Earle, 405 F.3d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 2005). Lawrence failed to produce any evidence to
rebut evidence on essential elements of his claim. Therefore, Lawrence’s requested relief on this
basis is denied.
Additionally, Lawrence argues that the Court misapplied the utility balancing test, because
“[t]he Court essentially equated an ‘open and obvious’ defense to proof that the condition was not
‘unreasonably dangerous’, when in fact the two are mutually exclusive.” Id. at 7. Whether a
condition poses an unreasonable risk of harm is a matter of risk-utility analysis, with consideration
of (1) the utility of the complained-of condition, (2) the likelihood and magnitude of harm, including
the obviousness and apparentness of the condition, (3) the cost of preventing the harm, and (4) the
nature of the plaintiff's activities in terms of its social utility or whether it is dangerous by nature.
Broussard v. State ex rel. Office of State Bldgs., 2012-1238 (La. 4/5/13), 113 So.3d 175, 184.
The Louisiana Supreme Court emphasized that “the obviousness and apparentness of a
potentially dangerous condition are relevant factors to be considered under the duty-risk analysis.
If the facts of a particular case show that the complained-of condition should be obvious to all, the
condition may not be unreasonably dangerous and the defendant may owe no duty to the plaintiff.”
Pitre v. Louisiana Tech. Univ., 95–1466 (La.5/10/96), 673 So.2d 585, 591; see also Bufkin v.
Felipe’s Louisiana, LLC, 2014-0288 (La. 10/15/14, 12), 171 So.3d 851, 860 (“If the facts of a
particular case show that the complained-of condition should be obvious to all, the condition may
not be unreasonably dangerous, and the defendant may owe no duty to the plaintiff.”). The Court
appropriately used the open and apparent nature of the condition of the road as a relevant factor in
determining that the condition was not unreasonably dangerous. See [Doc. No. 43, p. 7-8].
Much of Lawrence’s memorandum merely rehashes arguments and evidence that he
previously submitted in opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. None of these
arguments, which were considered fully the first time that he presented them, provides a basis to alter
or amend the Judgment. Even if Lawrence’s arguments in the instant motion were persuasive, as the
Court previously determined, he has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact for trial that
WestRock had “actual or constructive notice of the condition,” which is also an essential element
of his claim. See Dauzat v. Curnest Guillot Logging Inc., 2008-0528 (La. 12/2/08, 5), 995 So.2d
The Court has reviewed the motions for reconsideration and finds that they do not
demonstrate a manifest error of law or fact, nor do they present newly discovered evidence. To the
contrary, they present arguments that were available to Lawrence when he responded to defendant’s
motion for summary judgment. Lawrence’s and QBE’s motions for reconsideration are DENIED.
MONROE, LOUISIANA, this 25th day of July, 2017.
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