LEMONS v. LANIGAN et al
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Brian R. Martinotti on 3/9/2018. (mmh)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 17-4224-BRM-DEA
GARY LANIGAN, et al.,
MARTINOTTI, DISTRICT JUDGE
Before this Court is Plaintiff Ian Lemons’s (“Plaintiff”) motion for reconsideration (ECF
No. 5) addressing this Court’s Order and Opinion dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint (ECF No. 1) as
time barred (ECF Nos. 3-4). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s motion (ECF No. 5) is
As the explained in the Court’s previous opinion, Plaintiff’s Complaint brought claims
against Gary Lanigan, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and various
current and former officials at New Jersey State Prison. (ECF No. 1 at 1-5.) Plaintiff specifically
sought to challenge the automatic withdrawal of court fees, judicially imposed fines, and
restitutionary payments from his prison trust account without a pre-deprivation hearing. (Id. at 510.) According to the Complaint, Plaintiff arrived at the prison in August 2005 and noticed the
court-ordered fines and fees began to be removed from his account within a month, without notice
or an opportunity to be heard. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff further alleged these withdrawals have continued
since that time, and the remaining court ordered fines and fees continue to be removed from his
account, and that all filed grievances regarding these withdrawals have been denied. (Id. at 5-10.)
Plaintiff asserts in his motion that he is seeking reconsideration of the dismissal of his
complaint, purportedly pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Motions for
reconsideration, however, are controlled by either Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) or Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 59(e). Whether brought pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) or pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 59(e), the scope of a motion for reconsideration is extremely limited, and such
motions should only be granted sparingly. Delanoy v. Twp. Of Ocean, No. 13-1555, 2015 WL
2235103, at *2 (D.N.J. May 12, 2015) (as to Local Civil Rule 7.1(i)); see also Blystone v. Horn,
664 F.3d 397, 415 (3d Cir. 2011) (as to Rule 59(e)). An order of the Court may be altered or
amended pursuant to such a motion only where the moving party establishes one of the following
grounds for relief: “(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new
evidence that was not available when the court [issued its order]; or (3) the need to correct a clear
error of law or fact to prevent manifest injustice.” Delanoy, 2015 WL 2235106 at *2 (quoting
Max’s Seafood Café v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999)); see also Blystone, 664 F.3d
at 415 (applying same standard to 59(e) motions). In the reconsideration context, a manifest
injustice will generally arise only where “the Court overlooked some dispositive factual or legal
matter that was presented to it,” or committed a “direct, obvious, and observable” error. See Brown
v. Zickefoose, Civil Action No. 11-3330, 2011 WL 5007829, at *2 n.3 (D.N.J. 2011).
Reconsideration motions may not be used to relitigate old matters or to raise arguments or present
evidence or allegations that could have been raised prior to entry of the original order, and courts
should only grant such a motion where its prior decision “overlooked a factual or legal issue that
may alter the disposition of the matter.” Delanoy, 2015 WL 2235106 at *2.
To the extent that Petitioner is seeking relief from this Court’s dismissal of his complaint
pursuant to Rule 60(b) rather than merely seeking reconsideration, that rule “allows a party to seek
relief from a final judgment, and request reopening of his case, under a limited set of circumstances
including fraud, mistake, and newly discovered evidence.” Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524, 529
(2005). “The remedy provided by Rule 60(b) is extraordinary, and special circumstances must
justify granting relief under it.” Jones v. Citigroup, Inc., Civil Action No. 14-6547, 2015 WL
3385938, at *3 (D.N.J. May 26, 2015) (quoting Moolenaar v. Gov’t of the Virgin Islands, 822 F.3d
1342, 1346 (3d Cir. 1987). A Rule 60(b) motion “may not be used as a substitute for appeal, and
that legal error, without more cannot justify granting a Rule 60(b) motion.” Holland v. Holt, 409
F. App’x 494, 497 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Smith v. Evans, 853 F.2d 155, 158 (3d Cir. 1988)). A
motion under Rule 60(b) may not be granted where the moving party could have raised the same
legal argument by means of a direct appeal. Id.
In his motion for reconsideration, Plaintiff argues the Court erred in dismissing his
complaint as time barred. As this Court previously explained, Plaintiff’s complaint contained a
single claim – that the withdrawal of money to pay court ordered fines and fees from his prison
inmate account without pre-withdrawal procedures violated his right to Due Process under the
Fourteenth Amendment. See Montanez v. Sec’y Penn. Dep’t of Corr., 773 F.3d 472, 486 (3d Cir.
2016) (holding that Due Process, at minimum, requires “inmates to be informed of the terms of
[prison policies requiring the automatic deduction of fines] and the amount of their total monetary
liability to the [State] . . . before the first deduction”). Claims bought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
in New Jersey are subject to a two year statute of limitations. See, e.g., Patyrak v. Apgar, 511 F.
App’x 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2013). The Third Circuit explained in Montanez:
The date of accrual in a § 1983 action is determined by federal law.
Kach [v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634 (3d Cir. 2009)]. Under federal
law, a cause of action accrues “‘when the plaintiff knew or should
have known of the injury upon which the action is based.’” Id.
(quoting Sameric Corp. v. City of Philadelphia, 142 F.3d 582, 599
(3d Cir. 1998)). . . .
. . . This Court has previously noted with regard to
deductions from inmate accounts that an “alleged violation of [an
inmate’s] Fourteenth Amendment right to due process occur[s] at
the moment he was deprived of his property interest without notice
and a predeprivation hearing (i.e., when [prison] employees seized
the money in his inmate account.)” Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683,
694 n. 3 (3d Cir. 2002). Following this rule, [the plaintiff’s] alleged
injury occurred . . . when the DOC first deducted funds from his
account. It was at this point that the DOC deprived [the plaintiff]
of his property interests allegedly without due process. [The
plaintiff] “knew or should have known of” his injury within a month
of the first deduction [when] he received an inmate account
statement that reflected the debit from his account. See Kach, 589
F.3d at 634.
Montanez, 773 F.3d at 480.
As Plaintiff acknowledged in his complaint and in his certification attached to his
complaint, the prison first began taking money out of his account within a month of his arrival,
and continued to take the money out of his account to pay court ordered fees and fines “each
month” thereafter. (ECF No. 1 at 5-6 and ECF No. 1-2 at 8). Plaintiff does not dispute this fact in
his current motion, but instead argues he should not be time barred for two reasons: (1) because
he alleges he did not know it was the prison, but rather thought it was the court that was deducting
the money from his account; and (2) because “it was not clearly established law in this court that”
a claim such as his was cognizable at the time of his initial injury.
Turning first to Plaintiff’s argument that his claim was “clearly established” in 2005, the
Court notes that the Third Circuit explicitly rejected such an argument in Montanez. The Third
[The plaintiff] argues that his cause of action did not accrue until he
should have known that his due process rights had been violated.
This is not correct; a cause of action accrues upon “a plaintiff’s
discovery of the actual, as opposed to the legal, injury. . . .” Oshiver
v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1386 (3d Cir.
1994). [The plaintiff’s] actual injury occurred on the date that funds
were deducted from his inmate account.
Montanez, 773 F.3d at 480 n.4. Therefore, the Third Circuit has made clear accrual is not based on
the recognition of a class of claims by the courts, but rather rests on the question of injury – in this
case the withdrawal of funds from Plaintiff’s account without a hearing in 2005. Indeed, the Third
Circuit found Montanez’s similar claim had accrued five years before Plaintiff’s claim, in 2000.
That the Third Circuit had not yet fully discussed such a claim is of no moment and does not
provide for a later running date for the statute of limitations. Id.
In his remaining arguments, Plaintiff argues his complaint should not be time barred
because he is entitled to tolling of the statute of limitations pursuant to New Jersey’s discovery
rule for a variety of reasons, including: (1) his belief that the state courts were withdrawing the
funds; (2) he was illiterate at the time of his incarceration and did not receive his G.E.D. until
March 2017; and (3) he was not informed of the official policy requiring deductions from his
account to pay court fees and fines until April 2017 when another inmate informed him that
withdrawal of funds without a pre-deprivation hearing was improper. While federal law controls
the accrual date for § 1983 actions, state law equitable tolling principles, including the New Jersey
discovery rule, apply to § 1983 claims arising out of New Jersey where they are not inconsistent
with federal law. See, e.g., Dique v. New Jersey State Pol., 603 F.3d 181, 185 (3d Cir. 2010). The
New Jersey discovery rule “postpones a claim from accruing if a plaintiff is reasonably unaware
that he has suffered an injury or, even though he is aware of the injury, that it was the fault of an
identifiable person.” Id. (citing Caravaggio v. D’Agostini, 765 A.2d 182, 187 (N.J. 2001)). In other
words, the discovery rule postpones accrual “until the ‘injured party discovers, or by exercise of
reasonable diligence and intelligence should have discovered[,] that he may have a basis for an
actionable claim.’” Id. (quoting Lopez v. Sqyer, 300 A.2d 563, 565 (N.J. 1973)). The New Jersey
discovery rule is applied objectively – “the question in a discovery rule case is whether the facts
presented would alert a reasonable person, exercising ordinary diligence, that he . . . was injured
due to the fault of another” – and, therefore, is not subject to a given Plaintiff’s subjective
infirmities. Caravaggio, 765 A.2d at 186-87.
Because the discovery rule is applied objectively, Petitioner’s illiteracy and lack of G.E.D.
until 2016 is immaterial, as is Petitioner’s assertion that he was not told about the nature of the
claim he might have by a paralegal in 2017. The sole question regarding discovery is whether a
reasonable person, acting with ordinary diligence, should have known of Plaintiff’s injury and that
the injury was due to the fault of another – be it the courts or the prison and its staff – prior to June
7, 2015, two years prior to the filing of Plaintiff’s complaint. According to Plaintiff himself,
Plaintiff became aware of the deductions within a month of his arrival at the prison when he
received account statements detailing the deductions made to pay fines and fees. Plaintiff’s injury,
i.e., that his money was removed without pre-deprivation process, was known to Plaintiff in 2005,
at which time Plaintiff also became aware the injury was “due to the fault of another,” regardless
of who that may be. See Caravaggio, 765 A.2d at 186-87. Even so, Plaintiff could have learned of
the prison’s withdrawal policy using reasonable due diligence upon learning of the deductions in
Because Plaintiff’s injury and the fault of the prison and its employees was clearly
discoverable through reasonable diligence and ordinary diligence more than seven years before
Plaintiff filed his current complaint, it is clear that this Court did not err in finding that Plaintiff’s
complaint was time barred and dismissing it as such. Because this Court did not err in dismissing
Plaintiff’s complaint as time barred, and because Plaintiff has not provided any other valid basis
for reconsideration, Plaintiff has failed to establish his entitlement to reconsideration. Therefore,
to the extent his motion is brought pursuant to either Local Rule 7.1(i) or Rule 59(e), it is DENIED.
Delanoy, 2015 WL 2235106 at *2; Blystone, 664 F.3d at 415. To the extent Plaintiff seeks relief
under Rule 60(b), Plaintiff has failed to show any error, fraud, mistake, or other special
circumstance warranting relief from this Court’s judgment, and his motion is DENIED. See, e.g.,
Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. at 529; Jones, 2015 WL 3385938, at *3.
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s motion (ECF No. 5) is DENIED. An appropriate
order will follow.
March 9, 2018
/s/ Brian R. Martinotti___________
HON. BRIAN R. MARTINOTTI
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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