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LUNA v. U.S.

January 14, 2004.

PATRICIA A. LUNA, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Department of the Navy, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REBECCA PALLMEYER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Patricia A. Luna filed this action seeking to recover damages against Defendant United States of America, Department of the Navy, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b), 2671 et seq. Plaintiff was injured while performing professional services at Defendant's Service School Command ("SSC") as an employee of Resource Consultants, Inc. ("RCI") and received workers' compensation for her injuries. Defendant contended that, as a "borrowing employer," it was protected from any such lawsuit by the exclusive remedy provision of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. Plaintiff urged that the United States was not a borrowing employer under controlling law. The court denied the United States's motion for summary judgment on this issue, Luna v. United States, No. 00 C 1329, 2001 WL 664445 (N.D. Ill. June 13, 2001), and, following a bench trial, this court concluded that the evidence did not establish that the United States was a "borrowing employer" here. The court nevertheless entered judgment for Defendant on the ground that Plaintiff had not proven negligence. Luna v. United States, No. 00 C 1329, 2003 WL 21196227 (N.D. Ill. May 21, 2003).

Plaintiff now moves to alter or amend this court's judgment pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59 and 52. She contends that the parties understood that the "borrowing employer" issue was the only matter for the court to decide at the bench trial, and asks the court to re-open the proceedings in this case to permit her to present evidence regarding Defendant's alleged liability. Page 2

  For the reasons explained here, the motion is granted.

  FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  The court will assume the reader's familiarity with the court's earlier opinions but will review pertinent background information. RCI entered into a five-year contract with Defendant, under which RCI employees provided administrative services in support of the students and staff at the SSC, which is located at the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois. (Gumbert Dep., at 19.) Under this contract, RCI provided supervisors in charge of each of the training schools at the base as well as employees, working under these supervisors, to provide administrative services. (Wells Dep., at 21-24.) At all times relevant to this case, Plaintiff, an employee of RCI, worked as a Senior Administrative Assistant in the Seamen Apprenticeship Training Division of the SSC. (Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts to Which There is No Genuine Issue ("Def.'s 56.1") ¶¶ 2, 5; Wells Dep., at 25.)

  On December 23, 1997, the day of her injury, Plaintiff was assigned to deliver a "departure brief," a speech to a group of Naval recruits scheduled to leave the training center. (Stoneking Dep., at 17.) Normally these briefings take place in a classroom, but because a large number of recruits were expected to attend the session that day (200 as opposed to the usual 50), Defendant changed the location from the classroom to the training area, or "trainer."*fn1 Plaintiff had never given a brief in the training area before. (Id. at 18.) She addressed the recruits from a platform 36 inches above the floor, constructed to resemble the deck of a Navy ship. At the edge of the "ship" was the "water," also described as a "moat." (Wells Dep., at 57.) Plaintiff described the room as filled with students who were sitting on the deck of the ship, leaving her little space to walk. (Testimony of Luna.) She made her way to the back of the room, but during the first few moments of her talk, Plaintiff stepped backward and fell off the platform into the moat. (Testimony of Luna.)

  Robert Stoneking, a Division Functional Supervisor with RCI and Luna's immediate Page 3 supervisor, testified that before the incident it had never occurred to him that there should be a rope line at the edge of the platform to prevent someone from stepping off of it. He stated,
I thought anybody with any common sense walks out there and sees that drop-off, they know about it. And if they're anywhere close, they're not going to, even though there is no line, they're not going to back off and fall in there. Any reasonable-but I can't say for her, what she was thinking of. She got so wrapped up, involved in her thing that she just-and she told me later, `they all said, "Mrs. Luna, look out".'
(Stoneking Dep., at 18-19.) Stoneking testified, further, that had there been a rope line at the edge of the platform to prevent people from stepping off, the accident might still have occurred if someone had stepped backward, as Plaintiff did, without looking. (Id. at 19.)

  In December 1998, Plaintiff settled a workers' compensation claim for $20,706.40. On March 3, 2000, Plaintiff brought this suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, requesting compensation in the amount of $150,000.00 for the injuries she sustained during the fall. (Trial Memo at 1; Complaint ¶ 10.)

  DISCUSSION

  1. Standards for Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment

  Under Rules 59(e) and 52(b), any substantive motion that challenges the findings of a district court must be served within ten days after the entry of a judgment. FED. R. CIV. P. 59(e), 52(b). Such a motion will be granted "if there exists `a manifest error of law or fact,' so as to enable `the court to correct its own errors and thus avoid unnecessary appellate procedures.'" Divane v. Krull Elec. Co., 194 F.3d 845, 848 (7th Cir. 1999), quoting Moro v. Shell Oil Co., 91 F.3d 872, 876 (7th Cir. 1996). Motions for reconsideration also serve "to present newly discovered evidence." Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole v. CBI Indus., 90 F.3d 1264, 1269 (7th Cir. 1996).

  On June 5, 2003, Plaintiff filed a motion to alter or amend this court's judgment. She asserts that the court erred by entering judgment in favor of Defendant when it concluded that she failed to meet her burden of demonstrating that Defendant owed her a duty of care and that Defendant's negligence caused her injury. (Plaintiffs Motion to Alter or Amend Order of May 21, 2003, Pursuant Page 4 to Rule 59 and Rule 52 ("Pl.'s Motion") ¶ 4.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant's liability was not at issue during the bench trial because the parties had previously agreed that liability was uncontested. (Id. ¶ 5.) She asserts that, had there not been such an agreement, she would have conducted expert discovery and presented evidence regarding Defendant's negligence. (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff requests that this court ...


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