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Gray v. Burke

September 11, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown


Before the court is Plaintiff's Motion for New Trial Or, in the Alternative, To Vacate, Alter or Amend Judgment. [Dkt 86.] For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.


Plaintiff Sherine Gray filed a complaint against Chicago police officers Jeffrey Burke and Jessica Gray (collectively, "Defendants"), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated her civil rights by falsely arresting her for theft of services and using excessive force during her arrest. (Compl. at Counts I-III.) [Dkt 1.] The complaint also alleged state law claims of malicious prosecution, battery, false arrest, and false imprisonment against Defendants and the City of Chicago. (Id. at Counts IV-VI.) The case was initially assigned to District Judge James Moran. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment before Judge Moran on all but Gray's excessive force and battery claims. Gray v. Burke, 466 F. Supp. 2d 991, 993 (N.D. Ill. 2006). Judge Moran granted Defendants' motion on October 31, 2006. Id. at 999-1000. [Dkt 48, 49, 50.] The parties subsequently consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge and the case was reassigned to this court. [Dkt 54, 55.] A jury trial was held on Gray's federal excessive force claim and state law battery claim, and the jury returned a verdict for Defendants on those claims on March 21, 2007. [Dkt 80, 84]. On the same date, a judgment form stating that judgment was entered "in favor of all defendants and against plaintiff on all claims" was filed on the docket. [Dkt 81.] Gray filed the present motion on March 31, 2007.


I. Relief Requested

Gray's motion is entitled "Motion for New Trial or, in the Alternative, to Vacate, Alter or Amend Judgment." Although Gray does not cite any Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, it can be inferred that she brings her motion under Rule 59. Rule 59(a) permits a court to grant a new trial on claims that were tried to a jury or without a jury. However, Gray does not suggest any error in the conduct of the trial itself, such as the jury instructions or rulings on evidence. The substance of Gray's motion is directed to the summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Gray's false arrest claim, which she believes was incorrectly granted. No trial was ever held on Gray's false arrest claim, and thus, a motion for a "new trial" on that claim is inappropriate. Gray's link to a new trial is her argument that her excessive force claim was improperly diminished by the inability to present it in the context of a false arrest claim. (See Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. New Trial [dkt 94] at 5, arguing that Gray "was severely hampered in her efforts to gain compensation for violations of her civil rights by having her false . . . arrest claim shorn from her case prior to the trial of this case").

"Any motion that draws into question the correctness of the judgment is functionally a motion under Civil Rule 59(e), whatever its label." St. Mary's Hosp. Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1362, 1365 (7th Cir. 1985) (quoting United States v. City of Chicago, 631 F.2d 469, 474 (7th Cir. 1980) (quoting 9 Moore's Fed. Practice ¶ 204.12[1], at 4-67 (2d ed. 1980))); accord Committee for First Amendment v. Campbell, 962 F.2d 1517, 1523 (10th Cir. 1992). Therefore, to the extent Gray's motion challenges Judge Moran's summary judgment order, her motion is construed as a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend judgment.

II. Timeliness

Defendants argue that Gray's motion, filed five months after Judge Moran's summary judgment decision, is untimely. Rule 59 requires a motion for a new trial or to alter or amend a judgment be filed no later than ten days after entry of the judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(b), (e). The term "judgment" is defined by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as "a decree and any order from which an appeal lies." Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(a). Generally, an order granting summary judgment on fewer than all claims in an action is not itself a judgment; it is an interlocutory ruling and is not appealable. Abbs v. Sullivan, 963 F.2d 918, 923 (7th Cir. 1992). An order that disposes of less than all of the claims in a case is a final judgment only if the district court makes an express determination pursuant to Rule 54(b) that there is no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal, and an express direction that final judgment be entered on those claims.*fn1 Ruiz v. Blentech Corp., 89 F.3d 320, 323 (7th Cir. 1996). Although Judge Moran granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment in October 2006, he did not enter a finding pursuant to Rule 54(b).*fn2 Thus, his order was interlocutory, and did not become final until the final judgment was entered in favor of Defendants on March 21, 2007. Gray filed her Rule 59 motion on March 31, 2007, within the ten-day time period.

In the case upon which Defendants rely, Marane, Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., 755 F.2d 106, 109 (7th Cir. 1985), the order granting summary judgment disposed of all claims that had been pending before the court, and judgment was entered on May 31, 1983. Thus, the plaintiff's Rule 59 motion, filed on June 29 or 30, 1983, was not timely. Id. at 110.*fn3 Here, in contrast, Gray's motion was filed within ten days of the entry of judgment, and, accordingly, was timely.


I. Gray's Motion to Alter or Amend the District Judge's Decision Granting Summary Judgment on Gray's False Arrest Claim

Rule 59(e) motions, while labeled as motions to "alter or amend" judgment, can also ask that a judgment be set aside in its entirety. A.D. Weiss Lithograph Co., Inc. v. Illinois Adhesive Prods. Co., 705 F.2d 249, 250 (7th Cir. 1983); 11 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d (hereinafter "Wright & Miller") ยง 2810.1 at 119 (1995). Gray's motion, in essence, ...

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