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Trevino v. City of Fort Worth

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 10, 2019

ROBBY JOE TREVINO, Individually, and as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Alisha Trevino, as next friend of A. N., a minor; LAURIE DALE REED, Individually, and as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Alisha Trevino, as next friend of A. N., a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CITY OF FORT WORTH; FORT WORTH POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before OWEN, Chief Judge, and SOUTHWICK and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM

         This case arises out of the death of Alisha Trevino, who died from a self-administered overdose of illegal drugs while in police custody. Following Trevino's death, members of her family (Plaintiffs) filed suit against the City of Fort Worth (the City) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court granted the City's motion to dismiss and then denied Plaintiffs' motion for a new trial. Plaintiffs now appeal, challenging the district court's order on the motion for a new trial as well as the district court's final judgment. We affirm.

         I

         On April 15, 2015, Fort Worth police officers stopped Alfredo Cortez and his girlfriend Alisha Trevino for an inoperable brake light after receiving a tip that the couple was carrying drugs. During the stop, Trevino surreptitiously ingested two baggies of methamphetamine that she had hidden in her pants before the officers arrived. She died later that night. Approximately two years after Trevino's death, Plaintiffs filed suit against the City and the officers involved in Trevino's arrest. The officers filed motions to dismiss, which the district court subsequently granted. The district court then granted a stay while the Plaintiffs appealed the dismissals. This court issued an opinion affirming the district court's judgment on December 19, 2018.

         On January 8, 2019, the City filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs did not respond. According to Plaintiffs, they failed to respond to the City's motion to dismiss because of a series of "break downs" in their system of receiving notice of court filings, including: (1) the case had been stayed, so it was not on their radar of active cases; (2) counsel mistakenly failed to register with the court's Case Management/Electronic Case Files system; and (3) defective antivirus software diverted court emails to a spam folder. Nonetheless, Plaintiffs concede that the failure to file was within Plaintiffs' counsel's "reasonable control."

         The district court granted the City's unopposed motion to dismiss on February 4, 2019. Twenty-seven days later, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial under Rule 59(e) and Rule 60(b). The district court denied Plaintiffs' motion, concluding that Plaintiffs had not shown they were entitled to relief under either rule. Plaintiffs now appeal, challenging the district court's order on the motion for a new trial and the district court's final judgment on the motion to dismiss.

         II

         In its order denying Plaintiffs' motion for a new trial, the district court concluded that Plaintiffs had not shown that they were entitled to relief under Rule 59(e) or Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We consider each.

         A

         Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a court to alter or amend a judgment to (1) accommodate an intervening change in controlling law, (2) account for newly discovered evidence, or (3) correct a manifest error of law or fact.[1] It is not the "proper vehicle for rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of judgment."[2] Accordingly, this court reviews "the denial of a Rule 59(e) motion only for abuse of discretion."[3]

         In this case, Plaintiffs allege that they are entitled to Rule 59(e) relief because of a manifest error of law or fact. Plaintiffs concede that Plaintiffs' counsel failed to register with the court's electronic filing system, in violation of local rules. They also concede that the failure to file was within Plaintiffs' counsel's "reasonable control." Despite these concessions, Plaintiffs contend that the series of break downs that led to Plaintiffs failure to file a response constitute a manifest error of law or fact that entitles them to Rule 59(e) relief.

         Failure to file a response to a motion to dismiss is not a manifest error of law or fact.[4] Nor is it a manifest error to deny relief when failure to file was within Plaintiffs' counsel's "reasonable control." Plaintiff's counsel admittedly violated the ...


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