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Johnson v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

March 26, 2018

CHARLES JOHNSON, et al., Plaintiffs,



         On December 27, 2017, this Court entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting, in part, and denying, in part, Plaintiffs' Motion for Relief Related to Ford's Discovery Misconduct. Johnson v. Ford, Civ. Act. No. 3:13-6529, 2017 WL 6614101 (S.D. W.Va. Dec. 27, 2017). In that decision, the Court determined Ford misrepresented the level of safeguards it provided its source code, resulting in increased attorneys' fees and costs to Plaintiffs. Id. at *10.

         Therefore, the Court held Plaintiffs were entitled to reimbursement for those expenses.[1] Ford now moves the Court to reconsider that portion of the decision. ECF No. 1132. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Ford's motion.



         When, as here, a party moves for reconsideration of an interlocutory order pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the district court has discretion to revise such an order “at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). Although the Fourth Circuit has not set forth a precise standard for lower courts to follow under Rule 54(b), it has stated that “Rule 54(b)'s approach involves broader flexibility to revise interlocutory orders before final judgment as the litigation develops and new facts or arguments come to light.” Carlson v. Boston Sci. Corp., 856 F.3d 320, 325 (4th Cir. 2017) (italics original) (citing Am. Canoe Ass'n v. Murphy Farms, Inc., 326 F.3d 505, 514-15 (4th Cir. 2003); Cobell v. Jewell, 802 F.3d 12, 25-26 (D.C. Cir. 2015)); Howard v. W.Va. Div. of Corrs., No. 2:14-CV-13695, 2016 WL 958698, at *2 (S.D. W.Va. Mar. 14, 2016) (“The Fourth Circuit has not announced the appropriate standard of review for a motion for reconsideration under Rule 54(b) in this Circuit, but has stated that the power to amend interlocutory orders at any time before final judgment is ‘committed to the discretion of the district court.'” (quoting Am. Canoe, 326 F.3d at 515; other citations omitted)). However, the court's discretion is not limitless and may be constrained when an interlocutory ruling becomes the law of the case and “govern[s] the same issues in subsequent stages in the same case.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Under the law of the case doctrine, the court may reconsider and modify its interlocutory ruling in limited circumstances. Ross v. Klesius, No. 16-2040, 2017 WL 4994785, at *2 (4th Cir. Oct. 25, 2017), cert. denied, No. 17-1032, 2018 WL 557429 (U.S. Feb. 26, 2018). Reconsideration may occur when there is: “(1) ‘a subsequent trial produc[ing] substantially different evidence'; (2) a change in applicable law; or (3) clear error causing ‘manifest injustice.'” Id. (quoting Carlson, 856 F.3d at 325; other citations omitted)). Nevertheless, relief is seldom appropriate “[w]hen the motion raises no new arguments, but merely requests the district court to reconsider a legal issue or to change its mind[.]” Pritchard v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 3 Fed.Appx. 52, 53 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Furthermore, although the law of the case doctrine is ubiquitous, it cannot categorically bar a court from reconsidering an earlier interlocutory order in light of the court's “ultimate responsibility . . . to reach the correct judgment under law.'” Am. Canoe, 326 F.3d at 515.[2]



         In its motion, Ford hinges its arguments for reconsideration on the “manifest injustice” prong. In support of its position, however, Ford merely recycles many of the same arguments it previously made and insists the Court must have misunderstood them, or it surely would have ruled in Ford's favor. The Court disagrees. The Court fully understood Ford's arguments when it wrote the original Memorandum Opinion and Order, discussed Ford's arguments at length, and soundly rejected them.

         On reconsideration, Ford insists that it did not intend to imply that it never allowed the source code to leave a Ford facility. Nevertheless, the record contradicts this assertion. On May 28, 2015, the Magistrate Judge held a hearing regarding production of the source code. Tr. of Proceedings, (May 28, 2015), ECF No. 531. In discussing whether the source code should be produced in “native” or “write access” format, counsel for Ford stated:

The Ford ETC source code has never been produced, ever, never, ever been produced in the format that the plaintiffs are requesting to anyone. Not suppliers, not third-party suppliers, no one.
When there is an issue . . . people come into Ford and review it the same way that we have offered to provide it to the plaintiffs. They get to read it, they get to search it, and they get to look at it. That's how it's been proposed before, and that's how Ford has always done it. It's not unique. It's not new. It's not different.

Id. at 13 (emphasis added). Ford insists this statement is true because it never produced the source code in a format that was editable. However, as this Court detailed in its Memorandum Opinion and Order, “Ford's attempt to draw a distinction between native and flat file source code is nonsensical with respect to confidentiality concerns.” Johnson, 2017 WL 6614101, at *5. The source code attached to the emails was “written in a plain ASCII text” and “[a]s such, [a] normal text editor such as Notepad can read, modify, and write any line of code in the bookshelf file. It is not in ‘read ...

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