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Christensen v. Quinn

United States District Court, D. South Dakota

November 18, 2014



KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.

Pending is defendant Tiffani Landeen-Hoeke's motion to reconsider the partial denial of her summary judgment motion. Docket 628. Plaintiff, Daniel Reed Christensen, opposes the motion to reconsider. Docket 644. For the following reasons, the motion to reconsider is denied.


This case began in September 2010 when Christensen filed suit against various state and county officials, animal rights organizations, and volunteers alleging numerous constitutional violations. All defendants filed motions for summary judgment, and Christensen also moved for summary judgment against most, but not all, defendants. On September 10, 2014, the court entered an order denying all of Christensen's motions for summary judgment and granting summary judgment to all defendants except Rosie Quinn in her individual capacity, Second Chance Rescue Center, and Landeen-Hoeke in her individual capacity. Docket 598.

The court granted summary judgment to Landeen-Hoeke on all claims brought against her in her official capacity because Christensen had not demonstrated that any alleged constitutional violations stemmed from an unconstitutional policy or custom of Turner County.[1] Id. at 12-15. The court granted summary judgment to Landeen-Hoeke in her individual capacity on Count I, which asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because she was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity under federal law. Docket 598 at 70-78. Landeen-Hoeke was not named as a defendant in Count II, which also asserted a § 1983 claim. Id. at 17 n.11.

The remaining claims asserted against Landeen-Hoeke were state-law claims. The court granted summary judgment to all defendants on Count III, which alleged malicious prosecution, because Christensen failed to establish the second and third elements of that claim. Id. at 78-80. Similarly, the court granted summary judgment to all defendants on Count IV, which alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress, because no defendant acted in a way that went beyond all possible bounds of decency. Id. at 81-82. The court also granted summary judgment to all defendants on Count V, which alleged violations of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, [2] based on the court's finding that the South Dakota Supreme Court would require a conviction under that statute as a predicate to civil liability and the fact that no defendant had been charged or convicted under that statute. Id. at 82-88.

Counts VI and VII alleged state-law trespass and conversion, respectively. The court held that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Landeen-Hoeke conspired with Quinn to commit those torts. Id. at 92 (trespass); id. at 95-96 (conversion). In doing so, the court found that Landeen-Hoeke failed to raise a state-law immunity defense. Id. at 93-94. Landeen-Hoeke's motion for reconsideration centers on whether she is entitled to immunity on those claims.


The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally do not recognize uniform standards for a court to analyze a motion to reconsider. In this case, Landeen-Hoeke brings her motion to reconsider under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), which provides that "any order or other decision... that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties... may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities." Under Rule 54(b), district courts have "the inherent power to reconsider and modify an interlocutory order any time prior to the entry of judgment." K.C. 1986 Ltd. P'ship v. Reade Mfg., 472 F.3d 1009, 1117 (8th Cir. 2007) (quotation and citation omitted). While the specific standard for a motion made under Rule 54(b) is unclear, generally courts have found the standard "to be less exacting than would be a motion under Federal Rule of Procedure 59(e), which in turn is less exacting than the standards enunciated in Federal Rule of Procedure 60(b)." Colombe v. Rosebud Sioux Tribe, 835 F.Supp.2d 736, 750 (D.S.D. 2011) (quotation and citation omitted); see also Doctor John's, Inc. v. City of Sioux City, Ia., 438 F.Supp.2d 1005, 1027 (N.D. Iowa 2006).

Although the court's reconsideration of interlocutory orders might be less rigorous than that of final orders for Rule 59(e) or 60(b), courts "should look to the kinds of consideration under those rules for guidance." Doctor John's, 438 F.Supp.2d at 1027 (quotation and citation omitted). Like other motions to reconsider, "[i]t is generally held that a court may amend or reconsider any ruling under Rule 54(b) to correct any clearly or manifestly erroneous findings of facts or conclusions of law." Jones v. Casey's Gen. Stores, 551 F.Supp.2d 848, 854 (S.D. Iowa 2008) (quotations and citation omitted).


Landeen-Hoeke argues that she did plead state-law immunity, that it is not required to be pleaded as an affirmative defense, that it cannot be waived because it is jurisdictional, and that she is entitled to absolute judicial immunity on the state-law claims because those claims are based on the same underlying actions as Count I, where the court found that Landeen-Hoeke was entitled to absolute immunity. Docket 630. Christensen resists the motion on the basis that Landeen-Hoeke did not raise a state-law immunity defense at the summary judgment stage. Docket 644.


Landeen-Hoeke asserts that state-law immunity is synonymous with sovereign immunity, which is jurisdictional and cannot be waived. Docket 630 at 5 (asserting that "state-law immunity is generally synonymous with sovereign immunity"). This contention is not correct. Landeen-Hoeke was not a state employee and thus does not share the state's immunity. See, e.g., Miener, 673 F.2d at 980. Landeen-Hoeke does not claim she was a state employee or dispute the court's finding that she was a county employee. See ...

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