United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE
March 5, 2014, the United States of America filed a Complaint
[ECF No. 1] against Defendants Cynthia J. Gerard, Robert E.
Gerard, and the Treasurer of Allen County Indiana seeking
unpaid taxes and a judgment that the United States can
enforce collection against the property of Robert Gerard,
which was formally owned by Robert and Cynthia Gerard as
tenants by the entirety. On November 23, 2015, the Plaintiff
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 27], which was
denied on September 8, 2016 [ECF No. 37]. On August 10, 2017,
this case was transferred to Chief Judge Theresa L.
Springmann for all further proceedings [ECF No. 38]. The
Plaintiff has now filed a Motion for Reconsideration [ECF No.
43] of the prior Summary Judgment Order under Rule 54(b). At
this time, the Court will not consider the merits of the
Plaintiff's substantive arguments. Instead, the Court
will consider only whether reconsideration is appropriate.
Plaintiff argues that the Opinion and Order denying its
Summary Judgment Motion is too vague for the parties to
adequately determine what factual issues remain in dispute.
The Plaintiff moves for reconsideration as to some, but not
all, of the issues on which it initially moved for summary
judgment. The Plaintiff argues that this Court should
reconsider the Plaintiff's Motion because it believes
that certain disputes can be resolved at present, narrowing
the issues for trial and conserving judicial resources.
First, the Plaintiff argues that there can be no genuine
dispute as to the amount of taxes owed by Defendant Cynthia
J. Gerard because the only defect raised in the
Defendants' Response Brief [ECF No. 33] was cured by the
Plaintiff's Reply [ECF No. 35], and the Plaintiff is
concerned that the previous judge failed to fully consider
that cure in coming to his conclusion. The Plaintiff also
argues that there can be no dispute that Defendant Roger
Gerard cannot qualify as a “Purchaser” under the
relevant statute, as a matter of black letter law. The
Plaintiff argues specifically that there is no factual issue
related to his “Purchaser” status to present to
the jury because any factual issues are rendered moot by the
preceding question of law. Finally, the Plaintiff argues that
the dispute regarding the value of Defendant Cynthia's
interest in the property turns on a question of the rights
and interests of tenants by the entirety to the subject
property, which is a question of law that the Court should
resolve prior to any presentation to the jury.
Defendants respond to the Plaintiff's arguments on purely
procedural grounds, i.e., that the Plaintiff has not met its
burden to show that a motion for reconsideration is proper.
They do not address the substance of the Plaintiff's
motions to reconsider final judgments, which are governed by
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 or 60, a motion to
reconsider an interlocutory order [under Rule 54(b)] may be
entertained and granted as justice requires.” Azko
Coatings, Inc. v. Aigner Corp., 909 F.Supp. 1154, 1159
(N.D. Ind. 1995). Rule 54(b) provides in relevant part:
[A]ny order or other decision, however designated, that
adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and
liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the
action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised
at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all
the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.
beneficial aspect of distinguishing between the two methods
of relief is readily apparent when the strict standard for
granting relief under Rule 60(b) is contrasted with the
practically unbridled discretion of a district court to
reconsider a previous interlocutory order [under Rule
54(b)].” Fisher v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger
Corp., 152 F.R.D. 145, 149 (S.D. Ind. 1993). A court may
reconsider prejudgment interlocutory decisions at any time
prior to final judgment. In re 949 Erie St., Racine,
Wis., 824 F.2d 538, 541 (7th Cir. 1987) (citing
Cameo Convalescent Ctr., Inc. v. Percy, 800 F.2d
108, 110 (7th Cir. 1986)).
Court finds that reconsideration of the Summary Judgment
Order would be in the interests of justice. As the Court has
had no prior involvement with this case, it is not privy to
the previous judge's reasoning for denying the
Plaintiff's Motion, and the brevity of the September 8,
2016, Order leaves the Court with no ability to discern such
reasoning. The Court agrees that there is a potential for
simplifying issues at trial by narrowing their scope and
believes that reconsideration of the issues will allow the
parties to address the issues that remain in genuine dispute.
Court is cognizant of the “law of the case”
doctrine, which advises that when a case has been transferred
to a second judge, the second judge should “abide by
the rulings of the first judge unless some new development,
such as a new appellate decision, convinces him that his
predecessor's ruling was incorrect.” Fujisawa
Pharm. Co. v. Kapoor, 115 F.3d 1332, 1339 (7th Cir.
1997). “[W]hile a district judge should carefully
consider the propriety of re-examining a prior ruling of
another district judge in the same case, when good reasons
appear for doing so . . . the ‘law of the case'
doctrine must yield to rational decision-making.”
Peterson v. Lindner, 765 F.2d 698, 704 (7th Cir.
1985). The Court does not believe that granting the
Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration runs afoul of this
doctrine. It is unclear to the Court exactly what conclusions
the previous judge drew regarding certain disputed issues
and, thus, what exactly the “law of the case” is.
Accordingly, for potential conservation of resources, the
Court finds it in the interests of justice to grant the
Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration.
Court notes that at this juncture, the Defendants have not
substantively responded to the Plaintiff's concerns about
the prior ruling and instead opposed the Plaintiff's
Motion on procedural grounds. By separate order, the Court
will set a telephonic conference to confirm outstanding
disputes and set an appropriate briefing schedule.
the Court GRANTS the Plaintiff's Motion to ...