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Sineni v. Estabrook

United States District Court, D. Maine

December 21, 2016

ANTHONY J. SINENI III, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES ESTABROOK, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Upon motion by the Plaintiff, the Court dismisses his Complaint with prejudice. The Court assesses costs against the Plaintiff but rejects the Defendants' request for an award of attorney's fees.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 9, 2015, Anthony J. Sineni III filed a complaint against three named and some unknown law enforcement officers with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, alleging that they had surreptitiously intercepted his telephone communications without his consent in violation of federal constitutional and statutory law. Compl. and Demand for Jury Trial (ECF No. 1). After the discovery period ended, on July 14, 2016, the Defendants filed notice of their intention to file a motion for summary judgment. Defs. Estabrook, Ackerman and Cook's Notice of Intent to File Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 37). After an issue regarding the deposition of a witness was resolved, the Court held a Local Rule 56(h) conference on August 26, 2016. Minute Entry (ECF No. 52). At the prefiling conference, the Defendants agreed to file a motion for summary judgment by September 30, 2016; the Plaintiff agreed to respond by October 21, 2016; and the Defendants agreed to reply by November 4, 2016. Tr. of Proceedings, Rule 56(h) Conf. 17:18-18:12 (ECF No. 54).

         On September 27, 2016, the Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (F.R. Civ. P. 56) and J. on the Pleadings (F.R. Civ. P. 12(c)) (ECF No. 60) (Defs.' Mots.). The Plaintiff did not directly respond to the motions.

         On October 21, 2016, the Plaintiff filed a stipulation of voluntary dismissal. See Notice of Voluntary Dismissal of Action (ECF No. 63). However, the stipulation did not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A) because the Defendants had entered their appearance and the stipulation was not signed by all the parties. The Clerk's Office so informed the Plaintiff, and the docket now lists the stipulation as having been filed in error.

         Given the uncertain state of the docket, on November 18, 2016, the Court held a telephone conference with counsel, and the Court ordered the Plaintiff to file a motion to extend the time to file objections to the motion for summary judgment by November 25, 2016. Minute Entry (ECF No. 67). On November 22, 2016, the Plaintiff filed both a motion to extend time and a motion to dismiss. Pl. Sineni's Mot. to Extend Time to File Obj. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 68) (Pl.'s Mot. to Extend); Pl.'s Mot. for Voluntary Dismissal (ECF No. 69) (Pl.'s Mot.). In the motion to extend, the Plaintiff requested an extension of time to respond to the motion for summary judgment until settlement negotiations were resolved. Pl.'s Mot. to Extend at 1. In the motion for voluntary dismissal, the Plaintiff urged the Court to dismiss his pending action with prejudice. Pl.'s Mot. at 1-3. On November 29, 2016, the Defendants responded to both motions. Obj. to Pl.'s Mot. to Extend Time to File Obj. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 70); Defs.' Obj. to Pl.'s Voluntary Dismissal (ECF No. 71) (Defs.' Opp'n). The Plaintiff did not reply to either of the Defendants' responses. On December 19, 2016, the Court held a telephone conference with counsel to clarify whether the Plaintiff was moving for dismissal with or without prejudice; the Plaintiff confirmed that he is moving to dismiss his Complaint with prejudice.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Unraveling the Procedural Tangle

         The procedural status of the motions before the Court is a bit tangled. To clarify, the following motions are pending: (1) a Defendants' motion for summary judgment; (2) a Plaintiff's motion to extend time; and (3) a Plaintiff's motion for voluntary dismissal. The Plaintiff has not responded to the Defendants' motion for summary judgment, but he has moved to extend the time to respond to the motion for summary judgment until after settlement discussions are resolved. The third pending motion focuses on three issues: (1) whether the Court should reject the Plaintiff's motion to dismiss and proceed with the pending motion for summary judgment; (2) whether, if the Court dismisses the Complaint with prejudice, the Court should award costs to the Defendants; and (3) whether the Court should award attorney's fees.

         B. The Motion to Dismiss With Prejudice

         The Plaintiff's motion to dismiss with prejudice explains that he brought this lawsuit on the good faith belief that Winona Hichborn had told other people that she had neither consented to the recording of her phone conversations with Mr. Sineni nor had recorded them herself. Pl.'s Mot. at 1. However, during Ms. Hichborn's deposition, Mr. Sineni learned that Ms. Hichborn had voluntarily recorded the telephone conversations. Id. at 1-2. Accordingly, Mr. Sineni moved to dismiss the complaint. Id. at 2.

         The Defendants take alternative positions. Defs.' Opp'n at 1-5. They object to the motion to dismiss and urge the Court to rule on the pending motion for summary judgment, but if the Court grants the motion to dismiss, they ask the Court to order the Plaintiff to pay attorney's fees and costs. Id. at 1. The Defendants are particularly annoyed that the Plaintiff forced them to prepare and file a dispositive motion, when he already knew that Ms. Hichborn testified that she had recorded the conversations. Id. at 1-2. The Defendants argue that the Court should consider the damage to the law enforcement officers' reputations from this lawsuit. Id. at 3. They are concerned that Mr. Sineni will dismiss this claim, only to bring new ones in this or in state court. Id. at 4. In fact, they claim that he has already filed one such claim. Id. at 2, n.2 (citing Sineni v. Cumberland Cty. Sheriff's Office, No. 2:16-cv-000520-JAW). Furthermore, they maintain that if the Court elects to dismiss the pending action, it should do so conditioned upon taxation and actual payment of allowable costs and attorney's fees from the date of the Rule 56(h) conference onward. Id. at 4.

         1. ...


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