BEST AUTO REPAIR SHOP, INC.; ELVIS MARTÍNEZ-EVANGELISTA, Plaintiffs, Appellants, MARÍA BETANCOURT-BORIA, Plaintiff,
UNIVERSAL INSURANCE GROUP; UNIVERSAL INSURANCE COMPANY; CARIBBEAN ALLIANCE INSURANCE COMPANY; EASTERN AMERICA INSURANCE AGENCY; JUANITA ORTIZ; JOHN DOE; JANE DOE, Defendants, Appellees.
FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO [Hon. Pedro A. Delgado-Hernández, U.S.
M. Sánchez La Costa, for appellants.
J. Casillas-Ayala, with whom Israel
Fernández-Rodríguez, and Casillas Santiago
Torres LLC were on brief, for appellees.
Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges.
BARRON, Circuit Judge.
-- Best Auto Repair Shop, Inc. ("Best Auto") and
("Martínez") -- appeal the District
Court's denial of their motion for reconsideration of the
District Court's grant of summary judgment dismissing all
of their claims. We affirm, largely on waiver grounds.
plaintiffs brought suit in the United States District
Court for the District of Puerto Rico against various
insurance companies and certain of those companies'
employees --including Juanita Ortiz ("Ortiz") --
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Puerto Rico law. With
respect to § 1981, the suit alleges that these
defendants had unlawfully interfered with the plaintiffs'
right to "make or enforce" existing and prospective
contracts with the defendants' insureds or third-party
the suit alleges that these defendants had discriminated
against Martínez and his business, Best Auto, by
excluding Best Auto as a repair shop for which the insurance
companies would reimburse repairs by their insureds or
third-party claimants, because Martínez is black and
Dominican. Pursuant to the federal courts' supplemental
jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367, the
plaintiffs also brought related Puerto Rico law claims for
negligence and tortious interference with contracts.
March 8, 2013, the defendants moved for summary judgment with
respect to all of the plaintiffs' claims. The defendants
included in their briefing an argument that the
plaintiffs' negligence claims were more properly
characterized as defamation claims and that, as defamation
claims, they must be dismissed on summary judgment.
District Court referred the defendants' summary judgment
motions to a magistrate judge. The Magistrate Judge that was
assigned the case then issued a report and recommendation
that Ortiz's motion be denied, but that the remaining
defendants' motion be granted in part. In so deciding,
the Magistrate Judge concluded that the plaintiffs'
negligence claims were more appropriately characterized as
defamation claims, which should be dismissed as time-barred,
unsupported by the evidence, or for having failed to allege
that the supposedly defamatory statements were not merely
opinions for which there could be no liability. All parties filed
objections to the Magistrate Judge's report and
recommendation, and these objections included objections by
the plaintiffs to the characterization of their negligence
claims as claims for defamation.
March 27, 2014, the District Court issued an order denying
Ortiz's motion for summary judgment and partially
granting the remaining defendants' motion for summary
judgment, but denying summary judgment as to:
Martínez's 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claims for, prior
to February 20, 2009, interference with contracts and
interference with Martínez's ability to make
contracts; Best Auto's 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claims for,
after February 20, 2009, interference with contracts and
interference with the making of contracts; and
Martínez's and Best Auto's claims for tortious
interference with contracts and negligence under Puerto Rico
law. With regard to the negligence claims, in particular, the
District Court explained that such claims were appropriately
treated as defamation claims, as the plaintiffs did not
dispute this characterization in their summary judgment
briefing and the Magistrate Judge had, thus, deemed the issue
plaintiffs and the defendants each moved for reconsideration,
with Ortiz and the other defendants filing a joint motion for
reconsideration. On March 31, 2016, the District Court
granted the defendants' motion for reconsideration. In
doing so, the District Court granted summary judgment on all
the claims against the defendants that remained after the
District Court's March 27, 2014 summary ...