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Albright v. Mountain Home School District

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

September 15, 2017

JACQUIE ALBRIGHT, as Parent and Next Best Friend of CHILD DOE PLAINTIFF
v.
MOUNTAIN HOME SCHOOL DISTRICT; DEBBIE ATKINSON, Director of Special Education; and SUSANNE BELK, BCBA Consultant DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently before the Court are Plaintiff Jacquie Albright's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment Pursuant to Rule 59(e) (Doc. 110) and Brief in Support (Doc. 111), and Defendants Mountain Home School District's ("the District"), Debbie Atkinson's, and Susanne Belk's Response in Opposition (Doc. 113). For the reasons given below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 5, 2017, the Court entered Judgment in favor of the Defendants in this case, dismissing Counts 1 through 5 of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 41) with prejudice, and dismissing Count 6 without prejudice. See Doc. 106. Specifically, as to Count 1, the Court affirmed the October 29, 2015 decision of an administrative hearing officer that the District did not deny Plaintiffs child a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). See Doc. 105, pp. 5-9. With respect to Counts 2 through 5, which brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Court ruled that the Defendants were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. See Id. at 22-25. Then, the Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the claims in Count 6, which were premised exclusively on alleged violations of state law. See Id. at 25. Plaintiff believes that these rulings were "fatally infected by ... manifest errors of law or fact, " and accordingly has filed a Motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), asking the Court to alter or amend its Judgment. See Doc. 110, ¶ 2. Defendants oppose Plaintiffs Motion.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Motions to alter or amend judgments under Rule 59(e) "serve the limited function of correcting manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." United States v. Metro. St. Louis Sewer Dist, 440 F.3d 930, 933 (8th Cir. 2006). "Such motions cannot be used to introduce new evidence, tender new legal theories, or raise arguments which could have been offered or raised prior to entry of judgment." Id. Whether to grant a Rule 59(e) motion is a decision that is committed to this Court's discretion. See id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff contends that the Court made four "manifest errors of law or fact" warranting revision of the Judgment. Two of those claimed errors would impact the Court's summary judgment rulings regarding Counts 2 through 5 of the Amended Complaint. The other two claimed errors would impact the Court's ruling on Plaintiff's IDEA appeal that was brought in Count 1 of the Amended Complaint. Below, the Court will first address Plaintiff's arguments relating to Counts 2 through 5. Then, the Court will address Plaintiffs arguments relating to Count 1.

         A. Counts 2 through 5

         The first asserted error relating to Counts 2 through 5 involves the Court's decision to deny Plaintiff's Motion to Accept Response to Summary Judgment Out of Time (Doc. 89) and, accordingly, to strike Plaintiff's untimely Response to Summary Judgment and supporting materials (Docs. 81-88), and to deem admitted or undisputed all assertions of fact that Defendants made for purposes of summary judgment. See Doc. 105, pp. 10-16. The Court analyzed Plaintiff's Motion to Accept Response to Summary Judgment Out of Time in the same section of its Opinion and Order where it analyzed two other motions by Plaintiff that untimely sought leave to extend deadlines that had been set in the Court's Case Management Order. See Id. In its recitation of the legal standard for all three of these motions, the Court cited Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4), which states that "[a] schedule may be modified only for good cause and with the judge's consent." See Doc. 105, at 11. Then, after citing Bradford v. DANA Corp., 249 F.3d 807, 809 (8th Cir. 2009), for the proposition that "[t]he primary measure of Rule 16's 'good cause' standard is the moving party's diligence in attempting to meet the case management order's requirements, " (Doc. 105, p. 12), the Court discussed at rather great length, with extensive citation to the record of this and other cases involving Plaintiff's counsel, the facts supporting the Court's conclusion that such diligence was wholly lacking here, see Id. at 12-16. Plaintiff now contends that the Court erred by applying the Rule 16(b)(4) standard to her Motion to Accept Response to Summary Judgment Out of Time, instead of the standard under Rule 6(b)(1)(B), which states that "[w]hen an act may or must be done within a specified time, the court may, for good cause, extend the time... on motion made after the time has expired if the party failed to act because of excusable neglect."

         The Court agrees with Plaintiff's contention that it should have applied Rule 6(b)(1)(B), instead of Rule 16(b)(4), to her Motion to Accept Response to Summary Judgment Out of Time since, technically speaking, her deadline to respond to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment was provided not by the Court's Case Management Order, but rather by Local Rule 7.2(b). However, doing so would have made no practical difference at all. Both 6(b)(1)(B) and Rule 16(b)(4) explicitly require a finding of "good cause" to extend a deadline, and the Court is no more inclined to make such a finding under Rule 6(b)(1)(B) than it was under Rule 16(b)(4). Regardless of what Federal Rule is being applied, there is no good cause for relief from a deadline where there has been "contumacious . .. disregard for deadlines and procedural rules." See, e.g., Johnson v. Dayton Bee. Mfg. Co., 140 F.3d 781, 784 (8th Cir. 1998) (discussing the standard for relief from a default judgment under Rules 55(c) and 60(b)). A textbook example of such contumacious disregard would be Plaintiff's decision here to file a summary judgment response ten days after the deadline to do so passed, despite having been explicitly warned by the Court on at least three different prior occasions that she would not be permitted to do so.[1] See Doc. 105, pp. 11, 14-15. And that particular instance of contumacious disregard is seen in an even more aggravating light when viewed within the context of the broader pattern of disregard that the Court discussed in its last Opinion and Order, which the Court will adopt and incorporate by reference without further rehashing here. See Id. at 10-16.

         The second ruling relating to Counts 2 through 5 that Plaintiff contends was erroneous, is the Court's ruling limiting the temporal scope of Plaintiff's non-IDEA federal claims on the grounds that Plaintiffs settlement of prior due process complaints did not satisfy the requirement that she exhaust her administrative remedies under the IDEA. See Id. at 17-22. Plaintiff makes no showing of any "manifest" legal or factual error in this ruling; her argument for amendment or alteration of the Judgment on this point rests entirely on free-floating arguments about the policies and purposes undergirding the IDEA, see Doc. 111, pp. 22-23, and on a solitary unpublished and nonbinding decision from the Eastern District of Missouri that was issued well before her deadline to respond to Defendants' summary judgment motion, see Id. at 21. But as noted above, Rule 59(e) motions may not be used to "tender new legal theories, or raise arguments which could have been offered or raised prior to entry of judgment." Metro. St. Louis Sewer Dist, 440 F.3d 930 at 933. In summary, neither of Plaintiff's claimed errors regarding Counts 2 through 5 warrants altering or amending the Judgment with respect to those Counts.

         B. Count 1

         Plaintiff's first asserted error with respect to Count 1 is the Court's decision to rule on her IDEA appeal on the basis of the briefs and written record without also receiving oral argument. Plaintiff contends that if the Court had received oral argument, then she would have supplemented the record on her IDEA appeal with the expert report of Dr. Howard Knoff, Ph.D. Plaintiff further contends that she put the Court on notice of her intent to supplement the record when, on December 19, 2016, she stated on the second page of a Motion to Continue Hearing on IDEA Claim, and Motion to Extend Time to Provide Expert Report, that "[additionally, due to the voluminous record in this case and issues, Plaintiff requests to present additional testimony and evidence at the Hearing, which she expects would take one hour or less - but which is necessary to assist the Court in disposing of this appeal." (Doc. 52, ¶ 6); Admittedly, when the Court entered its Opinion and Order and Judgment on Plaintiff's IDEA appeal without receiving oral argument, it had not considered the possibility that Plaintiff would seek to supplement the evidentiary record during the same hearing at which oral argument on the briefs would have ...


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