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Derrick F. v. Red Lion Area School Dist.

November 14, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


This case arises out of a dispute over whether Defendant, the Red Lion Area School District (hereinafter "the School District") complied with various statutes and administrative orders regarding the School District's provision of special education services for Plaintiff, Derrick F.,*fn1 who is deaf-blind. Defendant moves for a new trial or reconsideration of the court's September 1, 2006 preliminary injunction order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, subsections (a) and (e). Defendant submits a copy of a draft Individualized Education Program (IEP) that it argues constitutes after-acquired evidence warranting an amended judgment or new trial. Plaintiffs dispute that Defendant has set forth "new" evidence that satisfies the requirements of Rule 59 or has otherwise established any "manifest" error of law or fact. Because Defendant fails to provide new evidence, or otherwise establish a manifest error of law or fact, that would support reconsideration or a new trial, the court will deny Defendant's motion.

I. Background

A detailed statement of facts is included in the court's September 1, 2006 order (Doc. 25). The facts relevant to the instant inquiry are as follows.

On September 1, 2006, the court granted Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction (Doc. 2) in part. (See Doc. 25.) Specifically, the court ordered the School District to provide, within thirty days of the court's order, five days of advance training and ten days of in-school training to Derrick's intervenor, Mrs. Prowell, in accordance with language included in an IEP dated March 31, 2006. The court awarded injunctive relief after finding that the March 31, 2006 IEP admitted at the trial was the final IEP setting forth requirements for Derrick's education. That finding was based "in large part due to deference to the findings of the PDE." (Id. at 9.)

On September 14, 2006, Defendant filed a Motion for Reconsideration and/or New Trial (Doc. 26). The School District attached to the motion a copy of an IEP draft purported to be the working draft used at the March 31, 2006 IEP meeting (hereinafter "working draft"). Defendant argues that the working draft establishes that the parties had not reached agreement or developed a final IEP at the conclusion of the March 31, 2006 IEP meeting and, therefore, establishes that the March 31, 2006 IEP reviewed by the court was not final. Defendant also attached an affidavit of Laura J. Fitz, the Supervisor of Special Education for the School District, stating that she had not found the working draft sooner due to health problems she experienced from the time Plaintiffs filed the complaint up until and during the time she testified at the preliminary injunction hearing.

Plaintiffs filed their brief in opposition to Defendant's motion on October 13, 2006 (Doc. 28) and Defendant filed its reply brief on October 27, 2006 (Doc. 29). Thus, the matter is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

A. Motion for Reconsideration

A motion for reconsideration is governed by Federal Rule 59(e), which allows a party to move to alter or amend a judgment within ten days of its entry. McDowell Oil Serv., Inc. v. Interstate Fire & Cas. Co., 817 F. Supp. 538, 541 (M.D. Pa. 1993). "The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). "Accordingly, a judgment may be altered or amended if the party seeking reconsideration shows at least one of the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Café, by Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)). "A motion for reconsideration is not to be used as a means to reargue matters already argued and disposed of or as an attempt to relitigate a point of disagreement between the Court and the litigant." Ogden v. Keystone Residence, 226 F. Supp. 2d 588, 606 (M.D. Pa. 2002) (internal quotations omitted). Likewise, reconsideration motions may not be used to raise new arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment. McDowell Oil Serv. Inc., 817 F. Supp. at 541. Finally, "[r]econsideration of judgment is an extraordinary remedy[, and] such motions should be granted sparingly." D'Angio v. Borough of Nescopeck, 56 F. Supp. 2d 502, 504 (M.D. Pa. 1999).

B. Motion for New Trial

A motion for a new trial is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Under this rule, in the case of a jury trial, "[a] new trial may be granted to all or any of the parties and on all or part of the issues . . . for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of the United States." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1). In the Third Circuit, a new trial is warranted "when the verdict is against the great weight of the evidence or errors at trial produce a result inconsistent with substantial justice." Sandrow v. United States, 832 F. Supp. 918, 918 (E.D. Pa. 1993) (citing Roebuck v. Drexel Univ., 852 F.2d 715, 735-36 (3d Cir. 1988)); see also Bullen v. Chaffinch, 336 F. Supp. 2d 342, 346 (D. Del. 2004) (noting that excessive damages or improper use of peremptory challenges to exclude potential jurors on the basis of race are other grounds for a new trial).

When a motion for a new trial is based on a prejudicial error of law, the court has broad discretion to order a new trial. Klein v. Hollings, 992 F.2d 1285, 1289-90 (3d Cir. 1993). If, however, a motion for a new trial is premised on a verdict that is allegedly against the weight of the evidence, the court's discretion is more limited. Williamson v. Consol. Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1353 (3d Cir. 1991). Under these circumstances, a new trial should only be granted when the verdict "cries out to be overturned or shocks the conscience." Id. Nonetheless, in reviewing a motion for a new trial, the court must draw all reasonable ...

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