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K.R. v. School Dist. of Philadelphia

December 26, 2008

K.R., ET AL.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.


Presently before this Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for New Trial. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be denied.

I. Background and Procedural History

The factual background of this case has been described by this Court in the past. See K.R. v. School Dist. of Philadelphia, 2007 WL 2726236, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 14, 2007) (considering several motions to dismiss); K.R. v. School Dist. of Philadelphia, 2008 WL 2609810, at *1-2 (E.D. Pa. June 26, 2008) (considering several motions for judgment). The facts leading up to this litigation will therefore be briefly summarized.

The child at issue in this case, K.R., was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger Syndrome). Before K.R. entered kindergarten at Solis-Cohen Elementary School, Dr. Taylor did not diagnose K.R. with autism, but identified her as learning disabled, and the School District developed an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") for her, which provided for "as needed" assistance through the School Based Behavioral Health ("SBBH") program. Halfway through K.R.'s first year of kindergarten, the school revised her IEP to include one-on-one therapy from a staff assistant at the PA Mentor network.

The following school year, while K.R. was in first grade, the District eliminated her one-on-one support, and provided her with an uncertified teacher for her instruction. During the same year, K.R. was verbally and physically assaulted by her classmates on two occasions. Fearful for K.R.'s safety and dissatisfied with the instruction she was receiving, K.R.'s parents withdrew her from school and have been home-schooling her since.

In May 2005, K.R.'s parents sought a due process hearing under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., on the grounds that the District had failed to provide their daughter with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") and safe school environment. The Hearing Officer denied the parents' request and concluded that the record weighed in favor of the School District. The Appeals Panel affirmed the Hearing Officer's decision, and Plaintiffs commenced this action on June 13, 2006. (Doc. 3).

After several motions were decided by this Court, including granting summary judgment for the School District on Plaintiffs' IDEA claim (Doc. No. 89), Plaintiffs proceeded to trial on their claims alleging violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. After several days of trial from August 20, 2008 until August 25, 2008 (Doc. 110-16, 131), the jury returned a verdict in favor of the School District (Doc. 122), and Judgment was subsequently entered for the School District and against Plaintiffs (Doc. 123). Plaintiffs subsequently filed both a Motion for New Trial (Doc. 124) and a Motion to Excuse the Filing of a Transcript (Doc. 127). This Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion to Excuse the Filing of a Transcript, K.R. v. School Dist. Of Philadelphia, 2008 WL 4822041 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 5, 2008). Plaintiffs' Motion for New Trial is currently before this Court.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a trial court, in its discretion, to grant a new trial "on all or part of the issues in an action where there has been a trial by jury, 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). Such an endeavor is not, however, lightly undertaken, because it necessarily "effects a denigration of the jury system and to the extent that new trials are granted the judge takes over, if he does not usurp, the prime function of the jury as the trier of the facts." Lind v. Schenley Indus., Inc., 278 F.2d 79, 90 (3d Cir. 1960) (en banc). Therefore, "[a] new trial may be granted [only] when the verdict is contrary to the great weight of the evidence; that is, 'where a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand.'" Pryer v. C.O. 3 Slavic, 251 F.3d 448, 453 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Olefins Trading, Inc. v. Han Yang Chem. Corp., 9 F.3d 282, 289 (3d Cir. 1993)).

When the asserted basis for a new trial is the that jury verdict is against the weight of the evidence, "the district court ought to grant a new trial only when the record shows that the jury's verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice or where the verdict, on the record, cries out to be overturned or shocks our conscience." Klein v. Hollings, 992 F.2d 1285, 1290 (3d Cir. 1993); EEOC v. Delaware Dep't of Health and Social Servs., 865 F.2d 1408, 1413 (3d Cir. 1989). In making this determination, the Court should consider the character and complexity of the evidence that the jury considered; the Court has less leeway to substitute its judgment for that of the jury where the subject of the litigation is "easily comprehended by any intelligent layman." See Lind, 278 F.2d at 88-91.

When the asserted basis for a new trial is trial error by the judge, "the court's inquiry ... is twofold. It must first determine whether an error was made in the course of the trial, and then must determine whether the error was so prejudicial that refusal to grant a new trial would be inconsistent with substantial justice." Farra v. Stanley-Bostitch, Inc., 838 F. Supp. 1021, 1026 (E.D. Pa. 1993).

III. Discussion

Plaintiffs argue that their Motion for New Trial should be granted for four reasons: (1) this Court's not including additional language in the verdict form; (2) this Court's errors in charging of the jury; (3) comments on the evidence by this Court and ...

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