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Houston v. Easton Area School Dist.

December 23, 2009

WILLIAM HOUSTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EASTON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry S. Perkin United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Motion to Vacate Waiver of Jury Trial filed by the Plaintiff, William Houston ("Mr. Houston"), on December 11, 2009. For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Mr. Houston filed his Complaint and demand for jury trial on June 5, 2003. The case was originally assigned to the Honorable James Knoll Gardner, and on February 17, 2004, following the consent of the parties, Judge Gardner ordered the referral of the case to United States Magistrate Judge Arnold C. Rapoport for all further proceedings and entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73.

On July 24, 2008, an arbitration award was entered, and on July 29, 2008, Mr. Houston filed a request for a trial de novo. The parties informally consented to a bench trial during a telephone conference with Magistrate Judge Rapoport, and on July 31, 2008, Chief Judge Harvey J. Bartle, III, reassigned the case to the undersigned.

A one-day bench trial was held on October 15, 2008. In a February 24, 2009 Memorandum Opinion and Verdict, this Court entered judgment for the Defendant, Easton Area School District ("EASD"). On December 8, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in a non-precedential opinion, vacated the judgment in favor of EASD and remanded this case for a new trial. The Court stated that:

[Mr.] Houston challenges the court's exclusion of comparator evidence from the trial. Because we find Act 93 status should not have been determinative as to whether the employees were similarly situated to [Mr.] Houston, we will vacate the judgment of the District Court.

We find that under the facts of this case, Act 93 status should not have been the dispositive factor for purposes of determining whether [Mr.] Houston was similarly situated to other School District administrators.

The similarly situated analysis is for the District Court to determine in the first instance. See Mendelsohn, 128 S.Ct. at 1146 ("[Questions of relevance and prejudice are for the District Court to determine in the first instance." (citing U.S. v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45, 54 (1984))). But it appears that Ciccarelli and Hettel may be similarly situated to [Mr.] Houston. . . . . Evidence of additional similarly situated employees outside of [Mr.] Houston's protected class -each of whom received or was promised 100% of his sick pay upon retirement - likely would have changed the entire complexion of the trial.

Accordingly, we will vacate the judgment in favor of the School District and remand for a new trial. On remand, the District Court should engage in a factual analysis of the relevant factors to determine whether any of the excluded comparators is similarly situated to [Mr.] Houston.

Houston v. Easton Area Sch. Dist., slip op., pp. 2, 9, 10, 11 (3d Cir. Dec. 8, 2009). As directed, we must first "engage in a factual analysis of the relevant factors to determine whether any of the excluded comparators is similarly situated to [Mr.] Houston" and then hold a new trial. At this juncture, and as a result of Mr. Houston's instant Motion, we must first decide whether to proceed with a jury trial.

Mr. Houston filed the instant Motion to Vacate Waiver of Jury Trial on December 11, 2009. EASD's Answer and Brief in Opposition to the Motion was filed on December 15, 2009, and Mr. Houston's Reply was filed on December 16, 2009. We held a telephonic conference with counsel on December 16, 2009.

II. DISCUSSION

Mr. Houston moves to vacate his waiver of jury trial demand and have the matter listed for a jury trial "in light of the procedural history of this matter, and consistent with the Due Process requirement of the Fifth Amendment." Pl.'s Mot., p. 1. He makes this Motion because he opines that "the adverse findings of fact already made in favor of Defendant and against the Plaintiff by the Trial Court sitting in the non-jury trial, fundamental fairness require[s] that the non-jury waiver be vacated, and the matter listed for a non-jury trial." Id. The EASD opposes this Motion to Vacate the Waiver because it contends that the circumstances of this case do not justify retrial by jury, the case "can be fairly retried by a bench trial without the expenditure of the significantly greater ...


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