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Houston v. Easton Area School Dist.

March 2, 2010

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 following the remand of this case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is Defendant's Motion in Limine seeking exclusion of evidence relating to "historical inequities," a "secret code" and evidence regarding Joseph Piazza, a former Superintendent of the Defendant, Easton Area School District. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

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 Defendant. On December 8, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in a nonprecedential opinion, vacated the judgment and remanded this case for a new trial. On December 23, 2009, Mr. Houston's Motion to Vacate Waiver of Jury Trial was granted. On December 24, 2009, in accordance with the December 8, 2009 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit remanding this case for a new trial and for this Court to "engage in a factual analysis of the relevant factors to determine whether any of the excluded comparators is similarly situated to [Plaintiff]," the parties were ordered to provide briefs regarding this issue not later than January 8, 2010. On January 7, 2010, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Enlargement of Time to File Briefs Regarding Appropriate Comparators to Plaintiff. The Motion was granted nunc pro tunc on January 11, 2010, extending the deadline for filing briefs to January 22, 2010.

On February 9, 2010, this Court vacated an October 3, 2005 order which had partially granted Defendant's prior motion in limine and an October 8, 2008 order denying Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of the October 3, 2005 order. Defendant's previous motion in limine was similar to the motion currently at issue. On February 15, 2010, Defendant filed the instant Motion in Limine. On February 18, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion, which Plaintiff supplemented in a February 22, 2010 letter, and Defendant submitted a letter Reply dated February 26, 2010.

II. STANDARD

Defendant moves to preclude Plaintiff from introducing evidence on the grounds that it is not relevant or unfairly prejudicial. "Relevant evidence" according to Federal Rule of Evidence 401 is defined as "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." F.R.E. 401. An exception to the rule that all relevant evidence is generally admissible is Federal Rule of Evidence 403, which provides that "[a]lthough relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." F.R.E. 403. Each of Defendant's arguments is hereafter examined.

III. DISCUSSION

On December 8, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in a non-precedential opinion, vacated the judgment of this Court in favor of Defendant following a non-jury trial and remanded this case for a new trial. The Court stated:

The District Court granted in part the School District's motion in limine, excluding evidence of the retirement packages of three of the four alleged comparators on the basis that they were not similarly situated to Houston because their positions were not covered under a Pennsylvania statute commonly known as Act 93, 24 P.S. § 11-1164. 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 Houston, we will vacate the judgment of the District Court.

Houston v. Easton Area Sch. Dist., slip op., p. 2 (3d Cir. Dec. 8, 2009). On February 9, 2010, this Court, in accordance with the Third Circuit's directive for a new trial, vacated its October 3, 2005 order partially granting Defendant's motion in limine and this Court's October 8, 2008 order denying Plaintiff's motion to reconsider the October 3, 2005 order. In so doing, it was the sole intention of this Court to comply with the Third Circuit's directive.

Notwithstanding the Third Circuit's decision remanding this case for a new trial and this Court's February 9, 2010 Order, Defendant moves to exclude evidence, testimony and argument regarding an alleged "secret code," "historical inequities" and the retirement of Joseph Piazza on the basis that the 2003 exclusion of evidence is the law of the case. Defendant characterizes the Third Circuit decision as leaving intact the exclusion of historical evidence, exclusion of a "secret code" and exclusion of Piazza as a comparator, therefore Defendant maintains that exclusion of this evidence is the law of the case.

In reviewing this argument, we return to the Third Circuit decision. On appeal, Plaintiff did not challenge this Court's exclusion of historical inequities evidence. Id., pp. 5-6 n.6. Similarly, the Third Circuit noted that, on appeal, Plaintiff appeared to concede that Piazza, as Superintendent, was not an appropriate comparator. Id., p. 10 n.7. Because Defendant again moves in the instant Motion for exclusion of ...


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