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Ronald E. and Leslie A. Chambers, As Guardians of Ferren Chambers An Incapacitated Person and Ronald E. and Leslie A. Chambers, In Their Own Right v. the School District of Philadelphia Board of Education

August 10, 2012

RONALD E. AND LESLIE A. CHAMBERS, AS GUARDIANS OF FERREN CHAMBERS AN INCAPACITATED PERSON AND RONALD E. AND LESLIE A. CHAMBERS, IN THEIR OWN RIGHT, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gene E.K. Pratter, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

The Court previously issued a Memorandum and Order granting the School District's Motion for Summary Judgment. See Chambers v. Sch. Dist. of Phila. Bd. Of Educ., 827 F. Supp. 2d 409 (E.D. Pa. 2011). The Court determined that in order to be eligible for compensatory damages under the Rehabilitation Act ("§ 504") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), where the underlying alleged discriminatory conduct was a denial of a Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE") pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), a plaintiff must prove some level of intent to discriminate on the part of the school district. Without determining what level of intent a plaintiff must prove (e.g., bad faith, deliberate indifference, etc.), after considering all of the evidence cited by the Chambers Plaintiffs and the School District, the Court held that the Chambers Plaintiffs did not marshal sufficient evidence that the School District acted even with deliberate indifference toward Ferren Chambers's educational needs. Accordingly, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the School District without prejudice.*fn2

In the earlier Memorandum Opinion, the Court pointed out two major flaws with the Chambers Plaintiffs' summary judgment papers. First, after determining that the due process hearing officer's April 2, 2004 decision was inadmissible as evidence here, the Court observed that the Chambers Plaintiffs mistook the due process hearing officer's decision for record evidence, and erroneously relied on the decision itself in support of their argument that the School District acted with deliberate indifference, rather than bolstering the summary judgment record with direct evidence suitable here, which evidence may well have been underlying the Hearing Officer's decision.

Second, the Court noted that the Chambers Plaintiffs' repeatedly failed to cite to documentary evidence that was in the summary judgment record that might or might not have raised an inference that the School District acted with deliberate indifference toward Ferren's needs. As one pertinent example, the Court observed that the Chambers Plaintiffs physically attached the March 18, 2004 due process hearing transcript as their Exhibit 2 to their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 97), but failed to cite to it, refer to it in any respect, or use it in any way either in support of their motion or in opposition to the School District's motion.

The Court neither ruled on the import of the sworn testimony in the hearing transcript nor formed an opinion on whether such testimony was or was not admissible or sufficient in and of itself to raise a genuine issue of material fact. Rather, due to the highly sensitive and sympathetic nature of the Chambers Plaintiffs' situation, the Court sought to give the Chambers Plaintiffs the limited opportunity, in the form of a motion for reconsideration or motion to reopen, to explain what, if any, significance the Court should or could have given this evidence, if indeed, the Chambers Plaintiffs had actually cited to it. By providing this opportunity, the Court made clear that:

[T]he issue of what constitutes "the record" for purposes of a summary judgment motion and, of even greater practical importance, the Rules-based obligation of a party to cite materials to the Court (not an obligation of the Court to root through a host of papers hunting for possible genuine disputes of material facts), are of considerable importance to the outcome of these motions and possibly, a potential justification for a subsequent request that the Court permit the parties to "try again."

Id. at 416 (emphasis added). Notwithstanding the Court's intimation that it might permit the parties to "try again," the Court further explained that any such "possibl[e]" revisiting of the specific issue "with more appropriate briefing and/or record references" would depend upon the parties "follow[ing] both the Rules of Civil Procedure and this Court's published rules for the submission of such motions." Id. at 421. The Court concluded that:

[I]n the event a bona fide, good faith argument can be made that the Chambers Plaintiffs erred in their understanding as to the "record" on which they could or should base their summary judgment motion and/or as to their obligations to raise such issues, the Court would permit an application for leave to re-open and supplement these summary judgment papers, so long as any such effort was undertaken in keeping with the time limits attendant to motions for reconsideration.

Id. at 430.

In other words, the Court left open the prospect for the Chambers Plaintiffs to file a motion for reconsideration, if they could direct the Court to appropriate citations in the pre-existing summary judgment record (i.e., what was already presented to the Court in the summary judgment briefing), and second, if they could argue why, if at all, that evidence compels the Court to reconsider its grant of summary judgment. In a subsequent November 16, 2011 Order, the Court stressed that the opportunity to file such a motion was "not an invitation to the Plaintiffs to 're-fil[e] an entirely new motion for summary judgment' or to 'review and assembl[e] . . . hundreds and hundreds of educational records . . . .'"*fn3 (Doc. No. 135).

Notwithstanding the Court's admonitions and limiting instructions, on November 17, 2011, the Chambers Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Alter Judgment (Doc. No. 136-137) in which they attached an affidavit from Ronald Chambers which referenced multiple documents that had not been part of the summary judgment record as of October 24, 2011. In an effort once again to clarify the bounds of the Court's ruling, and how the Chambers Plaintiffs had exceeded the Court's limited indulgence, the Court held a status conference on November 22, 2011.

The day after the conference, Plaintiffs' Counsel sent a letter notifying the Court that he did not intend to withdraw the Affidavit previously filed with the Court on November 17, 2011, and requesting permission to supplement his post-summary judgment filings with a brief offering citations to the March 2004 hearing transcript and other portions of the summary judgment record. Late that same day, the Chambers Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Supplement their Summary Judgment Papers (Doc. No. 141), continuing to argue that the Court should consider the additional newly submitted evidence along with Mr. Chambers's Affidavit.

On November 28, 2011, the Court issued an Order memorializing the parties' understanding following the November 22, 2011 status conference ...


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