Braden v. Mountain Home School District et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING 62 Motion for Reconsideration, filed by Debbie Atkinson, Charles Scriber, Cassie Fowler, Mountain Home School District, Linda White, Michelle McWilliams. Signed by Honorable P. K. Holmes, III on March 12, 2013. (jas)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
SCOTT BRADEN, as parent and next friend of M
Case No. 3:10-CV-03118
MOUNTAIN HOME SCHOOL DISTRICT;
CHARLES SCRIBER; DEBBIE ATKINSON;
MICHELLE MCWILLIAMS; and LINDA WHITE
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is Defendants Mountain Home School District, Charles Scriber, Debbie
Atkinson, Michelle McWilliams, and Linda White’s1 Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 62) of the
Court’s February 12, 2013, order denying their Amended Second Motion for Summary Judgment.
Plaintiff did not file a response.
Defendants contend that their Motion for Reconsideration is made pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 59(e), which concerns motions to alter or amend judgments. However, as no
judgment has entered in this case, Rule 59(e) does not apply. Instead, the Court construes
Defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration as a motion for relief from a final order pursuant to Rule
60(b), which may be granted due to (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2)
newly discovered evidence; (3) fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; (4)
a void judgment; (5) a judgment based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or
(6) any other reason that justifies itself. Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b). Rule 60(b) “provides for
Since the filing of Defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration, Plaintiff moved to voluntarily
dismiss Defendant Cassie Fowler from the lawsuit, with prejudice (Doc. 65). The Court entered an
order on March 8, 2013, advising Plaintiff that the Court would not consider his motion to dismiss
until he complied with Local Rule 7.2 by filing a brief in support. As no brief in support has been
filed to date, Ms. Fowler remains a Defendant to this action.
extraordinary relief which may be granted only upon an adequate showing of exceptional
circumstances.” United States v. Young, 806 F.2d 805, 806 (8th Cir. 1986). Here, the Court
concludes that the relief Defendants seek is not justified pursuant to Rule 60(b).
The Court determined in its first order denying summary judgment on qualified immunity
that a genuine issue of material fact exists regarding whether any of the individual Defendants, who
are school officials, had knowledge of the incidents surrounding the alleged sexual abuse and sexual
assault of Plaintiff’s child, M, by another student. If such knowledge on the part of any of these
school officials were proven at trial, Defendants could be subject to individual liability pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants now inform the Court that they refrained from appealing the Court’s
first summary judgment order on the issue of qualified immunity—even though Defendants believed
that an appeal “would likely have resulted in remand”—in order to afford the Court a second chance,
of sorts, to redeem itself and revisit the argument when Defendants trotted it out again, without
material change, in their Amended Second Motion for Summary Judgment. See Doc. 63, p. 4. The
Amended Second Motion for Summary Judgment treated the Court to a rehash of the same legal
arguments on qualified immunity that were submitted by Defendants the first time around.
Though Defendants complain in their Motion for Reconsideration that the Court failed to
conduct an individualized assessment of each Defendant’s entitlement to qualified immunity, the
Court finds that the parties did not provide sufficient information about the individual Defendants
to allow the Court to substantively distinguish between them, whether by their knowledge or by their
job descriptions. Plaintiff generally alleges that each Defendant had knowledge of the facts asserted
in the Complaint, and Defendants in response generally deny knowledge or responsibility and submit
affidavits confirming their general denials.
Determining the extent of a party’s knowledge necessarily involves drawing inferences from
factual circumstances, which is generally inappropriate for a trial court to do on summary judgment.
“[I]nformation relating to state of mind generally is within the exclusive knowledge of one of the
litigants and can be evaluated only on the basis of circumstantial evidence . . . Inasmuch as a
determination of someone’s state of mind usually entails the drawing of factual inferences as to
which reasonable people might differ—a function traditionally left to the jury—summary judgment
often will be an inappropriate means of resolving an issue of this character.” 10B Charles A. Wright
& Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2730 (3d ed.) (1998). Ultimately, the
credibility of each Defendant must be tested by a jury at trial. “A court is not ‘to weigh the evidence
and determine the truth of the matter but [instead should] determine whether there is a genuine issue
for trial.’” Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Schmidt, 967 F.2d 270, 272 (8th Cir. 1992) (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986)). “[T]rial courts should act with great
caution and may deny summary judgment when [they] believe the better course is to proceed with
a full trial.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). “It is only when the witnesses are present and subject
to cross-examination that their credibility and the weight to be given their testimony can be
appraised.” Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 473 (1962). Moreover,
“trial by affidavit is no substitute for trial by jury which so long has been the hallmark of ‘even
handed justice.’” Id.
Defendants also contend that the Court failed to properly consider the significance of two
supposedly “critical” exhibits submitted in support of the Amended Second Motion for Summary
Judgment. These two exhibits were (1) the notes of M’s teacher, Cassie Fowler, and (2) an affidavit
submitted by the police officer who investigated M’s alleged sexual assault. Defendants believe that
the evidence contained in these two exhibits conclusively establishes Defendants’ collective lack of
knowledge that there was any “sex-related problem” going on in M’s classroom prior to M’s alleged
sexual assault. (Doc. 63, p. 2).
The Court finds that the information in Ms. Fowler’s notes does not establish whether or not
Ms. Fowler or any of the other Defendants had knowledge of the events described in the Complaint.
The extent of Defendants’ knowledge is a fact issue that is properly left for the fact-finder at trial.
As for the affidavit of the investigating police officer, the Court finds that the information contained
therein does not change the Court’s conclusion as to the individual Defendants’ entitlement to
qualified immunity. Though the police officer in his affidavit points out a typographical error
contained in the original police report, the Court did not rely on the error when making its findings.
See Doc. 33, p. 4 (clearly assuming the police report and all contemporaneous interviews conducted
by the investigating officer took place in May of 2009).
Accordingly, the Court finds that Defendants Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 62) is
DENIED. This case is set for jury trial beginning on April 2, 2013.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 12th day of March, 2013.
/s/P. K. Holmes, III
P.K. HOLMES, III
CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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