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Washington v. Katy Independent School District

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

September 4, 2019

LORI WASHINGTON, ex rel. J.W., Plaintiffs,
v.
KATY INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT and ELVIN PALEY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          LEE H. ROSENTHAL CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In 2016, an officer in the Katy Independent School District's police department tasered and handcuffed J.W., a 17-year-old special-education student. His mother, Lori Washington, sued the District and the School Resource Officer who was involved, Elvin Paley, on J.W.'s behalf, for violating his federally protected rights. (Docket Entry Nos. 1, 12). In June 2019, the court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the claims for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, the Equal Protection Clause, and J.W.'s due-process rights to bodily integrity. The court denied the motion for summary judgment on the § 1983 claim against Officer Paley. (Docket Entry No. 34).

         Ms. Washington now moves for reconsideration of the court's grant of summary judgment on the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims. (Docket Entry No. 39). The defendants responded, and Ms. Washington replied. (Docket Entry Nos. 43, 49).

         Based on the motion, response, and reply; the parties' submissions; and the applicable law, the court denies Ms. Washington's motion for reconsideration, analyzing both administrative exhaustion and the merits of the § 504 and ADA claims. (Docket Entry No. 39). The reasons for this ruling are detailed below.

         I. Background

         The relevant background is detailed in this court's June 2019 Memorandum and Opinion and only summarized here. (See Docket Entry No. 34). Briefly, J.W. has emotional and intellectual disabilities that required special-educational services and accommodations while he was a student at the Mayde Creek High School in 2016. (Docket Entry No. 12 at ¶¶ 31-32). In November 2016, J.W. became upset at school, tried to leave the school building to walk himself home, and was tasered by Officer Paley when he refused to remain in the building. (See Docket Entry Nos. 28-10, 29-2; see also Docket Entry No. 28-6 at 2). Another school resource officer handcuffed J.W. after he was tasered and lying on the floor, and Officer Paley called emergency medical services. (See Docket Entry No. 28-1 at ¶¶ 7, 9; Docket Entry No. 29-2 at ¶¶ 31, 41-42; Docket Entry No. 28-10). J.W. did not return to school that year. (Docket Entry No. 12 at ¶¶ 93, 114).

         Ms. Washington sued, alleging, among other claims, that the District had discriminated against J.W. based on his disabilities, in violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. (Id. at ¶¶ 153-72). Because J.W. received special-education services at the Mayde Creek High School under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., Ms. Washington was required to exhaust any claims “relat[ed] to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child.” 20 U.S.C. §§ 1415(b)(6)(A), (f).

         Ms. Washington filed an administrative complaint in December 2017 under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(7). The complaint included J.W.'s § 504 and ADA claims, as well as his claim alleging that the District had violated his right to a free and appropriate public education under the IDEA. (Docket Entry No. 12 at ¶ 7; see Docket Entry No. 27 at 221-43). The hearing officer dismissed the § 504 and ADA claims for lack of jurisdiction and dismissed the IDEA claims as time-barred under the one-year statute of limitations. (Docket Entry No. 27 at 72).

         The defendants argued in their summary judgment motion that Ms. Washington's § 504 and ADA claims had to be exhausted because they related to providing J.W. a free and appropriate public education. (Docket Entry No. 28 at 13-17). The court agreed, concluding that under Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, 137 S.Ct. 743 (2017), the § 504 and ADA claims were related to a free and appropriate public education for J.W. because the “claims could not be brought if the alleged conduct had happened outside school” and “rest[ed] on J.W.'s student status.” (Docket Entry No. 34 at 16, 17 (citing Fry, 137 S.Ct. at 756)). The court found that J.W.'s age and graduation did not make administrative exhaustion futile, and that Ms. Washington “did not and cannot show that she exhausted her administrative remedies.” (Id. at 18, 19).

         Ms. Washington moves for reconsideration, arguing that the § 504 and ADA claims were only about the tasering incident and did not implicate a “failure of special education services.” (Docket Entry No. 39 at 15). She argues that the court committed clear error in applying Fry. (Id. at 16-21). The defendants responded, arguing that the court's June 2019 Memorandum and Opinion correctly applied Fry in concluding that Ms. Washington's § 504 and ADA claims were sufficiently connected to relief available under the IDEA to require administrative exhaustion. (Docket Entry No. 43).

         The arguments on exhaustion and, as an alternative ground for deciding, on the merits of the § 504 and ADA claims, are analyzed below.

         II. The Standard for a Motion for Reconsideration

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not formally recognize a motion to reconsider. See St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Fair Grounds Corp., 123 F.3d 336, 339 (5th Cir. 1997) (“[T]he Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not recognize a general motion for reconsideration.”). Motions to reconsider that seek to amend a final judgment are treated as motions to alter or amend a judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), or motions for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b), depending on when the motion is filed. Demahy v. Schwarz Pharm. Inc., No. 11- 31073, 2012 WL 5261492, at *2 n.2 (5th Cir. Oct. 25, 2012) (citing Tex. A & M Research Found. v. Magna Transp., Inc., 338 F.3d 394, 400 (5th Cir. 2003)). A motion for reconsideration is considered under Rule 59(e) if it is filed within 28 days of the court's ruling, and under Rule 60(b) if it is filed after that. Demahy, 2012 WL 5261492, at *2 n.2 (citing Tex. A&M, 338 F.3d at 400). However, Rule 54(b) applies to motions to reconsider interlocutory orders that do not dispose of every claim or resolve the rights of all parties to the litigation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b); Austin v. Kroger Texas, L.P., 864 F.3d 326, 336 (5th Cir. 2017).

         Ms. Washington moves under Rule 59(e). (Docket Entry No. 39 at 8). The court does not consider the standard under Rule 60(b), which permits courts to relieve a party of a final judgment, order, or proceeding but in extraordinary circumstances. See In re Pettle, 410 F.3d 189, 191 (5th Cir. 2005). This motion is considered under Rule 54(b) because the court's June 2019 Memorandum and Opinion did not dispose of all claims or resolve the rights of all parties to this litigation. See Caral v. Brennan, 853 F.3d 763, 766 (5th Cir. 2017).

         Rule 54(b) underscores the court's power to “reconsider, rescind or modify an interlocutory order for a cause seen by [the court] to be sufficient.” Stoffels ex rel. SBC Telephone Concession Plan v. SBC Commc'ns, Inc., 677 F.3d 720, 726 (5th Cir. 2012). “Under Rule 54(b), ‘the trial court is free to reconsider and reverse its decision for any reason it deems sufficient, even in the absence of new evidence or an intervening change in or clarification of the substantive law.'” Austin, 864 F.3d at 336 (quoting Lavespere v. Niagara Mach. & Tool Works, Inc., 910 F.2d 167, 185 (5th Cir. 1990), abrogated on other grounds, Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 n.14 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc)). Although motions to reconsider interlocutory orders are considered more leniently than motions to amend under Rule 59(e), the Rule 59(e) factors offer guidance. See Livingston Downs Racing Ass'n v. Jefferson Downs Corp., 259 F.Supp.2d 471, 474-75 (M.D. La. 2002).

         A motion seeking reconsideration may not be used to relitigate matters, raise arguments, or submit evidence that could have been presented before the judgment or order was entered. 11 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1 (3d ed.). “To obtain relief . . ., the movant must (1) show that its motion is necessary to correct a manifest error of law or fact, (2) present newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence, (3) show that its motion is necessary to prevent manifest injustice, or (4) show that its motion is justified by an ...


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