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Kalle Snyder, Marge Snyder, and Stephen v. Shenendehowa Central School District

February 22, 2011

KALLE SNYDER, MARGE SNYDER, AND STEPHEN C. SNYDER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SHENENDEHOWA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



DECISION and ORDER

Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for a new trial made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Dkt. No. 256 ("Rule 59 Motion"). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' Motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the underlying facts of the instant action and shall recount only those relevant to the instant Motion.

Plaintiffs initiated this suit on August 10, 1998. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). On March 20, 2007, after an earlier ruling dismissing certain Defendants and claims, see Dkt. No. 84, the Court dismissed the action in its entirety. Dkt. No. 163. Dismissal was predicated on Plaintiffs' failure to comply with discovery-related court orders and their failure to prosecute their case. Id. Following a September 17, 2009 Summary Order issued by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacating that dismissal, see Snyder v. New York State Educ. Dep't, 348 Fed. App'x 601 (2d Cir. 2009), Shenendehowa Central School District ("Defendant") remained the sole Defendant in the action and Plaintiffs' claims against it were limited to: plaintiffs' claims against the school district under the IDEA pertaining to the 1996-1997 school year alleging that the school district failed to promptly schedule an impartial hearing upon plaintiffs' request, failed to hold a Committee on Special Education ("CSE") meeting in a timely manner, and denied plaintiffs access to Kalle's educational records; (2) plaintiffs' claims against the school district pertaining to the 1996-1997 school year under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (codified at 29 U.S.C. § 794) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.) ("ADA") alleging that the school district failed to promptly schedule an impartial hearing and denied plaintiffs access to Kalle's educational records; and (3) plaintiffs' claims against the school district pertaining to the 1996-1997 school year for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA. Id. at 604 n.3 (docket citations omitted).

On February 10, 2010, Plaintiffs moved for the appointment of H. Jeffrey Marcus as counsel for this case. Dkt. No. 191. Plaintiffs filed no statement of need in conjunction with this Motion, but they did state that they "cannot afford to come up with even a reasonable retainer in order for Mr. Marcus to consider representing [them]." Id. They attached a letter from Mr. Marcus in which he signaled that he would consider taking on the representation if he could employ co-counsel consisting of a small team of attorneys and if the Court approves "pro bono funding." Marcus letter (Dkt. No. 191, Attach. 1). The Court denied Plaintiffs' Motion. Order (Dkt. No. 193). On March 4, 2010, the Court scheduled a trial date of November 16, 2010.

On November 5, 2010, the Court held a status conference in which it made various rulings related to in limine Motions, including rulings limiting the evidence that could be presented at trial. See Tr. 11/05/2010 Status Conference (Dkt. No. 209); Dkt. No. 227. Many of these rulings followed from Plaintiffs' failure to provide information or identify witnesses, and, in particular, expert witnesses during the course of discovery.

Based upon statements made by Plaintiffs during the course of the status conference, the Court advised them that they could file a statement of need and a renewed motion for the appointment of counsel for trial purposes, but should do so as soon as possible. On November 9, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a Letter Motion to postpone the trial (Dkt. No. 211) for an unspecified period, which the Court denied the following day. Dkt. No. 216. On November 12, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for the appointment of counsel and included some financial information on some Plaintiffs. Dkt. No. 223. In this Motion, Plaintiffs made their request for appointment of counsel "[d]espite some reservations" and asked that the Court "when considering who to appoint . . . be cognizant of the fact that Marge [Snyder] previously worked full time as a lay advocate for children with disabilities, assisting parents who were having difficulty with their school districts in procuring their children's IDEA rights. In that capacity Marge [Snyder] was sitting 'across the table' from many school district attorneys who might be on a list of attorneys that the Court uses to appoint counsel." Id. at 3. Plaintiffs also acknowledged that appointment of counsel at this late date "will necessarily mean a postponement of the trial next week." Id. The Court denied this Motion. Dkt. No 233.

Also on November 12, 2010, Defendant filed fifty-six pages of proposed jury instructions and a proposed verdict form. See Dkt. Nos. 219, 229. Plaintiffs objected to Defendant's proposed instructions, arguing that the volume of instructions was meant to intimidate Plaintiffs, but also that, upon review of the proposed instructions, they "find incomplete concepts development, lack of accurate or relevant directives to law or regulations applicable to [their] case, and wording that would cause prejudice toward [them] . . . ." Dkt. No. 236 at 5.

Jury trial in this case began on November 16, 2010 and continued daily through November 19, 2010, at which point it was adjourned until November 29, 2010. In the interim, on November 26, 2010, Plaintiffs filed their own proposed jury instructions, which they amended three days later. Dkt. Nos. 241, 242. Trial resumed on November 29, 2010 and continued into the following day.

On November 30, 2010, the jury returned a verdict, finding that Defendant violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act with respect to Kalle Snyder, Marge Snyder, and Stephen Snyder. Dkt. No. 248. The jury found that Defendant did not violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disability Act with respect to any Plaintiff. Id. Finally, the jury found that Defendant had not violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 with respect to any Plaintiff. Id. Accordingly, no damages were awarded.

On December 28, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 256. Therein, Plaintiffs assert various grounds that they allege justify an order granting a new trial. These include broad claims alleging the violation of Plaintiffs' rights to substantive due process and their rights under the Seventh Amendment. Plaintiffs assert that several of the Court's evidentiary rulings were incorrect; that the jury instructions did not adequately define the legal framework underlying Plaintiffs' claims; that the verdict form was unclear and incomplete; and that the Court's refusal to appoint counsel unfairly prejudiced them, all of which, they allege led to "a significant miscarriage of justice." Id. at 7.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 allows a court, on motion, to "grant a new trial on all or some of the issues . . . after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." FED. R. CIV. P. 59(a)(1)(A). In considering such a motion, "a trial judge . . . 'is free to weigh the evidence himself and need not view it in the light most favorable to the verdict winner.'" Song v. Ives Labs. Inc., 957 F.2d 1041, 1047 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting Benevivo v. Saydjari, 574 F.2d 676, 684-85 (2d Cir. 1978)). Moreover, "a new trial may be granted even if there is substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict." Id. Thus, the decision to grant a new trial is committed to the discretion of the trial judge, and a "motion for a new trial should be granted when, in the ...


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