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Lewis v. School Dist. #70

November 28, 2006

DEBRA L. LEWIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT #70, A CORPORATION, JOHN BLOMENKAMP, TAMMY CARPENTER, ROBIN HAWKINS, SHANE JONES, STEVE LINDAUER, HERSCHEL PARRISH, DEAN SALVATORE, RICHARD TROLARD, LAURIE WATKINS AND SCOTT WEBER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Before the Court are several motions: plaintiff's motion to alter the Court's Order of September 6, 2006 (Doc. 71), to which defendant Jones has responded (Doc. 74), and plaintiff has replied (Doc. 78); defendants' joint motion for summary judgment (Doc. 66), to which plaintiff has responded (Doc. 75), and defendants have replied (Doc. 80); and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to Count I (Doc. 68), to which defendants have responded (Doc. 77), and plaintiff has replied (Doc. 84).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, the former bookkeeper of Freeburg School District #70, filed a four count complaint against the school district, several of the district's former and current board members, the superintendent of schools, and the district's attorney. Count I alleges violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Count II alleges breach of contract. Count III alleges defamation by defendant Shane Jones, the district's attorney. Count IV, alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff claims that after taking FMLA leave, she was retaliated against in that she was reassigned to a different position in an attempt to cause her extreme emotional distress.

Count IV, intentional infliction of emotional distress, was dismissed by stipulation as to defendant Jones. (Docs. 35 & 36). In an Order dated September 6, 2006, the Court granted summary judgment on Count III, defamation, in favor of defendant Jones, and against plaintiff. (Doc. 63). Plaintiff's defamation claim was based on defendant Jones's statement that "[t]he District has determined that Ms. Lewis's performance in the bookkeeper job assignment is not satisfactory." (Compl, Doc. 2-1, ¶ 40; Doc. 26-2, Ex. B).

I. Plaintiff's Motion to Alter the Court's September 6, 2006, Order (Doc. 71)

Plaintiff now asks the Court, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), to alter its September 6, 2006, Order which granted summary judgment in favor of defendant Jones on Count III of plaintiff's complaint. In that Order, the Court found that defendant Jones was entitled to summary judgment because plaintiff could not establish the requisite elements of a defamation claim. Under Illinois law, to sustain her claim of defamation, plaintiff must show that defendant made a false statement about the plaintiff, there was an unprivileged publication to a third party by the defendant, and the publication damaged the plaintiff. Gibson v. Philip Morris, Inc., 685 N.E.2d 638, 643 (Ill. App. Ct. 1997). The Court found that defendant had met his burden of demonstrating an absence of genuine issue of material fact as to the veracity of the statement because the record was replete with evidence of the statement's veracity. The burden then shifted to plaintiff to set forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. She failed to do so and the Court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant.

Plaintiff now seeks to introduce new evidence to the Court. Plaintiff submits minutes and recordings from school board discussions, claiming that this evidence shows that the district did not determine that plaintiff's work was unsatisfactory. This constitutes a complete abandonment of plaintiff's prior argument-that her work was satisfactory-and presents an entirely new argument for challenging the statement's veracity, that the district never "determined" that her work was unsatisfactory.

A motion for reconsideration "allows a party to direct the district court's attention to newly discovered material evidence or a manifest error of law or fact." Moro v. Shell Oil Co., 91 F.3d 872, 876 (7th Cir.1996). The motion for reconsideration is not an opportunity for a party to correct its own procedural failures or introduce evidence that should have been brought to the attention of the court prior to judgment. See, Johnny Blastoff, Inc. v. L.A. Rams Football Co., 188 F.3d 427, 439 (7th Cir. 1999); see also, Calumet Lumber, Inc. v. Mid-America Indus., Inc., 1996 WL 308243, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 5, 1996).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide two ways in which a party may seek reconsideration of the merits of an order of the Court, namely, Rule 59(e) or Rule 60(b). United States v. Deutsch, 981 F.2d 299, 300 (7th Cir.1992). Here, plaintiff seeks relief under Rule 60(b). (Doc. 71).

Rule 60(b) is similar to Rule 59(e) in that it enables a party to seek relief from a court's order; however, a court may grant relief only under the particular circumstances enumerated in the Rule, including: 1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) fraud; (4) a void judgment; (5) a satisfied, released, or discharged judgment; or (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment. "Rule 60(b) is . . . an extraordinary remedy," which does not allow for "general pleas of relief." Deutsch, 981 F.2d at 301 (internal citation omitted). Nor is Rule 60(b) the "proper avenue to redress mistakes of law committed by the trial judge." Parke-Chapley Constr. Co. v. Cherrington, 865 F.2d 907, 915 (7th Cir. 1989). As stated above, plaintiff now seeks relief based on newly discovered evidence.

Plaintiff argues that the district could not have "determined" her job performance was unsatisfactory, as stated by defendant Jones in an e-mail to plaintiff's attorney/husband. The basis of plaintiff's argument is that the minutes of the school board meetings do not show a vote on this issue, that defendants admit that they did not vote on plaintiff's employment on March 21, 2005, and that even if they discussed her employment in a closed session it would have no legal effect under Illinois law.*fn1

The Court finds that plaintiff is placing unneeded emphasis on the word "determined." Defendant Jones simply stated that "[t]he District has determined that Ms. Lewis's performance in the bookkeeper job assignment is not satisfactory." (Compl, Doc. 2-1, ΒΆ 40; Doc. 26-2, Ex. B). He did not say that the district voted at an official meeting, conducted an in depth review of plaintiff's performance, etc. The Court found in its prior Order that there was sufficient evidence to support the veracity of defendant Jones's statement, and that plaintiff had not established a genuine issue of material fact for trial. The new evidence and arguments presented in plaintiff's present motion provide no ...


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