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Earl Kelly Prince v. Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Board

August 25, 2011

EARL KELLY PRINCE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.,

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Earl Kelly Prince has sued Defendants Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Board of Education for due process violations in connection with his pre-suspension and subsequent dismissal hearings. Specifically, Plaintiff challenges the notice of the hearings. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment [125].

I. Background

Plaintiff Earl Kelly Prince ("Plaintiff" or "Prince") is a former Chicago public school teacher. Plaintiff challenged the traditional, federal court discovery process for nearly a year after he filed his complaint (see Docket Entries 21-63), leading to a number of disputes that were referred to Magistrate Judge Mason for resolution. Now, at the summary judgment phase, Plaintiff persists in doing things on his own terms, frequently without regard for the federal rules. Defendants' motion for summary judgment has been pending since November 2010. Plaintiff sought, and was granted, three extensions of time in which to file his documents in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Although Plaintiff filed a response brief, a response to Defendants' statement of facts, "objections," a motion to strike, and a motion for judicial notice in response to Defendants' summary judgment papers, he did not file a statement of additional facts, as required by Local Rule ("L.R.") 56.1(b)(3)(C), despite multiple opportunities to do so. In fact, to clarify the record, on June 9, 2011, Defendants moved for an order advising Plaintiff of his failure to file his LR 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement of additional facts. See Docket Entry 150. This was in addition to the notice to pro se litigant opposing summary judgment [133] that Defendants had previously filed, which explicitly laid out Plaintiff's obligations under the federal and local rules. In an abundance of caution and wishing to give Plaintiff every opportunity to comply with the applicable rules, the Court granted the motion to clarify and extended the time for Plaintiff to file his statement of additional facts to July 1, 2011. Despite the notice to pro se litigant, three extensions of time, and a second opportunity from the Court to file facts statements, Plaintiff did not file a statement in support of his claims, arguments, denials, or averments.

The Seventh Circuit repeatedly has held that a district court is within its discretion to enforce compliance with its local rules regarding summary judgment motions and the Court will do so here. See Patterson v. Indiana Newspapers, Inc., 589 F.3d 357, 359 (7th Cir. 2009); Bordelon v. Chi. Sch. Reform Bd. of Trustees, 233 F.3d 524, 527 (7th Cir. 2000). At the time that Defendants filed summary judgment, this case had been pending for approximately a year and a half, and Plaintiff received three extensions of time to respond. Plaintiff undoubtedly has substantial familiarity with the facts and circumstances of this case, as he has filed numerous documents setting forth his "assertions" about the case. At the summary judgment stage, the Court cannot merely take Plaintiff at his word that his factual assertions are true and indisputable; rather, he must come forward with evidence in support of them. As our court of appeals has more colorfully put it, "summary judgment is the 'put up or shut up' moment in a lawsuit, when a party must show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of events." Koszola v. Board of Educ. of City of Chicago, 385 F.3d 1104, 1111 (7th Cir. 2004).

Merely including facts in a responsive memorandum is insufficient to put the issue before the Court. Midwest Imports, Ltd. v. Coval, 71 F.3d 1311, 1313 (7th Cir. 1995); Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. 581, 594 (N.D. Ill. 2000). Plaintiff's memoranda are replete with references to facts that are not properly before the Court because he failed to follow the Court's admonitions. As the Seventh Circuit has stressed, facts are to be set forth in Rule 56.1 statements, and it is not the role of the Court to parse the parties' exhibits to construct the facts. Judges are not "like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs." United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir.1991). "Nor are they archaeologists searching for treasure." Jeralds ex rel. Jeralds v. Astrue, 2010 WL 4942161, at *7 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 8, 2010) (citing DiLeonardi, 181 F.3d 865, 867 (7th Cir. 1999)). It simply is not the court's job to sift through the record to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support a party's claim. Davis v. Carter, 452 F.3d 686, 692 (7th Cir. 2006). Adherence to Local Rule 56.1 gives the opposing party the opportunity to either admit or deny the statement of fact, and to provide record support for either assertion. By not following the rule, a party injects facts into the case that have not been subject to the opposing side's scrutiny, nor properly presented to the court for its review.

The Court has given pro se Plaintiff much leeway in this litigation, and has (as it must) construed his filings liberally. That said, pro se litigants are not "free to ignore procedural rules." Pearle Vision, Inc. v. Romm, 541 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 2008). Nor are pro se litigants free to ignore Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, which requires assertions of fact to be supported by evidence. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Plaintiff was notified that if he failed to file a statement of additional facts, or present admissible evidence (by way of documents or declarations) in support of his responses to Defendants' fact statements, "the judge will be forced to assume that you do not dispute the facts which you have not responded to." Thus, even though Plaintiff disputes the majority of facts presented in this case, his disregard for the rules requires the Court to accept the majority of Defendants' facts.

Based on the foregoing, the Court has taken the relevant facts primarily from Defendants' Local Rule ("L.R.") 56.1 statements ("CPS SOF") [127]. To the extent that Plaintiff has complied with the rules in responding to Defendants' statement of facts, the Court will consider Plaintiff's evidence and argument in the light most favorable to him.

A. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike

Plaintiff filed a motion to strike Exhibits 3, 4, 5, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 24, 25, 27, and 30, filed in support of the Board's motion for summary judgment. A party who wishes to argue that portions of an opposing party's statement of facts contain errors or are inadmissible on evidentiary grounds may file a motion to strike those portions of the statement. Goltz v. University of Notre Dame du Lac, 177 F.R.D. 638, 640 (N.D. Ind. 1997). "Pleadings that do not conform with the local rules may be stricken at the discretion of the court." Id. at 640 (citing Bell, Boyd & Lloyd v. Tapy, 896 F.2d 1101, 1103 (7th Cir. 1990)); Pfeil v. Rogers, 757 F.2d 850, 858 (7th Cir. 1985); Graham v. Security Sav. & Loan, 125 F.R.D. 687, 688-89 (N.D. Ind. 1989), aff'd, 914 F.2d 909 (7th Cir. 1990)). Indeed, it is the function of the Court, with or without a motion to strike, to review carefully both statements of material facts and statements of genuine issues and the headings contained therein and to eliminate from consideration any argument, conclusions, and assertions that are unsupported by the documented evidence of record offered in support of the statement. See, e.g., Sullivan v. Henry Smid Plumbing & Heating Co., Inc., 2006 WL 980740, *2 n.2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 10, 2006); Tibbetts v. RadioShack Corp., 2004 WL 2203418, at *16 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 29, 2004); Rosado v. Taylor, 324 F. Supp. 2d 917, 920 n.1 (N.D. Ind. 2004). The Court is capable of redacting the statement of facts and disregarding all argumentative headings, interpretation or analysis of the facts, or unfounded assertions of fact found in the statement. The Court's scrutiny of material statements of facts applies equally to the party seeking summary judgment and the party opposing it.*fn1

Although the Court need not rule on the particulars of Plaintiff's motion to strike because any statements or responses that contain legal conclusions or argument, are evasive, contain hearsay or are not based on personal knowledge, are irrelevant, or are not supported by evidence in the record will not be considered by the Court in ruling on Defendants' motions for summary judgment, most of Defendants' assertions comply with Local Rule 56.1. Additionally, in response to Plaintiff's motion to strike, the Board laid a foundation for and authenticated Exhibits 4-10, 13-20, 25-26, and 31 as copies of government records kept in the ordinary course of business through the declaration of Cheryl Colston, Director of Employee Relations for the Board. The Board also laid a foundation for Exhibits 3, 11-12, 21-24, and 27 under Federal Rule of Evidence 901(b)(1) through the declaration of Ed Wong, a labor attorney for the Board. These declarations, although arguably unnecessary at summary judgment, remove any doubt as to whether the Court may consider the fact statements at issue.

Consistent with the discussion above, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion to strike [145]. And consistent with its obligations under the federal and local rules, the Court will rely only on material statements of fact which are both admissible and supported by the record compiled at the summary judgment stage. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); L.R. 56.1; see also Davis v. Elec. Ins. Trs., 519 F. Supp. 2d 834, 836 (N.D. Ill. 2007); Lawrence v. Bd. of Election Com'rs of City of Chicago, 524 F. Supp. 2d 1011, 1014 (N.D. Ill. 2007). In addition, where a party improperly denies a statement of fact by failing to provide adequate or proper record support for the denial, the Court deems that statement of fact to be admitted. Any statements or responses that contain legal conclusions or argument, are evasive, contain hearsay or are not based on personal knowledge, are irrelevant, or are not supported by evidence in the record will not be considered by the Court in ruling on the summary judgment motion.

B. Facts

Plaintiff Earl Kelly Prince is a former teacher with the Chicago Board of Education ("the Board"). Plaintiff took a leave of absence from Chicago Public Schools in September 1980, to serve at the Chicago Teachers Union, where he served until September 2004. After Prince returned to teach at CPS in September 2004, he continued to serve as a union delegate at Lavizzo Elementary School. The Illinois State Board of Education ("ISBE") is the state educational agency charged with conducting hearings on the dismissal of tenured teachers for cause, pursuant to the Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/34-85.*fn2 The due process rights and termination procedures to which tenured teachers are entitled are set forth in the School Code, as well as the collective bargaining agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Board. Plaintiff maintains that the ...

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