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Elaster v. Hamilton County Department of Education

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

March 31, 2017

THEODORE ELASTER, a minor, through his mother and next friend APRIL ELASTER, Plaintiff,
v.
HAMILTON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          SUSAN K. LEE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a pro se motion to “Vacate Judgment for Fraud on the Court” filed by Plaintiff Theodore Elaster, a minor, through his mother and next friend, April Elaster (“Plaintiff”). Plaintiff asks the Court to set aside the Court's judgment in favor of Defendants, Hamilton County Department of Education, Edward Rowe (“Rowe”), and Carol Thomas (collectively, “Defendants”), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(d)(3). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' counsel, as an officer of the Court, committed a fraud upon the Court when he and the Defendants engaged in a plan to mislead the Court causing it to grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. 24]. Defendants filed a response in opposition [Doc. 25]. Plaintiff filed a reply [Doc. 26] and “supplemental evidence” [Doc. 27], which purportedly is the post-summary judgment statement (recorded and written) of witness Trevon Horne (“Trevon”)[1] in which Trevon essentially denies ever saying or seeing Plaintiff trip or kick Rowe.

         For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 23, 2014, the Court granted Defendants' summary judgment motion on all of Plaintiff's federal law claims and remanded Plaintiff's state law claims back to the Circuit Court of Hamilton County, Tennessee [Docs. 22 & 23]. Plaintiff, who was then represented by counsel, did not appeal this final judgment of the Court.

         After remand, the state court granted Plaintiff's counsel's motion to withdraw and Plaintiff proceeded pro se. A bench trial was held in state court and the presiding judge entered judgment in favor of Defendants on all of the Plaintiff's state law claims. Plaintiff appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which affirmed the judgment of the state court. Plaintiff filed an application for permission to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which was denied on October 19, 2016. A short time later, on November 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed the pending motion.

         The Court of Appeals summarized the pertinent facts and proceedings as follows:

This case centers on a May 1, 2012 incident at Dalewood Middle School when the Child, then a seventh-grade student, collided with Rowe in a hallway. Mother filed a complaint on her son's behalf against Defendants in the Trial Court, alleging violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, negligent supervision, negligent retention, common law assault, common law battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and common law negligence. Mother alleged that Rowe assaulted the Child. Rowe, on the other hand, has denied throughout this case that he intentionally struck the Child, but rather that any contact in the hallway was unintentional on his part. This case was removed to the United States District Court. The § 1983 claim was dismissed in the United States District Court. The remaining Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability claims raised by Mother were remanded for resolution in the Trial Court.
The Child told guidance counselor Ashley Medley that Rowe had struck him. Medley brought the matter to Thomas's attention. No injuries to the Child were visible. When asked, the Child said that another student had witnessed the incident. The student, Trevon H. (“Trevon”), stated that the Child had tripped Rowe. When questioned about the incident, Rowe acknowledged that the two had collided. However, Rowe denied intentionally striking the Child, stating instead that he accidentally hit him with his elbow while regaining his balance. Thomas concluded that the Child's version of events was not the true one when weighed against the other two eyewitness accounts of Rowe and Trevon. Thomas explained to the Child and Mother that if the matter were pursued, it would result in the Child's expulsion for kicking a teacher under the zero tolerance policy.
At trial, the Child testified that Rowe intentionally struck him. Trevon's testimony vacillated. Initially, Trevon denied having stated that the Child tripped Rowe. Trevon was confronted with his earlier account stating that the Child tripped Rowe, which he acknowledged as true. Mother testified that she took the Child to the hospital five days after the incident, and he was diagnosed with a contusion. In November 2015, the Trial Court entered its final judgment. The Trial Court found in favor of Defendants on all counts. In its final judgment, the Trial Court stated as follows:
This matter was tried before the undersigned on October 13 and November 11, 2015 and taken under advisement.
The complaint in this action was filed on April 29, 2013 against the Hamilton County Department of Education, Edward Rowe and Carol Thomas. The complaint contains eight counts: violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, negligent supervision, negligent retention, common law assault, common law battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and common law negligence. The factual allegations surround an alleged event which occurred on May 1, 2012, in which the Plaintiff's son was allegedly struck by Defendant Rowe.
This action was then removed to the United States District Court on May 16, 2013. By Order, entered September 23, 2014, the United States District Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and remanded the case to the Circuit Court for Hamilton County, Tennessee. On December 3, 2014, Plaintiff's attorney was permitted to withdraw, and Plaintiff continued pro se.
At the trial of this action, testimony was received from Theodore Elaster and adjourned because of the failure of Trevon ... to appear pursuant to a validly issued subpoena. Upon resumption of the trial on November 11, 2015, the Court received evidence from Trevon ..., Carol Thomas, Edward Rowe, Natia Davis, Ashley Medley and Steve Holmes. The only issue in this case is whether Coach Edward Rowe intentionally struck Theodore Elaster. After hearing the testimony of all witnesses, the Court is of the opinion that while there may have been an inadvertent collision in the halls of Dalewood ...

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