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Bethscheider v. Westar Energy, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 20, 2019

DANAH LEE BETHSCHEIDER, Plaintiff,
v.
WESTAR ENERGY, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CARLOS MURGUIA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Danah Lee Bethscheider brings this case against defendant Westar Energy, Inc., claiming she was terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 29) is currently pending. The matter is now before the court on plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Pretrial Order, For Leave to Respond to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment Out of Time, and to Re-Open Discovery for a Limited Purpose (Doc. 40). For the reasons set forth, the court grants plaintiff's motion in part and denies it in part.

         I. Background

         On January 29, 2016, plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against defendant alleging “disability discrimination and retaliation, specifically failed to accommodate my disability and terminated my employment (took away another position) for asking for an accommodation for my disability and terminated because of my disability.” (Doc. 1, at 3.) Nearly a month later, plaintiff, still proceeding pro se, filed an amended complaint consisting of two counts against defendant-(1) a claim for wrongful termination of employment on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and (2) a claim for wrongful termination of employment on the basis of disability in violation of the Kansas Acts Against Discrimination (KAAD). (Doc. 8, at 7.)

         On July 29, 2016, attorney Curtis Holmes entered his appearance on behalf of plaintiff. Discovery commenced after this court denied defendant's motion to dismiss. According to plaintiff, Holmes did not conduct any discovery on her behalf. Defendant filed its motion for summary judgment on October 6, 2017. Plaintiff filed her response one month after the response deadline, providing no explanation for the tardy filing. Defendant timely filed its reply.

         On May 18, 2017, Holmes filed a motion to withdraw (Doc. 33). Holmes had recently received a one-year suspension of his license to practice law from the Kansas Bar. The court granted his motion to withdraw and, finding it had been filed past the deadline, struck his response to defendant's summary judgment motion. The court also granted plaintiff 30 days to hire new counsel and instructed that, upon retaining new counsel, the court would consider a motion to file a response to defendant's summary judgment motion out of time. On July 16, 2018, attorney Katherine Myers entered her appearance on behalf of plaintiff. Myers promptly filed the present motion requesting an extension of time to file a response to defendant's summary judgment motion as well as requesting leave to amend the pretrial order and to reopen discovery. Defendant opposes plaintiff's requests.

         II. Analysis

         The court recognizes the unique circumstances of this case. Plaintiff's attorney was forced to withdraw from her case due to the suspension of his law license. Prior to withdrawing, plaintiff's attorney filed a late summary judgment response with no explanation for the tardiness. The court, therefore, struck the response, leaving plaintiff in the difficult position of having no counsel, and no response to defendant's summary judgment motion on file. In the interest of fairness, the court allowed plaintiff time to retain new counsel.

         The court, however, must balance this with fairness to defendant, who has followed the rules so far and should not be penalized for unfortunate circumstances out of its control.

         Generally, parties cannot use their attorneys as a basis for excusable neglect to justify, for example, setting aside a judgment. See Klein-Becker USA, LLC v. Collagen Corp., No. 2:07-CV-873 TS, 2010 WL 1816240, at *2 (D. Utah, May 5, 2010) (citing Pelican Prod. Corp. v. Marino, 893 F.2d 1143, 1146 (10th Cir. 1990) (finding “[c]arelessness by a litigant or his counsel does not afford a basis for relief under Rule 60(b)(1).”)). In our “‘system of representative litigation,' attorney negligence is an insufficient basis for a party to ‘avoid the consequences of the acts or omissions of [a] freely selected [attorney].'” S.E.C. v. Fox, 529, Fed.Appx. 947, 950 (10th Cir. 2013) (citing Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 633-34 (1962)). Parties must “be held accountable for the acts and omissions of their chosen counsel, ” and “the proper focus is upon whether the neglect of respondents and their counsel was excusable.” Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 397 (1993).

         In considering this, and the fairness to both parties, the court must determine whether to 1) allow plaintiff to file a response to defendant's summary judgment motion out of time, 2) allow plaintiff to amend the pretrial order, and 3) re-open discovery.

         a. Summary Judgment Response

         Under Rule 6(b)(1)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may, for good cause, extend the time to file a pleading “on motion made after the time has expired if the party failed to act because of excusable neglect.” Excusable neglect “encompasses both simple, faultless omissions to act and, more commonly, omissions caused by carelessness.” Pioneer, 507 U.S. at 388. A court, therefore, may accept late filings caused by “inadvertence, mistake, or carelessness, as well as by intervening circumstances beyond the party's control.” Id. In determining whether neglect is “excusable, ” a court must “take account of all relevant circumstances surrounding the party's omission.” City of Chanute v. Williams Natural Gas Co., 31 F.3d 1041, 1046 (10th Cir. 1994). A court may consider 1) the danger of prejudice, 2) the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings, 3) the reason for the delay, and 4) whether the movant acted in good faith. Id.

         Again, the circumstances in the present case are unique in that plaintiff's new counsel seeks leave for an extension of time to file a response due to the actions of plaintiff's former counsel. Plaintiff's former counsel filed a response a month after the deadline without any explanation for the tardiness. Plaintiff's new counsel admits that there is no explanation for why plaintiff's ...


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