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Forest Grove School District v. Student

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

April 12, 2018

FOREST GROVE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Plaintiff,
v.
STUDENT, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN V. ACOSTA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Introduction

         The District filed this suit to appeal a 2013 due process final order. Presently before the court is Plaintiff Forest Grove School District's (the “District”) motion to strike all arguments by Defendant Student related to the issue of attorney's fees for that due process hearing, asserting that those arguments are irrelevant to this case, which relates to the merits of the District's appeal. Student opposes the motion to strike, arguing that the issue of attorney's fees was properly raised in this case. The court grants the motion to strike.

         Background

         On March 5, 2013, Student filed a request for a due process hearing with the Oregon Department of Education, alleging the District violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). (Compl., Ex. 1 at 1.) Following a hearing, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) issued a final order, finding that the District had violated the IDEA by denying the Student educational opportunities, denying Student's parents a meaningful opportunity to participate in Student's education, and failing to provide Student with a free appropriate public education from 2011-2013. (Id. at 12.)

         On March 18, 2014, the District filed the instant suit (the “14-444 Case”) to appeal the ALJ's decision, challenging the ALJ's fact-finding and legal analysis, and asking the court to reverse and vacate the remedy. (Id. at 6-7.) On the same day, Student simultaneously filed a separate complaint (the “14-445 Case”), seeking attorney's fees she incurred in pursuing that complaint and the underlying due process hearing. (No. 3:14-cv-00445-AC, Compl., ECF No. 1 at 12.) Student filed an answer and cross-appeal in the 14-444 Case, seeking to reverse specific sections of the ALJ's opinion and an award of additional remedies, including attorney's fees for the underlying due process proceeding. (No. 14-444, Answer, ECF No. 3 ¶¶ 21-28.)

         On August 21, 2014, the court stayed all proceedings in the 14-444 Case pending a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a separate but factually related matter, and ordered the parties to file ongoing joint status reports. (No. 14-444, ECF No. 13.) On February 1, 2017, the parties filed a joint status report (“February Status Report”) stating, “No. 3:14-cv-00444-AC[:] The parties agree that the only issue remaining is the amount of attorneys' fees and costs due to Student . . . . No. 3:14-cv-00445[:] The parties agree that the only issue remaining is the amount of attorneys' fees and costs due to Student.” (No. 14-444, Joint Status Report, ECF No. 38 at 23.)

         On March 7, 2017, the parties filed another joint status report (“March Status Report”), stating, “No. 3:14-cv-00444-AC[:] The parties agree that this case remains to be decided on the merits” and, accordingly, they proposed a briefing schedule for the case, and “No. 3:14-cv-00445[:] The parties agree that until No. 3:14-cv-00444 is decided on the merits, No. 3:14-cv-00445, which involves only the question of attorney's fees and costs, cannot be decided by this Court.” (No. 14-444, Joint Status Report, ECF No. 44 at 2-3.)

         In accordance with the March Status Report, on March 7, 2017, this court adopted the briefing schedule proposed by the parties for deciding the 14-444 Case on the merits and stayed further proceedings in the 14-445 Case pending resolution of the former. (No. 14-444, Minute Order, ECF No. 44.)

         The District filed its opening brief on the merits of the 14-444 Case on April 18, 2017, and did not mention attorney's fees. (No. 14-444, Pl.'s Opening Brief, ECF No. 46.) Student responded, raising both the substantive merits of the appeal and the issue of attorney's fees. (No. 14-444, Def.'s Response Brief, ECF No. 51.)

         On August 23, 2017, the District moved to strike all arguments related to attorney's fees in Student's response brief, arguing that those arguments are improper in the 14-444 Case. (No. 14-444, Pl.'s Mot. to Strike, ECF No. 55 (“Motion to Strike”).)

         Legal Standard

         A decision to strike material from the pleadings is vested in the sound discretion of the trial court. Nurse v. United States, 226 F.3d 996, 1000 (9th Cir. 2000). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(f), a “court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). By its express language, Rule 12(f) applies only to material contained in a “pleading.” See Sidney-Vinstein v. A.H. Robins Co., 697 F.2d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 1983) (“only pleadings are subject to motions to strike”); Sokoli, 2015 WL 7720466, at *3 (D. Idaho Nov. 27, 2015) (“Rule 12(f) allows a motion to strike a pleading, not a motion. A motion is not a pleading.”). Rule 7 defines “pleadings” as a complaint or third-party complaint; an answer to a complaint, a third-party complaint, a counterclaim, a crossclaim, or a reply to an answer. Fed.R.Civ.P. 7(a)(1 - 7). Generally, therefore, motions, briefs, and memoranda may not be attacked by a motion to strike. See Act Now to Stop War & End Racism Coal. v. D.C., 286 F.R.D. 117, 125 (D.D.C. 2012), vacated sub nom. Act Now to Stop War & End Racism Coal. & Muslim Am. Soc'y Freedom Found. v. D.C., 846 F.3d 391 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (vacated on other grounds) (“motions, affidavits, briefs, and other documents outside of the pleadings are not subject to Rule 12(f)”); VanDanacker v. Main Motor Sales Co., 109 F.Supp.2d 1045, 1047 (D. Minn. 2000) (“a Rule 12(f) motion to strike is not the proper avenue for challenging plaintiffs' memorandum in opposition to the motion for attorney fees”).

         The proper vehicle for striking material that is not part of the pleadings is an evidentiary objection. Sokoli, 2015 WL 7720466, at *4; see also Natural Resources Defense Council v. Kempthorne, 539 F.Supp.2d 1155, 1161 (E.D. Cal. 2008) (“[A] motion to strike materials that are not part of the pleadings may be regarded as an invitation by the movant to consider whether [proffered material] may properly be relied upon.” (citing U.S. v. Crisp, 190 F.R.D. 546, 551 (E.D. Cal. 1999) (“[A] motion to strike ...


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