Wednesday, October 17, 2007

5th Circuit Determines African-American Appellants' 2003 Motion to Intervene was Untimely because Desegregation Case Began in 1966

Per U.S. v. Covington County School Dist., --- F.3d ----, 2007 WL 2483368 (5th Cir.(Miss.) Sep 05, 2007) (NO. 06-60799):

To determine whether a motion to intervene is timely, courts must consider the totality of the circumstances. Jones v. Caddo Parish Sch. Bd., 735 F.2d 923, 927 (5th Cir.1984) (en banc). In Stallworth v. Monsanto Co., we found that there are four factors to consider in determining whether a motion to intervene is timely: (1) the length of time the applicants knew or should have known of their interest in the case; (2) prejudice to existing parties caused by the applicants' delay; (3) prejudice to the applicants if their motion is denied; and (4) any unusual circumstances. 558 F.2d 257, 264-66 (5th Cir.1977). The district court's determination as to timeliness is reviewed only for abuse of discretion. Caddo Parish, 735 F.2d at 926.

We find that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it found that Appellants' motion was untimely. This desegregation case began decades before in 1966, and the United States filed its Motion for Further Relief in 2003. The possibility that the United States and the District might settle was well-publicized for more than six months before the consent decree was entered. While Appellants claim that, before the consent decree was entered, they believed the United States would be pressing for their position, there is no evidence that the United States gave them any explicit assurances that it would not compromise to settle the case. Moreover, Appellants waited nearly 15 weeks after the district court entered the consent decree before seeking to intervene. Given these circumstances, Appellants reasonably should have known of their interests in the case at least months before it actually filed its motion to intervene.

Allowing Appellants to intervene also would prejudice the United States and the District. It would waste the efforts of six months of settlement negotiations, and negotiations would have to begin anew. While Appellants also may suffer prejudice if precluded from intervening, Appellants have the burden to plead and prove such prejudice. Appellants failed to do so here.

Finally, Appellants have not alleged any unusual circumstances that explain their delay. Appellants contend that they needed nearly 15 weeks to find adequate counsel and for counsel to "familiarize themselves with the case." But if Appellants simply needed more time, they could have filed a motion to intervene along with a motion for an extension. S.D. Miss. R. 7.2(D). Instead, because of Appellants' delay, both the court and the parties proceeded for more than three months as if the settlement was final.

Because we find that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it found that Appellants' motion to intervene was untimely, we need not reach the issue of whether the United States adequately represented their interests.


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