United States District Court, D. Connecticut
D.J., through his parent O.W., on behalf of a class of those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
CONNECTICUT STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING STANDING
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. Senior United States District Judge.
D.J. brings this purported class action through his parent
O.W. against the Connecticut State Board of Education,
alleging a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a),
and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, and
compensatory damages. Plaintiff has filed a motion to certify
a class, and a motion for summary judgment. Defendant has
cross-moved for summary judgment. However, before the Court
may consider those pending motions, it must resolve the
threshold question of standing.
inquiry into Plaintiff's standing to bring this case is
not only appropriate, it is constitutionally mandated.
[F]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, their
powers circumscribed at their most basic level by the terms
of Article III of the Constitution, which states that they
may hear only "Cases" or "Controversies."
U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. Although the
"case or controversy" requirement has itself been a
fertile ground for controversy through the years, at its
uncontroverted core lies the principle that, at all times,
the dispute before the court must be real and live, not
feigned, academic, or conjectural.
Russman v. Bd. of Educ. of Enlarged City Sch. Dist. of
City of Watervliet, 260 F.3d 114, 118 (2d Cir. 2001).
"Standing to sue is a doctrine rooted in the traditional
understanding of a case or controversy. . . . The doctrine
limits the category of litigants empowered to maintain a
lawsuit in federal court to seek redress for a legal
wrong." Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540,
1547 (2016) (citations omitted), as revised (May 24,
2016). "In essence the question of standing is whether
the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits
of the dispute or of particular issues. This inquiry involves
both constitutional limitations on federal-court jurisdiction
and prudential limitations on its exercise." Warth
v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975).
standing simply means that the plaintiff is entitled to walk
through the courthouse door and raise his grievance before a
federal court[.]" Baur v. Veneman, 352 F.3d
625, 643 (2d Cir. 2003) (quotation marks and citation
omitted). Thus, if a plaintiff lacks Article III standing, a
court has no jurisdiction to hear his claims. And
"[b]ecause the standing issue goes to this Court's
subject matter jurisdiction, it can be raised sua
sponte." Cent. States Se. & Sw. Areas
Health & Welfare Fund v. Merck-Medco Managed Care,
L.L.C., 433 F.3d 181, 198 (2d Cir. 2005) (citations
"'irreducible constitutional minimum' of
standing consists of three elements. The plaintiff must have
(1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable
to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is
likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial
decision." Spokeo, Inc., 136 S.Ct. at 1547
(quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S.
555, 560 (1992)). The party invoking federal jurisdiction
bears the burden of establishing these three elements,
id., and this burden "increases over the course
of litigation." Cacchillo v. Insmed, Inc., 638
F.3d 401, 404 (2d Cir. 2011).
Since they are not mere pleading requirements but rather an
indispensable part of the plaintiff's case, each element
must be supported in the same way as any other matter on
which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the
manner and degree of evidence required at the successive
stages of the litigation. At the pleading stage, general
factual allegations of injury resulting from the
defendant's conduct may suffice, for on a motion to
dismiss we presume that general allegations embrace those
specific facts that are necessary to support the claim. In
response to a summary judgment motion, however, the plaintiff
can no longer rest on such "mere allegations, " but
must "set forth" by affidavit or other evidence
"specific facts, " Fed. Rule Civ.Proc. 56(e), which
for purposes of the summary judgment motion will be taken to
Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561 (quotation marks, alteration
and citation omitted).
with its obligation to do so, the Court considers sua
sponte whether Plaintiff D.J. has standing to commence
and prosecute this action, either individually or as the
representative of the purported class.
Complaint alleges that D.J. is an individual with
intellectual disabilities who turned 21 years old on May 29,
2016. Doc. 1, ¶ 2. D.J. and co-Plaintiff O.W., his
parent and guardian, bring this purported class action
"to establish the rights of Plaintiff D.J. and the class
he seeks to represent to a free appropriate public education
("FAPE") under the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act ("IDEA")." Id., ¶
regulations implementing the IDEA state that the obligation
to provide a free appropriate public education to children
with disabilities "does not apply with respect to . . .
[c]hildren with disabilities who have graduated from high
school with a regular high school diploma." 34 C.F.R.
§ 300.102(a)(3)(i). Such a diploma must be "fully
aligned with State standards[.]" Id. at
(a)(3)(iv). Connecticut law provides the criteria for high
school graduation in this state. See Conn. Gen.
Stat. §10-221a. While a student who has not yet received
a regular high school diploma remains eligible for special
education through the end of the school year in which that
student turns 21 years of age, see Conn. Gen. Stat
§ 10-76d(b); Conn. Agencies Regs. § 10-76d-1(a)(4),
there appears to be no question that a student who
has received a regular high school diploma does
not remain eligible for such services.
case at bar, Plaintiff filed a Complaint on July 15, 2016,
alleging that D.J. "has not received a high school
diploma." Doc. 1, ¶17. The Complaint further
alleges that until the end of the school year in which he
turned 21, Plaintiff D.J. received a free appropriate public
education pursuant to the IDEA at the Hartford Public High
School Law and Government Academy. Id.,
¶¶2, 20. Plaintiff seeks to certify a class
pursuant to Rule 23(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure of all individuals who would have otherwise
qualified to continue receiving a FAPE but for turning 21,
"because they have not or had not yet earned a regular
high school diploma." Id., ¶36. Plaintiff
seeks a declaration that the Connecticut laws which terminate
the entitlement of Connecticut students receiving a FAPE
under the IDEA at the end of the school year in which the
student turns 21 are inconsistent with the IDEA,
"because they apply only to special education students
and not to non-special education students."
Complaint satisfied his burden of establishing at the
pleading stage that he had standing to pursue his claims.
However, "[t]hat point is irrelevant now, however, for
we are beyond the pleading stage." Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 357 (1996). Plaintiff has filed a
motion for class certification, and a motion for summary
judgment. In support of the summary judgment motion,
Plaintiff appended an affidavit, authored by Plaintiff O.W.,
D.J.'s parent. The affidavit states, inter alia,
that "D.J. earned a diploma from Hartford Public High
School in or about 2013. However, he continued to receive