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D.J. v. Connecticut State Board of Education

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 5, 2019

D.J., through his parent O.W., on behalf of a class of those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
CONNECTICUT STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants.

          RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff D.J. ("Plaintiff" or "D.J."), through his parent O.W. ("O.W."), brings this putative class action against the Connecticut State Board of Educ ation ("De fendant" or the "Board"), alleging violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a). Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) and 16(b)(4), Plaintiff has moved the Court for an Order granting leave to file an Amended Complaint [Doc. 57], which would substitute[1] a new plaintiff in place of D.J. acting through his parent O.W.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff D.J. is an individual with a disability who turned 21 years old on May 29, 2016. Doc. 1 (Compl.) ¶ 1. D.J. had been receiving a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") through the Hartford School District until June 30, 2016, the end date of the school year in which he turned 21. Id. D.J. and co-Plaintiff O.W., his parent and guardian, brought 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")" until the age of 22. Id. ¶¶ 1, 8.

         Under Connecticut law, 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). The IDEA and its implementing regulations state that the obligation to provide a free appropriate public education to children with disabilities "between the ages of 3 and 21, inclusive," 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A), does not apply to children 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).[2]

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint on July 15, 2016, alleging that he had "not received a high school diploma," and that the FAPE he had been receiving pursuant to the IDEA had terminated at the end of the school year in which he turned 21. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 17, 20. Plaintiff seeks to certify a class 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 also 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." Id. ¶ 30.

         Discovery concluded in August 2017, and in September 2017 Plaintiff filed a motion seeking class certification and a motion for summary judgment. See Docs. 25, 28, 29. The motion for summary judgment was accompanied by an affidavit from O.W., D.J.'s parent, stating that "D.J.

         earned a diploma from Hartford Public High School in or about 2013. However, he continued to receive educational and related services from Hartford Public High School until on or about June 30, 2016." Doc. 29-9 (O.W. Aff. I) ¶ 5. This statement appeared to contradict Plaintiff's allegation in the Complaint that D.J. had "not received a high school diploma." Compl. ¶ 17. On the basis of O.W.'s sworn statement, the Board challenged Plaintiff's class certification and summary judgment motions, arguing that D.J.'s claims are moot because he obtained a high school diploma and that, for the same reason, he was not an adequate class representative. See Docs. 33, 40. In response, Plaintiff submitted a second affidavit from O.W. stating that:

[o]fficials at Hartford High School offered D.J. a high school diploma from Hartford Public High School in or about 2013. When D.J was offered this diploma, as his guardian, I refused to accept it. D.J. was taking programs through Hartford High School . . . I was told that if D.J. accepted the diploma he would not be able to continue with those programs. I understood that the diploma was kept in the school office. Even though Hartford High School said that he could graduate, I knew that he had not learned any skills that would allow him to live independently or to support himself. . . . Starting in or about 2015, D.J. no longer attended classes at Hartford High School.

         Doc. 37-4 (O.W. Aff. II) ¶¶ 5-7.

         In light of the facts that had surfaced regarding Plaintiff's possible receipt of a diploma, the Court issued a Memorandum and Order on March 23, 2018 that raised the issue of standing sua sponte.[3] See Doc. 41. We concluded that the present record was insufficient to determine Plaintiff s standing to bring suit, and authorized further discovery on the issue for further consideration at an evidentiary hearing. Id. at 6-7. Consistent with this ruling, Plaintiff deposed Hartford Board of Education employee Dr. June M. Sellers. Doc. 57-1 (Pl. Br.) at 2-3.

         Shortly before the scheduled evidentiary hearing, Plaintiffs counsel informed the Court and counsel for the Board that, "in an effort to resolve the standing issue raised by this Court sua sponte" they intended "to seek to substitute the current plaintiff with a different individual" and would "also seek to file an amended complaint." Doc. 51. The Board would not consent to permit amendment. Doc. 57-2 (Kim Decl. I) 6. However, the Board indicated "general agreement" that if the amendment were allowed, the current briefing would still apply. Doc. 57-5 at 1. On June 15, 2018, the parties informed the court that the parties had not reached agreement and that Plaintiff would prepare a motion for leave to file the Amended Complaint. Doc. 52.

         That motion to amend has now been filed by Plaintiff [Doc. 57], and is the subject of this Ruling.

         II. ...


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