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F.R. v. Gonsoulin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

January 14, 2020

F.R. as parent and next friend of B.C., a minor., Plaintiff,
v.
DR. WALTER B. GONSOULIN, JR., in his official capacity and as representative of Jefferson County Board of Education, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LILES C. BURKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On August 29, 2019, the Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that her son B.C., a 17-year-old high school student, had been denied enrollment at McAdory High School in Jefferson County, Alabama, in violation of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 11431-11435. Later that day, this Court conducted a telephone conference in which defense counsel stated that the Jefferson County Board of Education (“the Board”) had agreed to enroll B.C. at McAdory High School pending the outcome of this case. The Court thereafter entered an expedited scheduling order providing for an abbreviated discovery period.[1]

         On October 17, 2019, the Board filed a stipulation and motion to dismiss.[2](Doc. 16). While declining to admit that it had violated the Act or any other provision of law, the Board, “in the interest of minimizing disruption to minor Plaintiff B.C.'s educational program, terminating counterproductive litigation, and conserving educational and judicial resources, ” stipulated to the following course of action:

1. Minor Plaintiff B.C. (whose enrollment is the subject of the pending civil action) shall be permitted to complete the 2019-20 school year at McAdory High School and to graduate therefrom subject to his continuing compliance with rules, regulations, and requirements that apply to all McAdory High School students.
2. B.C. shall continue to be provided transportation from his current residence to and from McAdory High School in accordance with transportation arrangements already in effect.
3. If deemed appropriate, the Board consents to the Court retaining jurisdiction over this matter through the end of the 2019-20 school year in order to address any unforeseen circumstances or developments that could affect implementation of the foregoing commitment or, in the alternative, to a dismissal of the action without prejudice.

(Doc. 16, p. 1-2). In a footnote that was omitted from the above quotation, the Board stated that it “further agrees to provide reasonable advance notice to Plaintiff should [any unforeseen circumstances or developments] arise.” Id. at p. 2. Thus, it appears to the Court that the Plaintiff has obtained the relief she sought, i.e., her son's admission and continued enrollment at McAdory. Based on that stipulation, the Board asserted that the controversy was moot and moved to dismiss the case.

         In her response, the Plaintiff argued that the stipulation did not render the case moot because, she said, the stipulation did not provide all of the requested relief and “was at best an offer to settle.” (Doc. 19, p. 2). The Plaintiff further asserted that the Board's decision to allow B.C. to enroll at McAdory and proceed towards graduation was, at this point, “in bad faith” and represented “nothing more than another attempt by the Defendant to ‘pull the wool over the Court's eyes' and designed to avoid the issuance of a final judgment for the Plaintiff on the merits, a determination that the Plaintiff is the prevailing party, and paying Plaintiff's attorneys' fees.” Id. Thus, despite the Board's decision to give the Plaintiff the exact relief she sought in her complaint, Plaintiff's counsel seeks to maintain this litigation, up to and including a bench trial on the merits, in order to establish “prevailing party” status that would entitle him to an award of attorneys' fees under 28 U.S.C. § 1988.

         Discussion

         The United States Supreme Court addressed a similar scenario in DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312 (1974). In DeFunis, the petitioner was denied admission to the University of Washington Law School and subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming that the school discriminated against him in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The petitioner prevailed at trial, and the trial court ordered that he be admitted to the law school. By the time the case reached the United States Supreme Court, the petitioner had completed most of his studies and had just registered for his final quarter in law school. Id. at 315. The Court noted that “[c]ounsel for the respondents have made clear that the Law School will not in any way seek to abrogate this registration.” The Court clarified that “all parties agree that DeFunis is now entitled to complete his legal studies at the University of Washington and to receive his degree from that institution. A determination by this Court of the legal issues tendered by the parties is no longer necessary to compel that result, and could not serve to prevent it.” Id. at 317.

         The Court then stated: “In light of DeFunis' recent registration for the last quarter of his final law school year, and the Law School's assurance that his registration is fully effective, the insistent question again arises whether this case is not moot, and to that question we now turn.” In discussing the issue of mootness, the Supreme Court held:

The starting point for analysis is the familiar proposition that ‘federal courts are without power to decide questions that cannot affect the rights of litigants in the case before them.' North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246, 92 S.Ct. 402, 404, 30 L.Ed.2d 413 (1971). The inability of the federal judiciary ‘to review moot cases derives from the requirement of Art. III of the Constitution under which the exercise of judicial power depends upon the existence of a case or controversy.' Liner v. Jafco, Inc., 375 U.S. 301, 306 n. 3, 84 S.Ct. 391, 394, 11 L.Ed.2d 347 (1964); see also Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 n. 7, 89 S.Ct. 1944, 1950, 23 L.Ed.2d 491 (1969); Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 50 n. 8, 88 S.Ct. 1889, 1896, 20 L.Ed.2d 917 (1968). Although as a matter of Washington state law it appears that this case would be saved from mootness by ‘the great public interest in the continuing issues raised by this appeal,' 82 Wash.2d 11, 23 n. 6, 507 P.2d 1169, 1177 n. 6 (1973), the fact remains that under Art. III ‘(e)ven in cases arising in the state courts, the question of mootness is a federal one which a federal court must resolve before it assumes jurisdiction.' North Carolina v. Rice, supra, 404 U.S., at 246, 92 S.Ct., at 404.

Id. at 316. The Supreme Court noted that DeFunis did not file his suit as a class action, and the only remedy he sought was an injunction commanding his admission to the Law School. Because DeFunis was irrevocably admitted to the Law School, the Supreme Court held that “[t]he controversy between the parties has thus clearly ceased to be ‘definite and concrete' and no longer ‘touch(es) the legal relations of parties having adverse legal interests.” Id. at 317 (internal citations omitted). Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the case was moot and dismissed the appeal.

         The Supreme Court went further in its analysis and determined that neither of the exceptions to the mootness doctrine existed in the case, i.e., that the defendants voluntarily ceased the allegedly illegal conduct but could resume it at any point in the future, and that the ...


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